By Bruce Berlet
Glens Falls, NY, October 8, 2011 – A game that started promisingly for the Connecticut Whale in their 15th season opener Saturday night ended in a 6-3 loss to the Adirondack Phantoms before 4,521 at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Center Kris Newbury, one of the Whale’s three alternate captains, had a hat trick only 1:09 into the second period as the Whale took a 3-1 lead thanks largely to strong skating that led to tenacious forechecking.
But veteran Denis Hamel and defenseman Kevin Marshall got the Phantoms even with deflection goals and Luke Pither put them ahead to stay off Andre Deveaux’s turnover late in the second period.
The Whale, who were 4-0 against the Phantoms last season, then lost most any chance of rallying when they took four penalties in the third period, the second to T.J. Fast leading to Eric Wellwood’s power-play goal at 7:22.
The Whale then regained the impetus, but Michael Leighton slid across to rob Andreas Thuresson off a 2-on-1 with Ryan Bourque, who had intercepted Cullen Eddy’s clearing pass, with 3:42 left, John Mitchell hit the post eight seconds later and Leighton stopped Carl Hagelin’s wide-open bid from 20 feet in the slot with 2:28 to go.
Mike Testwuide then iced it with an empty-net goal off Hamel’s second assist with 5.1 seconds left.
“When you lose your edge is what creates turnovers and penalties, and one thing leads to another,” Whale coach Ken Gernander said. “At the start of the game we were controlling things and did some things offensively, but when they responded with some tough defense, I don’t think we were as committed as we should have been, and that’s unacceptable.
“It starts with decisions in the neutral zone. If you’ve got your proper angles and things like that, so if you’re going to turn over pucks and leave that kind of gap up defensively and get line changes, you’re not going to get a whole lot of steam and can’t have your timing.”
The tenacious early forechecking led to the Whale getting six of the first seven shots and a 1-0 lead at 37 seconds when Newbury deflected Tomas Kundratek’s shot from the right point between the legs of Leighton, who led the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals in 2010.
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The Whale nearly took a 2-0 lead on their first power play, but a sprawling Thuresson missed an open net off a nifty pass from defenseman Blake Parlett on a 3-on-1 down low at 7:58. The Phantoms then got a fortuitous bounce on their second shot when defenseman Oskars Bartulis’ 35-footer from the slot on a 4-on-2 deflected off Whale defenseman Jared Nightingale and past a startled Cam Talbot at 9:21.
After Talbot (18 saves) flicked out his left pad to make an alert stop on Eric Wellwood’s deflection, Nightingale atoned for the earlier mishap as he made a strong rush from center ice and fired a shot that Newbury backhanded in off a rebound at 12:15.
Talbot kept the Whale in front through the rest of the period when he again alertly denied Testwuide’s deflection of Hamel’s pass with 4:57 left and got his left pad on Brayden Shenn’s shot with 32 seconds to go.
Newbury completed his hat trick 69 seconds into the second period with the Whale on their second power play as John Mitchell’s shot from the right boards ricocheted off the end boards to Newbury, whose one-timer went in off Leighton for a 3-1 lead. It was Newbury’s second AHL hat trick, the other coming against the former Hartford Wolf Pack, but it was mostly downhill for the Whale the final 39 minutes.
“I think we took a step back and kind of sat on the lead, so in the future we have to work on putting the pedal down and stepping on their throats,” Newbury said. “It’s the first game of the year so we can take it as measuring stick. There are a lot of things to work on because it’s so early, but the good news is we’re going to get back at it tomorrow (in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) and hopefully get a win on this trip.
“I think we’ll mention some things before the game tomorrow, but the most part, the older guys maybe made too many mistakes. The younger guys played well and created good energy, but us older guys have to take responsibility and make better plays and better passes in our own end.”
The Phantoms quickly retaliated after Newbury’s third goal as Hamel deflected in Eddy’s shot from the right point at 2:53. And they tied it moments after Talbot robbed Schenn’s backhander and a power play ended as Kevin Marshall deflected Hamel’s shot past Talbot at 11:11.
The Whale nearly regained the lead with 7:01 left in the period, but Leighton came out to deny Jonathan Audy-Marchessault breaking in off right wing off Newbury’s pass on a 3-on-2. About three minutes later, Leighton (24 saves) did likewise to Carl Hagelin off left wing after another nifty setup by Newbury.
The Phantoms then took the lead for good as Blake Kessel picked off Deveaux’s clearing attempt through the high slot and passed to Shane Harper, who set up Pither’s tap-in at the left post with 3:00 left.
The Whale got lucky on their third power play when Wellwood intercepted Newbury’s pass through the high slot and broke in alone but hit the left post with three seconds to go. But the Whale wasn’t as fortunate on the Phantoms’ fourth power play, as Garrett Roe found Wellwood down low for a quick wrist shot past Talbot at 7:22 of the third period.
After the game, the Whale bussed to Wilkes-Barre, Pa., for a game on Sunday at 5:05 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza. It will be the first of four meetings with the East Division Penguins after they swept two games last season, outscoring the AHL’s eventual regular-season champions 11-5. Newbury, Wade Redden and Dale Weise, claimed off waivers by the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, each had three points against the Penguins last season, and Talbot backstopped both wins with a 2.50 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. The Penguins opened with a 3-2 loss to the visiting Hershey Bears on Saturday night, and their team includes former Wolf Pack wing Devin DiDiomete, former Avon Old Farms standout Niko Dimatrakos, who is on a 25-game tryout and scored Saturday night, and Wethersfield native Colin McDonald, son of former Whalers defenseman Gerry McDonald, whose 42 goals led the AHL last season while he was with Oklahoma City.
Connecticut Whale 3 at Adirondack Phantoms 6
Saturday, October 8, 2011 - Glens Falls Civic Center
Connecticut 2 1 0 - 3
Adirondack 1 3 2 - 6
1st Period-1, Connecticut, Newbury 1 (Kundratek), 0:37. 2, Adirondack, Bartulis 1 (Schenn), 9:21. 3, Connecticut, Newbury 2 (Nightingale), 12:15. Penalties-Schenn Adk (hooking), 7:01; Marshall Adk (high-sticking), 19:56.
2nd Period-4, Connecticut, Newbury 3 (Mitchell, Redden), 1:09 (PP). 5, Adirondack, Hamel 1 (Eddy, Testwuide), 2:53. 6, Adirondack, Marshall 1 (Hamel, Schenn), 11:11. 7, Adirondack, Pither 1 (Harper, Kessel), 17:00. Penalties-Niemi Ct (interference), 4:47; Mitchell Ct (boarding), 9:02; Lauridsen Adk (hooking), 13:18; Gustafsson Adk (delay of game), 19:42.
3rd Period-8, Adirondack, Wellwood 1 (Roe, Bartulis), 7:22 (PP). 9, Adirondack, Testwuide 1 (Hamel, Roe), 19:54 (EN). Penalties-Audy-Marchessault Ct (slashing), 3:09; Harper Adk (tripping), 5:03; Fast Ct (tripping), 6:55; Bartulis Adk (tripping), 9:55; Redden Ct (tripping), 11:04; Parlett Ct (delay of game), 12:59.
Shots on Goal-Connecticut 8-8-11-27. Adirondack 8-11-5-24.
Power Play Opportunities-Connecticut 1 / 6; Adirondack 1 / 6.
Goalies-Connecticut, Talbot 0-1-0 (23 shots-18 saves). Adirondack, Leighton 1-0-0 (27 shots-24 saves).
Referees-Francis Charron (46).
Linesmen-Jim Harper (59), Mike Emanatian (69