Amazing what the changing of the calendar and some personnel changes can do for a team. After the Connecticut Whale spent the month of January making up for being so good from mid-November to mid-December by not winning a game, the team has found their footing again and won their third straight 3-1 over the visiting Syracuse Crunch Tuesday night.
“It wasn’t a great start. Fortunately we picked it up toward the end there and got some big goals on special teams that helped and we were able to get our two points tonight,” Said a much more relaxed Whale head coach Ken Gernander. (Chad Johnson) was real strong again in net (Tuesday) and made some big saves.”
Johnson won his third straight (13-9-5 , 23 saves) after struggling, along with the rest of the team in January.
“We’re all playing together and playing well we’re just finding ways to win,” Johnson said. “We’re more disciplined and you can tell that we’re more conscious of the score (in third periods) and what we want to accomplish and that’s to get the two points. We’ve really locked down in the third period and it helps out these last few games and it’s helped us to get these wins.”
Johnson also acknowledged the personnel changes, especially the addition of Jeff Woywitka has helped the team enormously from the defensive end in turning it around.
“(In New York) they play so good defensively. With Woywitka, having him out with his experience back there with losing (veteran defenseman Wade Redden) and his calmness with the puck, that presence that he has with the NHL-caliber defenseman, it helps the young d-men and it helps the team out.”
Johnson also credited Wolski as well. “(Woywitka and Wolski) give us new faces in the locker room and just helps out changing the atmosphere a little bit. They can bring the winning ways that the (parent New York) Rangers have had all year down here, especially on defense and how hard they play defensively. You see how hard we’re playing, too.”
“I think we’re more focused to be disciplined,” Johnson went on to add. “That obviously means penalties, but playing good defensively, too. The last couple of games they had a lot of shots, but we battled defensively and were in good position a lot to recover and backcheck. When you play good defensively, it carries over and you’re going to get opportunities offensively. In January, we might have been pushing too much to try to score goals and focused too much offensively. You’re not going to get opportunities if you can’t defend first.
Just 57 seconds into the game, it looked like the Whale hadn’t learned their lesson in taking bad penalties as Blake Parlett, who would be the game’s third star took a holding penalty. But an exceptional PK gave the Whale their sea legs and confidence back.
What Matt Smaby took a hooking call on a rushing up the right wing, Andre Deveaux the Whale would get their chance on the PP and unlike the parent club who can’t seem to put them in the net with the man-advantage, their AHL affiliate was on the money.
38 seconds into the power play, Brendan Bell passed from his position on the left point over to Tim Erixon on the right. The son of former Ranger Jan Erixon unloaded a hard blast from just inside the blueline. Mats Zuccarello used his great hands to get the blade of the stick in just the right position to redirect it away from Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers (6-8-0, 25 saves), playing in his first game with the Crunch since a game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Jan. 7, 2012 for the 1-0 lead.
After an exchange of hitting iron, the first by Devante Smith-Pelley of the Crunch at 9:18 and then by Erixon who hit the crossbar at 14:02, at 14:49, The Crunch would tie it all up.
J-F Jacques won a one-on-one battle with Jonathan Audy-Marchessault on the left half-boards in the Whale zone. Jacques sent the puck down low to Smith-Pelley and then won a footrace against Audy-Marchessault to the front of the net and took a centering pass from behind the goal from Smith-Pelley, put the shot on Johnson that was initially stopped, but Johnson could not get to the rebound and Jacques backhanded it into the net over the stick side shoulder to knot the score.
Audy-Marchessault almost restored the Whale lead with 55 seconds left when his shot from the right side slid through the legs of Deslauriers and slowly crept through the crease in front of an empty net.
The Whale regained the lead late in the second period taking advantage of a double-minor high-sticking call to left winger Josh Brittain that drew blood from Andre Deveaux at 16:26.
“We were just working it around,” Parlett said. “(We) went D-to-D with Woywitka (on the left side half boards) and he made a good play to set (center Brandon McMillian) down and feathered it back to me (at the left point). The other guy (right winger Troy Bodie) was kind of caught in-between so I just tried to get it on net and there was a good screen in front so (Deslauriers) couldn’t see it. Their D were doing a good job of blocking shots. (Deveaux) was doing a good job setting a screen and (the puck) just found a hole. Luckily (Deslauriers) had his glove low and I cornered it over.”
That screen consisted of the 6’3” 205lb defenseman Mat Clark and 6’4” 220lb Mark Fraser and behind both of them was the 232lb, 6’4” Deveaux. Woywitka got the helper and Wellman who has earned points in both of his games with the Whale.
The Whale put icing on the cake 7:52 into the third frame as Woywitka picked up his second assist of the game for the hat-trick of helpers in the three games he’s been on his conditioning stint with the Whale.
