I’ll indulge in some Ilya Bryzgalov-like philosophizing and say that today’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins was perhaps the universe seeking balance.
Last time these two teams met, the Penguins controlled the majority of play, but lost the game due to stellar goaltending from Bridgeport’s Kevin Poulin and some fortunate breaks for the Sound Tigers on offense. Today, roles reversed, as the Sound Tigers carried the play for most of the game I thought, but lost due to strong goaltending by the Penguins’ Jeff Zatkoff and at least three goals that Poulin would probably like another shot at.
In front of another sellout crowd in part due to Bridgeport’s generous offer of free tickets to help fans take their minds off of recovering from Hurricane Sandy, it was the Penguins’ Paul Thompson who stole the show, recording a natural hat trick in the second period to break a deadlocked game and give his squad a commanding lead from which Bridgeport could not battle back.
The game began with even play from the two teams. But on an early power play, former Sound Tiger/New York Islander Dylan Reese would open the scoring for the Penguins, cutting in behind the defense, receiving a pass and beating Poulin with a shot at 4:58.
Bridgeport responded with a couple of strong shifts, and nearly two-and-a-half minutes later, Casey Cizikas made a stretch pass and sprung Nino Niederreiter on a breakaway. Niederreiter was bothered from behind on his way in, but used his strength to shake off the defender, and at full speed, he put a backhander by Zatkoff.
The Sound Tigers had two nice chances to take the lead later in the first, but Zatkoff stopped a toe-drag wrist shot by Johan Sundstrom, and Brock Nelson rang a backhander from down low off the post after receiving a pass from defenseman Aaron Ness.
Upon looking at the stats, I was surprised to see that the Sound Tigers were outshot in the first (and the second) period. They certainly put more high-quality shots on net, I thought.
In the second, the Penguins’ Thompson netted the frame’s only three goals. All three were from a bit further out, and Poulin was not screened on any of them, but one by one, they found their way through. Thompson’s first goal was from a sharp angle, and beat Poulin over the shoulder. On his second goal, Thompson entered the zone, pulled up, looked off a pass to his right and then put a wrist shot on net from up high, just inside the blue line that beat Poulin between the pads.
Thompson's third goal came just after two good Sound Tigers scoring chances: the first was a Cizikas rebound shot that Zatkoff miraculously stopped as he was falling backward, and the second was a 2-on-1 chance for Nelson and Brandon DeFazio. Nelson skated the puck into the zone, looked toward DeFazio, then shot, but Zatkoff made a save, and then another as Nelson followed up and got a rebound opportunity.
Shortly afterward, Thompson put a knuckling one-timer off the boards from the right side past Poulin in the final minute of the frame.
Down 4-1, the Sound Tigers opened the third period with a new look. Kenny Reiter replaced Poulin in net, Niederreiter moved off of his line with Cizikas and Colin McDonald to join Nelson and DeFazio, and Sean Backman (and later Jon Persson) moved onto the first line centered by Cizikas. Bridgeport began the period with a goal by Persson at 1:59 to cut the Penguins’ lead to 4-2. Jordan Hill took a shot from the point that was stopped, and Persson grabbed the rebound and roofed a backhander over Zatkoff.
But nearly three minutes later, the Penguins’ Brian Gibbons beat Ty Wishart to a loose puck and then tucked a backhander past Reiter on the breakaway to give Wilkes-Barre another three-goal lead.
Bridgeport continued to put on the pressure, outshooting the Penguins in the third period by a 19-5 margin, but Zatkoff held strong until there was just 31 seconds left, when Nelson scored for the second straight game. Niederreiter fired a shot on net that was kicked out to Donovan, and Donovan passed the puck across to Nelson, who beat Zatkoff for his fourth goal of the season. The scoresheet gives assists to Sundstrom and Donovan, but I’m pretty sure it should be Donovan and Niederreiter. No matter how it’s officially scored, it was too little, too late as the Penguins skated out of Bridgeport with a 5-3 win.
Credit to the Penguins, who managed to kill Bridgeport's many momentum surges with well-timed quick-strike goals.
In this game, I’ll give it to Persson. He used his size throughout the contest to protect the puck, made a few nice plays offensively, and was ultimately rewarded with a goal in the third.
I hate to beat up on the goaltender for the second straight game, and I’ve lavished enough praise on Poulin over the last few weeks to the point where I think it’s clear that I believe he’s very talented, but he had good looks at just about every shot that beat him, and none of them were lasers that picked the corners.
Travis Hamonic dropped the gloves with Simon Despres shortly after Thompson’s second goal in the second period, perhaps trying to spark his team. I’d give Hamonic the edge for some early shots and a late takedown in a bout that did not see any clean shots land. The fight appeared to have its desired effect, as the Sound Tigers generated some good chances shortly afterward, but Thompson’s third goal just about killed any chance at a Bridgeport rally.
In the third, DeFazio took exception to a Reese check and the two dropped their gloves. What followed might not classify as a fight...DeFazio pulled Reese’s jersey over his head and then the linesmen stepped in. Officially, it went down as matching roughing and unsportsmanlike-conduct calls.
I touched on Persson’s strong game earlier. Also, you have to like what you saw from Niederreiter and Nelson. In the third, we got to see them play together, and they created multiple opportunities by taking plays straight to the net. They finished the game with a goal apiece.
THINGS I DON’T NEED TO SEE IN HD
The close-ups of the pie-eating contest. I love that the Sound Tigers’ home games on AHL Live are in HD now. But since it is the arena feed, you still have to watch all of the contests, dancing fans, birthday boards, etc. that occur after the whistles at the game. Having my entire computer screen filled with a crystal clear shot of some person’s mouth inhaling a mangled pie is...unsettling.
BY THE NUMBERS
Shots: Bridgeport -- 40, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton -- 32
Power Play: Bridgeport -- 0/3, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton -- 1/3
The list of injured Isles’ prospects: David Ullstrom did not dress due to his injury sustained the night before. Kirill Kabanov remains out after his wrist surgery. Anders Nilsson again did not dress due to...I think it’s still whatever illness he has.
Niederreiter -- 8gp, 5g, 4a, 9 pts
Nelson -- 8gp, 4g, 3a, 7 pts
Cizikas -- 8gp, 3g, 3a, 6 pts
DeFazio -- 8gp, 4g, 1a, 5 pts
Donovan -- 7gp, 0g, 5a, 5 pts
Ness also has five points.
Bridgeport is home on Wednesday, Nov. 7 to take on the defending Calder Cup Champion Norfolk Admirals, although the Admirals have an entirely different roster, as they are now the affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks while the Tampa Bay Lightning affiliate was changed to the Syracuse Crunch.
The game will begin at 11 a.m. As such, I will probably not be able to watch it live. I’ll catch the archived game when it’s up on AHL Live (probably the following day) and write up a review then.