Like its parent club, the Connecticut Whale have been riding a stretch of impressive hockey straight to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Saturday night’s victory in Springfield provided the club with the most gut check statement win of the season yet, as the Whale rallied to beat the Falcons 6-3 by way of five unanswered powerplay goals in the third period.
In the first two periods of the game, the Whale looked lost. With only two shots in the first period and eight shots in the second, offensive chances weren’t being generated. The team looked puzzled on defense, forcing Chad Johnson to face 29 shots in a span of two periods and 42 shots when all was said and done.
But despite falling behind 3-1 early in the third period after former Hartford Wolf Pack captain Dane Byers scored his second goal of the game, the team never fell far. Whether it was a natural response to their disappointing play or a Ken Gernander ripping in the locker room that did it, the team the Whale fans expected to see Saturday night came onto the ice to finish what some imposters started.
Things had changed on the ice for the guys in green, but they didn’t have to. The team could have easily sat back and conceded their first loss of the season to their division rivals just up the road from Hartford.
Instead, sparked by two Andre Deveaux powerplay goals, the Whale were given new life and a game tied at three. You could see the tires falling off the Falcons’ wagon, a team who has struggled their way to the bottom of the Northeast Division and desperate for two points against the division leader. Whale fans, who felt the mundane play trickle into their system in the early part of the night, then gained the feeling they usually get when they travel to see the team in Springfield: a victory was in sight.
And when Jonathan Audy-Marchessault jammed in the Whale’s fourth goal, the eventual game winner, the young winger’s glowing reaction and euphoric celebration just about told the whole story. Audy-Marchessault’s play, along with Mats Zuccarello’s production and a slew of other bits and pieces that fit together just right, has helped sustain the Whale’s winning ways in a span where the team was without Carl Hagelin, John Mitchell, Kris Newbury and Deveaux.
Speed kills in the AHL, and Audy-Marchessault, combined with the quick Ryan Bourque and flying grinders Jordon Owens and Scott Tanski, have helped the Whale win battles in open space for loose pucks and along the board with a strong team forechecking philosophy.
Such a thing was proven last Tuesday when the Whale defeated a more talented Hershey Bears offense. While the storyline for that night was the Whale’s Bourque against the Bears’ Bourque, what really stood out was the way the depleted Whale used their aggressiveness and speed to disturb the Bears’ formidable offense. Hershey, who is near the top of the AHL in goals with 81, was held to just two scores in Hartford as the Whale put bad memories of past match ups with Hershey to rest.
These statements wins have the Whale poised to make a run deep into the playoffs this season. Right now, the team sits at second place in the Eastern Conference with 31 points, only behind the St. John’s Ice Caps, the team they’ve most struggled with this season.
With important players like Hagelin and Mitchell are riding waves of success in the NHL and a cornerstone like Chad Kolarik out with a long-term injury, the Whale are relying on what they have instead of lamenting about what they don’t. And what they do have is a collection of talent, grit and speed that right now, fits together to make for one good looking hockey team.