It wasn’t pretty that’s for sure, but the Connecticut Whale, behind a Pavel Valentenko missile from the high slot with 17 seconds left in regulation beat the Adirondack Phantoms 2-1 at the XL Center before 2,389 Wednesday night.
The play that won the game for the Whale was the same one that Assistant Coach J.J. Daigneault ran successfully twice last season. The first time with Valentenko and the next time with current New York Ranger Stu Bickel.
“Originally I had Blake Parlett out there but then called him back and sent Valentenko out,” Daigneault said.
Obviously it worked.
It wouldn’t have worked though if Kris Newbury, back wearing the Assistant Captain’s A on his sweater with veteran defenseman Wade Redden out indefinitely with a leg injury, hadn’t won the face-off Kris Newbury with Tyler Brown as cleanly as he did.
Newbury sent the puck through his legs and back to Brendan Bell stationed behind the Whale’s top center and to his left. Bell received the puck just outside the left-wing face-off circle and quickly moved the puck over to Valentenko who stationed himself at the top of the high slot. Valentenko unleashed an absolute nuclear missile that bore it’s way straight through Adirondack Phantoms’ goalie Jason Bacashihua (4-3-1 , 24 saves) with just 16.2 seconds left.
“(Faceoffs) are an important part of my game, and something I take a lot of pride in,” Newbury said. “Every time I’m in there, I try to win it and get it back (to the defense). With (Valentenko) shooting the puck, you have a good chance to win the game.”
Valentenko, who’d missed the net badly to the left in a similar situation earlier in the game. However that missed shot went straight to newcomer Jeff Prough and fired it right past Bacashihua for both his first AHL goal and point of his young career. It was a power play goal that gave the Whale, at the time, a 2-1 lead.
In this opportunity though, Valentenko made no qualms about it to anyone that if he got the puck he was going to score by, much as Babe Ruth reportedly called is shot, Valentenko did and it worked out… nicely.
But in terms of the overall game, this was one of those grind it out, 1990’s New Jersey Devils kind of games. The Phantoms were playing the same 1-3-1 defensive trap that caused such a stir when Tampa Bay played Philadelphia several weeks ago. It’s the very thing that at the NHL level they’re trying to get away from. That kind of a defense strips all the passion and all the joy from a hockey game. When that defense is employed, the game becomes just dump and chase and fall back to go get it. All the fluidity that makes hockey such a magnificent sport to watch suddenly disappears and all that’s left is, well…dull.
But that is what it is and for the Whale, the problem with a game like that is that when there’s zero room in the neutral zone, players can’t make errant or big risk passes. At 4:07 Parlett did just that and it cost the Whale. Parlett’s pass was picked off by Garrett Roe at the right point and he quickly moved it to Brown who found a wide open Mike Testwuide who slipped it into the left side of the net past Chad Johnson (10-4-3, 27 saves).
Andre Deveaux tied the game in the second period when the 6’4, 232 pounder came out from off the right wing boards with Andy Thomas hanging on him like a cheap suit. Deveaux made a nifty backhander from the right circle that beat Bacashihua over the stick side shoulder.
Tye McGinn tied the game at two at 10:52 of the second frame when he came straight up the slot, took a pass from Cullen Eddy and fired it past a defenseless Johnson.
The Whale are now off for the next several days and will reconvene on Monday at Webster Bank Arena for another GEICO Cup battle with their franchise and in-state rival with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
(To listen to all the post-game reaction as well as full details on this contest, you’ll find them after the jump) Continue reading