The Morning After

Ken Gernander was not in the mood to look for positives after his Connecticut Whale let a 2-0 lead slip away by allowing six straight goals in an eventual 6-4 loss to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Opening Night in Hartford on Friday.

"Are you trying to bait me with that question?," Gernander asked a reporter who had queried the coach on the positives he took from the game.

Gernander eventually relented and listed a couple of good things, including the impressive play of rookie Kyle Jean in his pro debut, but the coach's point was made. There was much to be unhappy about, and much work to be done for this relatively-young Whale squad.

Rangers head coach John Tortorella and assistant Mike Sullivan were on hand to watch the Whale last night, as were both assistant general managers---Jim Schoenfeld and Jeff Gorton.  All four met with Gernander and his assistants---Jeff Beukeboom and Pat Boller following the game---in Gernander's XL Center office, noty an unusual act.

So here's what they may have discussed, and what I gathered from watching the Whale's season opener Friday night.

  • Jean might just be a classic late-bloomer who is coming into his own. Big, offensively-gifted 22 year-old center with only two years of college experience, and Jean was the Whale's best player Friday. He was stopped on a shorthanded breakaway, but drew the penalty shot, and scored his first pro goal off that penalty shot with a calm and calculated move to beat Kevin Poulin. He also had a strip in the offensive zone in the third period which earned him an assist on a power play goal, and he led the team with seven shots on goal. And the kid was Connecticut's only plus player (+1). Nice start to the career.
  • Kris Newbury scored a pair of power play goals bookending the scoring. Newbury scored a career-high 25 times a year ago, and could be in for a big season with Chris Kreider riding shotgun on his left side.
  • Kreider had a relatively quiet Whale debut, skating primarily with Newbury and JT Miller. Both he and Miller picked up assists, and Kreider had a couple of bursts of speed to create scoring chances, but otherwise was pretty quiet. Gernander used both Miller, 19, and Kreider, 21, in all game situations---power play, penalty kill, and even strength.
  • The Whale was 3-for-8 on the power play---defenseman Mike Vernace added a 5-on-3 power play score in the third period to go along with Newbury's pair---but Connecticut also allowed a pair of power play goals to the Sound Tigers in seven tries.
  • The top defensive pair of Matt Gilroy and Sean Collins logged a lot of minutes, playing in all situations, with mixed results. Both were a minus-three, but Gilroy clearly was effective point man on the power play. He earned one assist, but distributed the puck well and got his shots on net---he finished with six shots on goal. 
  • Bridgeport wiped out a 2-0 deficit by scoring four goals in a span of 5:16 early in the second period---a stretch that saw one defensive zone breakdown after another by the Whale. Gernander specifically said his team needs to win more battles, and took more than one swipe at his team's lack of physical play and preference to take the easy way. The Sound Tigers ended up with a five-goal second period.
  • Jason Missiaen was singled out by the coach for his strong play in the first period in which he stopped all 19 shots he faced. However he allowed five goals in the second period and watched from the bench in the third, having surrendered five goals on 38 shots.
  • Scott Stajcer, a 2009 Rangers draft pick, made his pro debut in goal in the third period and allowed a goal on the first shot he faced after a Whale defensive zone turnover. He stopped his next six shots.
  • Very quiet season debuts for Christian Thomas and Andrew Yogan, both of whom saw limited ice-time as game progressed. Yogan was a minus-two, Thomas a minus-one. Neither had a shot on goal.
  • Michael Haley engaged in the game's only fight, a late first-period scrap against his former team. Otherwise he, too, had a quiet Whale debut.

So Game One of 82 is in the books for the Whale. They are back at it Sunday in Hartford against St. Johns. I will not be there, but look for extended covereage of the Whale and all Rangers prospects right here on throughout the season.

Jim Cerny

October 13, 2012