The Connecticut Whale’s 6-3 loss last night to the St. John’s IceCaps was the first loss at home in regulation this season. The Rangers’ AHL affiliate is having an outstanding beginning of the 2011-12 season, and, until last night, the team had not played a game since the first week of the season in which they had not gotten at least one point (in four games in eight nights, they have recorded five points).
After Connecticut jumping out to a 1-0 lead on a goal by John Mitchell (on an amazing pass by Mats Zuccarello), St. John’s tied the score and then jumped out to a lead on a power play goal with less than a minute left in the first period. The Whale scored twice in the last minute of the second period, including the first goal of Ryan Bourque’s professional career, to take a 3-2 lead into the final 20 minutes.
Although the Whale had not gotten many shots on goal in the game, they looked to be coming on in the second period. But the third period was all St. John’s, as they posted three even-strength and one empty-net goals without any response from the Whale. Although Connecticut was never out of the game, the team appeared to lose their hunger as the night went on. And, Chad Johnson was just not able to make the big stops for the Whale last night.
Johnson, who this week was named the AHL goaltender of the month for October, was not on his game last night. He was often out of position and, at times, handled the puck poorly. But he did not have much help from his defensemen, who struggled with keeping the crease clear enough so that Johnson could see opposition shots.
One defenseman who played well last night was Pavel Valentenko. Back only a week from a groin injury, Valentenko is playing a better game than he did during training camp in New York. If he continues to play at this level, he should get another look in New York before the New Year.
Tim Erixon, who started the season with the Rangers, has some excellent skills, but it definitely was the right move to send him to Connecticut to hone them. Erixon has very good instincts on the power play, a deadly shot, and uses his stick well, but his positioning needs some work. It is very possible that he will be ready for NHL play by mid-season, but right now, he is in the right place.
Carl Hagelin is maturing with each contest. He is adjusting well to the professional game, with NHL speed and outstanding hockey smarts. Not expected to be an offensive force at the next level, Hagelin is a very effective top six forward in the AHL. Working on a line with Kris Newbury and Andreas Thuresson last night, Hagelin knew his role and executed extremely well.
Two players on AHL contracts are worthy of mention for their recent play. Kelsey Tessier, a second year AHLer who is reliable in all situations, does not always put up the points, but is an an excellent face off man in both ends. Tessier is small, but strong on the puck and able to fight through checks. The issue in terms of becoming an NHLer is his skating, but Tessier has proven his mettle at this level.
Jon Audy-Marchessault has been posting points regularly in the last six games. The rookie, who is even smaller than the diminutive Tessier, is an exciting offensive player. He is not strong enough physically to play at the next level right now, but he has brought a level of excitement and effort to the Connecticut game that was missing last season.
What I have not seen over the last few games needs to be mentioned too. First, although Mats Zuccarello had a beautiful assist last night, he has not been dominating the four games this week. His first two games back in the AHL had everyone scratching their heads as to why he was re-assigned. But in the last four, Zuccarello does not look out of place in Connecticut. And he should. Maybe its just a temporary lull, but, with his skill level, Zuc should be standing out in the AHL pretty much every night.
And Blake Parlett has not continued his eye-opening play of last Spring. After signing an ELC this summer, the young defenseman looked very good in Traverse City (before sustaining a knee injury). But, Parlett has not looked the same since, and it remains to be seen whether he can regain his previous form and become another solid Rangers’ blueline find.
The Whale play their next game in Albany tonight at 7 pm.