AHL All-Star Game Arrives In Midst of Whale’s Struggles

Mats Zuccarello could be wearing an NHL sweater again if the Rangers make a deadline deal involving the Norwegian forward. (Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE)

Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Mats Zuccarello should both be proud of their chance to play in tonight’s AHL All-Star Game in Atlantic City, N.J.

But their short vacation away from Hartford can only be accompanied by lingering thoughts that the Connecticut Whale just completed a full month of losing, an 11-game losing streak that has dropped the team from third in the conference to ninth and outside looking in at the playoffs.

There’s still plenty of time left for Audy-Marchessault, Zuccarello and others to turn the ship around. If it’s going to happen, it needs to happen soon. And to make it happen, the Whale must rely on its top scorers to get the job done. As it stands, the Whale have one good scoring one, which isn’t nearly enough to compete on a daily basis in any league. The reason for their struggles isn’t that complicated.

When Kris Newbury returns from an injury and Sean Avery plays and behaves like he can, the Whale’s offensive output could be given a boost. But when your second line has Francois Bouchard on one wing (three goals in 32 games since being acquired by the Whale) you’re asking for trouble.

Fact is, the Whale haven’t been far from winning a good chunk of the games in their losing January. Five of them went past regulation and not a single loss has been by more than two goals. They played a good and mostly complete game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the conference’s second best team, on Friday night but again got bested in overtime.

With just two games under his belt since returning from tweaking his ankle for the second time, Zuccarello was right back to showing his minor league dominance. He only picked up one point in two games this weekend, but the Norwegian forward looked to be right back at home and could further display his obvious talents at tonight’s game (7 p.m. on the Comcast Sports Network).

But the arrival of the AHL All-Star Game also brings forward questions about the future of the two Whale representative.  Zuccarello is an important piece to the Whale’s success and will continue to be until the New York Rangers likely decide to use him as a selling point while trying to find a top six forward to boost their own offensive woes. For whatever reason, the Rangers could never find a place for Zuccarello. His talents are wasted receiving small minutes on a fourth line he doesn’t fit into and there’s a roster jam keeping him from getting his chances among the team’s top six forwards. Both he and the Rangers deserve to move on from this failed experiment.

Audy-Marchessault, on the other hand, is playing for an NHL contract. He’s younger than Zuccarello and arguably could have a higher ceiling when all is said and done. After exceeding all expectations in the season’s first half, he certainly deserves a new deal from the Rangers to keep him around for a few more years. He’s a no risk, high reward signing who could use a few more AHL seasons to fully develop into a truly great offensive player.

Tonight’s AHL All-Star Game is surely a celebration for two forwards who started the season in two different places despite the struggles back home in Hartford. It’s also probably safe to say that unless the Rangers can’t swing a deal involving Zuccarello before the Feb. 27 trade deadline that the two won’t be playing together on the same line for much longer. Don’t get too mad, Whale fans, when Zuccarello is shipped out sometime in February.

Topics: AHL, All-Star Game, American Hockey League, Connecticut Whale, Hartford, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, Mats Zuccarello, Norway, Sean Avery

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