The Connecticut Whale took to the ice Sunday afternoon looking to bounce back from an uneven home opener; going up against the St. John's Ice Caps. And while they played a better game, the Whale were still bit by defensive miscues and an inability to get out of their own way.
Both teams came out in the first period a bit off. While the Whale had some chances, they seemed to be tentative, over passing and not taking shots when they should have. The Whale opened up the game with J.T. Miller, Kyle Jean and Michael Haley up front and that line immediately had a lot of issues in the offensive zone; not being able to establish consistent pressure or generate offense.
Chris Kreider and his line mates, Kris Newbury and Brandon Segal, were the Whale's best offensive unit and seemed to carry the team through most of the game. Kreider was flying and using his body to establish the forecheck as the first man in the zone and used his vision to set up his line mates.
Newbury opened the scoring for the Whale on the power play in the first period when he took a nice feed from Brandon Segal and buried a shot that deflected off of an Ice Cap defenseman past goalie Mark Dekanich. Chris Kreider got the secondary assist by finding Segal behind the net.
With the Whale leading 1-0, Kreider was whistled for a goaltender interference penalty that I felt was a bit of a weak call since Kreider was driving to the net on a 2-on-1 and really had no place to go to avoid the goalie.
The Ice Caps tied the game right as the penalty expired as the Whale penalty killers were caught standing around after not being able to clear the zone and then not clearing the rebound from Scott Stajcer who was making his first career start for the Whale.
With the score tied to open the second period the Whale came out with much better offensive pressure as the Kreider-Newbury-Segal line kept the puck in the Ice Caps' zone and allowed for quality chances that couldn't find the back of the net.
The Whale finally did get on the board in the second on a power play goal by Kyle Jean that was assisted by J.T. Miller as those two are quickly developing some nice chemistry and when Marel Hrivik returns that could be one very dangerous line which will put Michael Haley either in the press box or the 4th line.
The Whale couldn't hold the lead however as Chris Kreider was again called for a late tripping penalty and with 3 seconds left in the 2nd the Whale PKers were again caught chasing the puck and the Ice Caps evened the score at two as the period ended.
The third period was just about as bad as the second period was good. The Whale couldn't get any real offensive flow going especially after the Ice Caps scored an early goal and went into a shut down defense that the Whale had no answer for leaving the Whale with a frustrating and uneven 3-2 defeat.
A few stand out players to me:
Chris Kreider: I first saw Kreider live during Game One at MSG against the Capitals in the Eastern Conference Semi Finals and Kreider has really worked on his skating and body work. Kreider was more forceful when using his size and strength to protect the puck and get in on the forecheck and you can see that the tools are there for him to put together in a year with the AHL
Matt Gilroy: I'm serious here, Matt Gilroy had a pretty good game. Wasn't out of position on defense and in the offensive zone he rarely pinched and was controlling the play through the point on the Power Play.
Scott Stajcer: For his first professional start I think he looked pretty good. Played deep in his net, was square to the shooter and for the most part had some solid rebound control.
Kyle Jean and J.T. Miller: I group these two together because they really had a strong game and worked off each other every well. Jean used his size and his skill to break through two defenders and record a scoring chance and shot on goal while Miller used his hockey sense and playmaking ability to find open linemates for scoring chances.
A couple of players that didn't impress me:
Michael Haley: I know that he was skating with Miller and Jean because of the injury to Hrivik but he really didn't add much to the forecheck and seemed out of position at times. Definitely not his best game.
Christian Thomas: Was given limited ice time being stuck on the 4th line but when he was paired with Miller and Jean late in the game didn't really utilize his speed and skill to get into open areas, just kind of floated around the offensive zone.
So the Whale are now 0-2 but have some bright spots to feel good about.