The Connecticut Whale have hit the quarter pole in their season already, and after 20 games head coach Ken Gernander and his staff must still be scratching their heads trying to figure out exactly what they've got going on in Hartford. Maddeningly consistent in being inconsistent with their play, the Whale are 9-9-2-0 after dropping two games in regulation and one in overtime this past weekend---this after sweeping a three-games-in-three-nights stretch the prior weekend.
Already this season the Whale have put together a pair of four-game winning streaks. However Connecticut also started the season winless in its first four games (0-3-1), dropped four out of five in early November, and is now 0-2-1 in its last three contests.
Consistent in its inconsistency.
When the Whale have been at its best the team takes care of the puck, gets solid goaltending from Cam Talbot, is aggressive on the forecheck, and shows much resolve and grit---best exemplified in erasing a 5-4 third-period deficit in Bridgeport on November 23rd en-route to an emotional 7-5 victory.
But the flip side of the Whale sees a team prone to alarming turnovers---especially those in its own end, a wildly inconsistent power play, and an ability to meltdown under pressure---as evidenced in Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss to Syracuse in which Connecticut let a 3-0 third-period lead dissipate into defeat against the conference-leading Crunch.
"It's true we have a lot of young players on this team, but that's no excuse, especially when it's us veterans making so many of the mistakes," Kris Newbury, the team's leading scorer said recently.
Certainly youth does play a major part in the Whale's inconsistent play. Christian Thomas has had some splendid offensive moments---like his gorgeous goal Saturday night---but he has only two points (1-1-2) in his last nine games. Kyle Jean (5-8-13 in 20 games) started out very strong, but with no points in his last five games and no goals in eight, it's clear he is still adapting as a first-year pro. JT Miller has been consistent with his effort, board work, and defensive responsibilities, but has zero points in his last five games and no goals in nine. And Chris Kreider (4-6-10 in 19 games) has seemed out of sync all season, with three of his four goals coming in back-to-back games in November.
Of course none of this is reason to panic. We are talking about young kids playing their first year in professional hockey. This is an extremely important year in regards to their individual development, and the organization is fully aware of that. Gernander is providing a steadying hand in their growth, while also holding them accountable as integral members of the team.
Of the younger players, undrafted forward Marek Hrivik (2-10-12 in 18 games) and second-year pro Ryan Bourque (4-4-8 in 16 games, solid two-way play) have probably stood out the most in a positive way through the first quarter of the season.
Among the veterans, Newbury (7-14-21 in 18 games), Chad Kolarik (8-9-17 in 19 games), and Talbot ("he has saved our bacon time and again this season" says Gernander) have shouldered much of the load for the Whale. Matt Gilroy (6-6-12 in 19 games, playing big minutes in all game situations), Brandon Segal (strong, smart, two-way player), and Logan Pyett (2-9-11, +3 on the blueline) have been solid contributors, as well. And Michael Haley's all-around game has come on the past few weeks.
"We are far from a finished product," said Gernander. "We still have a lot of games to play and months to go before we are the team we want to be."
This next 20-game stretch will be intriguing to watch in understanding just what this Connecticut Whale team is. It all starts with a rivalry showdown Wednesday against the Birdgeport Sound Tigers, and we'll be there to cover it for BlueshirtsUnited.com.
December 3, 2012