Jordan Owens dished to Woywitka in the left circle. The Whale defenseman then unloaded a hard shot from the faceoff dot that hit Deslauriers hard and rebounded in front. Scott Tanski picked up that loose change and tried to score only to have the puck rebound back out in front. Tanski recovered the puck and backhanded it past Deslauriers into the net.
“We could have had a little better grit on the one-on-one battles early on, but I thought we got better as the game went along.” Gernander said.
“It was a good team effort,” Woywitka said afterwards. “We knew they were going to come hard because they’re a good offensive team, and we wanted to make sure we shut them down defensively and got good goaltending and some timely goals and came out with the win, which is most important. I thought we were solid all over the ice.”
“It’s the little things that have made sort of the big difference,” Johnson said so incredibly accurately.
Gernander summed up the entire thing this way. “The important thing was ending the (winless) streak because those things can have a life of their own if they go too long. But we seem to have righted the ship, though the start tonight was a bit scrambly and disappointing because it was only two games in a row that we had won, not a 15-game streak, so we still have to play with desperation and hunger and urgency.”
The Whale do that and as the song goes, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”
Lindsay Kramer has the Crunch story for Syracuse.com.
SOUNDS OF THE GAME:
(Standings provided by TheAHL.com)
* Congratulations to injured Whale defenseman Pavel Valentenko, who was with his wife, Ekaterina, welcomed their first child, 8-pound, 6-ounce daughter named Polina who was born Tuesday afternoon.
* Whale caught a break as and didn’t have to face NHL veteran netminder Antero Nittymaki who the San Jose Sharks loaned from Worcester to the Crunch Tuesday afternoon.
* American Hockey League President and CEO David Andrews announced Wednesday that the AHL Board of Governors has selected the Providence Bruins and the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority to host the 2013 Dunkin’ Donuts AHL All-Star Classic as part of a weekend of festivities January 25-28, 2013
* Former Hartford Wolf Pack and NY Ranger Jed Ortmeyer was put on waivers Wednesday according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.
Wolski – Newbury – Zuccarello
Audy-Marchessault – Wellman – Deveaux
Bourque – Tessier – Thuresson
Grant – Owens – Tanski
Bell – Klassen
Woywitka – Parlett
Erixon – Nightingale
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Francois Bouchard – Broken Wrist – Indefinite
Wade Redden – Lower Body – Day-to-Day
Pavel Valentenko – Upper Body – Day-to-Day
Sean Avery – Healthy Scratch
Chris McKelvie – Healthy Scratch
1. CT – C. Johnson
2. CT – J. Woywitka
3. CT – B. Parlett
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
T.J. Luxmore (47)
Darcy Burchell (42)
Derek Wahl (46)
Kevin Redding (16
On the road again… The Whale play their next three away from the friendly confines of the XL Center. Friday night the team travels to Springfield for a battle with the Falcons. Then they move on to Manchester to renew hostilities with the Monarchs and then come to Bridgeport for a battle of the division’s top two teams, the Whale and the Sound Tigers. Bob Crawford goes on the air with the pre-game show Friday night at 7:20. The game can be heard on WCCC.com.
To watch the game live, you can purchased it for $6.99 at AHL-live.
For Ticket information for all home games, call (860) 548-2000.
Syracuse Crunch 1 at Connecticut Whale 3 – Status: Final
Tuesday, February 7, 2012 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Syracuse 1 0 0 – 1
Connecticut 1 1 1 – 3
1st Period-1, Connecticut, Zuccarello 10 (Erixon, Bell), 7:31 (PP). 2, Syracuse, Jacques 14 (Smith-Pelly), 14:49. Penalties-Parlett Ct (holding), 0:57; Smaby Syr (holding), 6:53.
2nd Period-3, Connecticut, Parlett 4 (Woywitka, Wellman), 18:14 (PP). Penalties-Carle Syr (high-sticking), 5:56; Erixon Ct (cross-checking), 12:56; Brittain Syr (double minor – high-sticking), 16:26; Fraser Syr (fighting), 19:58; Deveaux Ct (fighting), 19:58.
3rd Period-4, Connecticut, Tanski 5 (Woywitka, Owens), 7:52. Penalties-Tessier Ct (holding the stick), 2:19; Newbury Ct (unsportsmanlike conduct), 9:32; Caputi Syr (slashing), 15:30; Fraser Syr (misconduct – unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:43; Smith-Pelly Syr (unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:43; Deveaux Ct (misconduct – unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:43.
Shots on Goal-Syracuse 7-5-12-24. Connecticut 4-12-12-28.
Power Play Opportunities-Syracuse 0 / 4; Connecticut 2 / 6.
Goalies-Syracuse, Drouin-Deslauriers 6-8-0 (28 shots-25 saves). Connecticut, Johnson 13-9-5 (24 shots-23 saves).
Referees-T.J. Luxmore (47), Darcy Burchell (42).
Linesmen-Derek Wahl (46), Kevin Redding (16).