The Bridgeport Sound Tigers scored three unanswered goals to complete a comeback against the rival Connecticut Whale, overcoming an early deficit caused in large part by former Sound Tiger Michael Haley.
Bridgeport played much of the home game with just 10 forwards, as Casey Cizikas left the ice hurt in the first period and did not return, and Colin McDonald received a game misconduct for running Whale defenseman and 2008 Islanders third-round draft pick Jyri Niemi dangerously into the boards from behind at 1:38 of the second period. Niemi was taken off the ice on a stretcher. Thankfully, according to Michael Fornabaio at the Connecticut Post
), all indications seem to be good for Niemi.
I did not see the play that resulted in Cizikas’ injury. They generally do replays of goals and fights and little else on the arena feeds, so if you do not see any other important play as it happens at full speed, you do not see it period. I just know that the broadcast mentioned that he went to the locker room, and he never came back. Fornabaio says Cizikas was either hit or clipped up high. He also says that while coach Scott Pellerin gave no specifics after the game, keeping Cizikas out of action yesterday “sounded more precautionary than anything.” We’ll hope that’s true, as the Sound Tigers and Islanders do not need Cizikas joining David Ullstrom, Kirill Kabanov and Calvin deHaan as Isles prospects out with injuries.
The Sound Tigers found themselves down early in this game, yielding a goal on the very first shift. Haley forechecked Bridgeport defenseman Aaron Ness, causing a turnover. With the Whale controlling the puck after the turnover, Haley circled around and snuck in behind the defense, got a pass from JT Miller, and put the puck by goaltender Anders Nilsson. Nilsson appeared fooled on the play, expecting a shot rather than a pass from Miller, and he was unable to recover in time.
Both teams put some solid offensive shifts together after the goal. As with their first game against each other last month, both teams looked great when on the forecheck, and a bit overwhelmed when defending. The Sound Tigers would pull even at 9:06. Sean Backman entered the zone 1-on-3, but managed to fend off the Whale players long enough for Matt Donovan to enter the zone. Backman dished a pass to Donovan, who carried the puck low to goaltender Cameron Talbot’s right and took a sharp-angle shot that managed to sneak in short side.
But less than four minutes later, the Whale would strike twice on successive shifts. Kyle Jean, who looked solid in the teams’ first meeting, scored by faking a shot, drawing down Nilsson, and then quickly wrapping the puck around the net and stuffing it in before the Bridgeport goaltender could recover.
Thirty-nine seconds later, Haley would strike again, breaking hard to the net ahead of Brock Nelson, getting a pass from Marek Hrivik, and firing a one-timer from the slot past Nilsson to put the Whale ahead 3-1.
The Sound Tigers would do themselves no favors to start the second. McDonald’s dangerous check on Niemi early in the period resulted in a five-minute major and a game misconduct (officially written up as a match penalty, which according to Fornabaio means the refs saw intent and McDonald will be suspended pending a review).
The crowd was subdued after Niemi's injury, and so was the Whale, it seemed. Their offense had been sharp up to that point, but they mounted virtually no sustained pressure on their long power play, and the Sound Tigers would draw a penalty shortly after the major expired. Nelson would score for the fifth straight game on the resulting power play at 8:57 of the second to pull Bridgeport to within one. The power play had an unimpressive start, with the Sound Tigers unable to set up in the zone. But the second power-play D pairing of Ness and Jon Landry managed to get it together, displaying impressive puck movement. Nelson got the puck along the boards to Talbot’s left, moved to the top of the circle, and fired a rocket by the Whale goaltender for the goal, his seventh of the year.
The Whale continued to put themselves in penalty trouble, giving the Sound Tigers a 5-on-3 later in the period. Just as the first of the two penalties expired, Travis Hamonic let a shot go from the point through a screen that would hit off the crossbar (I think) and into the net to tie the game at three.
The game would remain tied through most of the third, but at 15:06, Mike Halmo would give the Sound Tigers the lead for the first time, and they would hold onto it for the remainder of the game. Landry fired a homerun pass up the ice that got by two Whale defenders and ended up on Halmo’s stick. On the breakaway, Halmo fired a shot that picked the top corner for his first goal of the year.
The Whale offense never seemed to get it together after the lackluster five-minute power play in the second. The Sound Tigers, meanwhile, built off of the impressive kill and seized momentum from that point forward. The Whale managed only 10 shots through the second and third periods, while the Sound Tigers doubled that total in those periods with 20. With the shortened bench, Bridgeport managed to grab and maintain momentum while playing three lines. Brett Gallant was the extra forward, but saw virtually no ice time. The broadcast speculated that Pellerin did not play the enforcer much after the hit on Niemi to avoid possibly igniting an already volatile situation. To both teams’ credit, in a game that could have easily turned ugly and gotten out of hand after the hit, they instead focused on the hockey game.
The lone fight of the night featured unlikely combatants in John Persson and Jean, and was more the result of a small personal feud that developed during a shift in the third period than any sort of revenge for the Niemi hit. In the fight, which ended almost as soon as it began, Jean took a swing and missed, falling to the ice, and Persson got maybe two glancing blows in afterward.
The Whale power play was ranked third in the AHL heading into yesterday’s game and Sound Tigers’ penalty kill was ranked 18th. Yet the Sound Tigers managed to kill all four Whale power plays, including the five-minute major, without yielding much in the way of quality scoring chances. While the Whale seemed a bit disorganized with the extra man, part of that disorganization should be credited to an aggressive Bridgeport penalty kill that pressured the points and generated a few shots on net of its own.
In Friday’s game against the Manchester Monarchs, Nilsson could do no wrong. In yesterday’s game against the Whale, he guessed wrong on two plays that ended up in the back of his net. The difference to me seemed to be that he let the plays come to him a bit more on Friday, whereas yesterday he tried to rely a little more on outguessing the shooters, and when he guessed incorrectly, he was too far out of position to react.
NIEDERREITER AND NELSON
Nino Niederreiter has his three-game goal-scoring streak snapped, but he did manage a primary assist on Hamonic’s power-play goal to extend his point streak to five games. Nelson, meanwhile, picked up an assist in addition to his goal to tie Niederreiter for the team lead in both goals and points.
BY THE NUMBERS
Shots: Bridgeport -- 32, Connecticut -- 19
Power Play: Bridgeport -- 2/7, Connecticut -- 0/4
Halmo: 1g, 1a, +2
Nelson: 1g, 1a, -2
Landry: 2a, -1
Donovan: 1g, even
Hamonic: 1g, +1
Backman: 1a, +2
Ness: 1a, -1
Niederreiter: 1a, -2
Watkins: 1a, +1
Nelson: 11gp, 7g, 6a, 13 pts
Niederreiter: 11gp, 7g, 6a, 13 pts
Cizikas: 11gp, 4g, 4a, 8 pts
Donovan: 10gp, 1g, 6a, 7 pts
Ness: 11gp, 0g, 7a, 7 pts
Bridgeport travels to Wilkes-Barre for its third game of the season against the Penguins on Friday, Nov. 16.