Since I plan on watching every Sound Tigers game I can, even after the lockout (hopefully) ends this season, I thought I’d write about the games here and give my severely amateur views on some of the Isles’ top prospects for Isles fans who are not able to follow the Bridgeport squad. I haven’t watched much AHL hockey before, so bear with me if my observations seem odd to longtime fans.
When the visiting Bridgeport Sound Tigers went down 2-0 at 14:52 of the first on a shorthanded penalty shot, I felt that their offense deserved a better fate, because it looked good. The team defense, on the other hand, looked overmatched.
That observation of a solid offense and suspect team D about summed up the Sound Tigers’ entire first game of the year against the Connecticut Whale. The deciding factor was that the Sound Tigers managed to stay solely on offense for virtually the entire second period, in which they potted five goals en-route to a 6-4 win.
It’s hard to say whether the shaky defensive play was due to the Sound Tigers themselves, or to a Connecticut Whale team that, itself, looked good on offense and overmatched on D.
On the surface, the score sheet is everything an Islanders fan was hoping to see out of some of the most highly-touted prospects in the season’s first game: Nino Niederreiter had three points (1g, 2a), Kirill Kabanov had two primary assists, Casey Cizikas had a pair of goals, and Brock Nelson had a goal and a primary assist. Digging deeper, how did the players look? I tried to jot down some plusses and minuses as they happened. From those notes, I’ll give some of my thoughts.
Keeping in mind this is only one game, and the first of the year at that, Cizikas looked solid from start to finish. He drove to the net consistently. He scored his first goal on the power play on a redirection down low to get the Sound Tigers’ scoring started in the second (Travis Hamonic took the initial shot). He scored a second goal on a good shot from in front to put his team up 3-2 (off a nice setup from Colin McDonald and Niederreiter). He made some nice plays on the PK throughout the game. And overall, he was just noticeable on nearly every shift he took.
Nelson was not always noticeable, but when he was, it was for good reasons. He took some lumps, especially after a few solid shifts in a row in the second, culminating in his goal at 8:39 to put the Sound Tigers up 4-2. The Whale players seemed to key in on him a bit after that to let him know he wasn’t going to have his way with them. In general, he was in good position offensively on quite a few shifts, and displayed good awareness and instincts. On a power play late in the second, he found a seam and cut up-ice, received a stretch pass from Hamonic, skated in and made a nice play to John Persson, who scored the Sound Tigers’ fifth goal. I've read Nelson's skating wasn't the strongest. It looked OK to me.
David Ullstrom was noticeable in the first period, before the team really found its stride, but, to me, he seemed to blend in from the second period on.
Although Kabanov otherwise did not stand out to me (Michael Fornabaio says in his Connecticut Post column [http://blog.connpost.com/fornabaio/
] that Kabanov’s ice time was limited due to the number of penalties in the game), he was the key to the play on both goals he assisted on: Niederreiter’s goal at 5:13 of the second to put the Sound Tigers up 2-1, and Nelson’s goal. On Niederreiter’s goal, Kabanov had a partial breakaway, but could not cut to the middle. It appeared as if he’d try to deke short side, but he fed the puck across the net, around the closing defenseman instead, and Niederreiter finished the play off. On Nelson’s goal, after I felt Kabanov had been spending too much time on the perimeter that shift, he went to the middle, got the puck and shot. Nelson finished off the rebound.
Niederreiter started off slow and tentative. He gave the puck up easily a few times in the first period, hurriedly pushing the puck along the boards to no one, almost as if he did not think he had as much time as he did. In the second, he settled down and seemed a bit more at ease with the puck and just in general. Aside from the points he put up, he even threw a good hit toward the end of the second period. His goal was the result of crashing the net and finishing off the play from Kabanov -- exactly what you want to see out of him.
The Sound Tigers’ sixth goal to start the third period came from Brandon DeFazio off of what looked to me like a slap-pass from Hamonic. DeFazio threw a nice hit in the third as well.
If the offense was everything Isles and Sound Tigers fans wanted to see, the defense was a bit of a different story, and it wasn’t just the defensemen. Through the first and second periods, every trip into the Bridgeport zone was an adventure. They tightened up a bit in the third, but still yielded two goals in the period, though both were on Whale power plays, with Mike Vernace’s goal from up high for the Whale coming on a long 5-on-3.
Credit to the Whale, who always seemed to find the open man when they got on offense. Kris Newbury (2g) and Kyle Jean (1g) looked especially noticeable to me. Jean’s goal came on a penalty shot, but aside from that, he was consistently around the net when the Whale were on offense. The Sound Tigers' D may have given the Whale forwards a bit too much room, particularly in the first period. They backed up nearly into goaltender Kevin Poulin on the first goal against, a power-play tally from Newbury just 2:31 into the first. Overall, the D could be a bit more physical with opposing forwards.
deHaan was on the receiving end of a big hit in center ice in the first, deemed “the hit of the game” by the Whale scoreboard. He’s a good skater -- that much is evident. But both offensively and defensively, I wanted to see a bit more. Maybe in game 2 of the season!
Poulin had fair game. It seems strange to say that since he gave up four goals on 31 shots, but the team D in front of him wasn’t the best, and there were a lot of penalties called on both teams (18 overall -- 10 against the Sound Tigers, and 8 against the Whale), so both goaltenders faced a number of quality opportunities. He made a couple of nice quick saves with the pads, and one nice glove save on the 5-on-3, shortly before yielding the goal up high to Vernace.
AHL Live. Lot of money to charge for an arena feed that looks like it’s from the ‘80s and cuts into every play five seconds after it starts because the arena cameras are showing some dancing fan. And, for me, it was narrated by Nostradamus (audio was a good second ahead of the video for me, ruining every play. I watched it without sound after the first goal). I know the game was streamed for free, but I had already bought the package for the Sound Tigers and I watched it straight from the AHL Live site. Good game. Bad experience.
Michael Haley was at it again for the Bridgepor...wait, he’s on that other team now. Haley dropped the mitts with Sound Tiger Blair Riley. Riley held his own in a good scrap, and it looked like they gave each other nods of approval afterward.
IF THE ENTIRE SEASON WAS THIS ONE GAME, THE JEKYL/HYDE ISLANDERS FANS WOULD SAY:
Garth Snow is a genius!
Sound Tigers play their home opener against the Providence Bruins at 7 tonight. I'll be more succinct in my next writeup. First time doing this, and it was the first game of the year.