The Bridgeport Sound Tigers head into a three-game weekend in the midst of a three-game losing streak -- their first losing streak of the season.
The team will look for answers beginning tonight when it visits the Hershey Bears, a team Bridgeport beat 3-2 on Nov. 3 in an entertaining game that storm-stricken Bridgeport fans got to see for free thanks to a nice gesture by the Sound Tigers organization after Superstorm Sandy.
The Sound Tigers come into the weekend second in the Northeast division with 20 points. Last weekend, Bridgeport dropped an up-and-down, high-scoring game to the rival Connecticut Whale (7-5 final) on Friday before suffering a blowout 6-1 loss on Saturday against the Binghamton Senators. Both losses followed a 5-1 clunker on Wednesday, Nov. 21 against the Adirondack Phantoms. Before the three losses, the Sound Tigers had scored impressive, dominating wins against the Providence Bruins (6-2) and the Manchester Monarchs (4-0).
Michael Fornabaio, of the Connecticut Post
, reports in his blog (http://blog.connpost.com/fornabaio/
) that Casey Cizikas should return tonight after missing six games with an injury suffered in Bridgeport’s Nov. 11 4-3 win over the Whale. The Sound Tigers could use Cizikas’ strong three-zone play as they look to get back on track. Cizikas had four goals and eight points in 11 games played before his injury. While he’s not the team’s highest scorer, he is perhaps the most consistently noticeable player, making a nice play on offense or defense on nearly every shift.
Coming back from injury recently was David Ullstrom, who returned on Nov. 17 against the Monarchs after missing five games. In the first seven games of the season before his injury, Ullstrom had gotten off to a slow start, recording just two points. But since coming back from injury, he has put up more impressive numbers, scoring three goals and seven points in five games played. Ullstrom has an intriguing mix of size and speed, and he uses both well, particularly when taking the puck to the net.
Top scorers Nino Niederreiter (9g, 18 pts) and Brock Nelson (7g, 14 pts) will look to get going again after being held off of the scoresheet recently. Niederreiter has no points in the last two games after going on an impressive nine-game point streak going back to the Nov. 3 game against Hershey. Nelson has been held pointless for the last three games.
The defense will need to regroup and protect its end better than it has. The Sound Tigers have given up 57 goals so far this year. In the Eastern Conference, only the Norfolk Admirals and Portland Pirates have given up more (the Whale have also given up 57). The Sound Tigers’ defense plays well when the team is on offense -- with three of the team’s top seven scorers being defensemen (Jon Landry, Aaron Ness and Matt Donovan). In their own zone, though, the defense tends to give opposing forwards far too much room, and it has been repeatedly victimized by cross-ice, back-door passes as the defenders miss assignments.
The Sound Tigers as a team lead all Eastern Conference teams in penalty minutes with 442. They are second in the entire AHL only to the Rockford IceHogs. While many of the penalty minutes are from fighting majors, Bridgeport spends far too much time killing off minor penalties as well.
As for tonight’s opponent, Hershey enters the game fourth in the East Division with 17 points. The Bears are on a two-game winning streak, and are 4-6 in their last 10. They are led in scoring by Jeff Taffe (5g, 17 pts), Garrett Stafford (1g, 14 pts), Jon DiSalvatore (5g, 11 pts), Tomas Kundratek (4g, 11 pts) and Zach Hamill (6g, 9 pts).
Saturday’s opponent, the Worcester Sharks, sit third in the Atlantic Division with 20 points. The Sharks lost their last game to the East Division-leading Syracuse Crunch by a score of 6-1. In their past 10 games, the Sharks are an impressive 6-3-1. In scoring, the Sharks are led by Tim Kennedy (6g, 18 pts in 18 gp), Bracken Kearns (7g, 14 pts in 18 gp), Sean Acolatse (4g, 12 pts in 18 gp), Matt Irwin (1g, 10 pts in 18 gp) and Sebastian Stalberg (5g, 9 pts in 18 gp).
In their previous two meetings, both coming in the same weekend (Friday, Oct. 26 and Sunday, Oct. 28), the Sharks easily handled the Sound Tigers by scores of 5-1 and 5-2 respectively. Those were the Sharks’ first two wins of the season.
Sunday’s opponent, the Norfolk Admirals, are last in the East Division with 14 points. They are currently on a six-game losing streak, and are 1-9 in their last 10. In scoring, the Admirals are led by Peter Holland (9g, 17 pts in 18 gp), Kyle Palmieri (7g, 15 pts in 18 gp), Sami Vatanen (3g, 15 pts in 17 gp), Patrick Maroon (6g, 10 pts in 18 gp) and Devante Smith-Pelly (1g, 8 pts in 18 gp).
In their previous meeting, the Sound Tigers beat the Admirals 4-2 in a solid effort that featured goals by Niederreiter and Nelson and three fights by Bridgeport enforcer Brett Gallant -- two tilts against Troy Bodie and one against Jay Rosehill.
KING OF THE HILL
The Sound Tigers announced on Nov. 28 that they have signed defenseman Jordan Hill to a one-year, AHL deal. Hill had been playing for the team on a professional tryout since Oct. 27, following the season-ending shoulder injury to Calvin deHaan. Hill is 23 years-old and has one goal and five points in seven games played this season with Bridgeport. He began the season in the ECHL playing for the Ontario Reign. Hill spent two seasons in the AHL with the Manchester Monarchs when Bridgeport coach Scott Pellerin was an assistant there. Hill has also played for the Manitoba Moose. He has been a relatively steady presence on a shaky back end since joining the Sound Tigers.
WORTH A LOOK
Fornabaio has a nice story in the Connecticut Post
about Bridgeport’s on-then-off-now-on-again Swede line that features Ullstrom, Johan Sundstrom and John Persson (http://www.ctpost.com/spo...-Sound-Tigers-4078603.php
). The story’s worth checking out, and features the following quote by Sundstrom: "First of all, we're three serious guys. We want to be professional hockey players."
Sundstrom is currently third in scoring on the Sound Tigers, recording five goals and 11 points in 17 games played. Ullstrom is sixth in scoring for Bridgeport with three goals and nine points in 12 games played. Persson is 12th on the team with five goals and seven points in 17 games played.
Niederreiter: 17gp, 9g, 9a, 18 pts
Nelson: 17gp, 7g, 7a, 14 pts
Sundstrom: 17 gp, 5g, 6a, 11 pts
Landry: 17 gp, 3g, 7a, 10 pts
Ness: 17 gp, 0g, 10a, 10 pts
I’ll try to have a wrap-up of the weekend games done on Monday, although I have failed miserably at recent attempts to do so (it’s hunting season...from Friday to Sunday I’m in the woods with no Internet access. Kind of nice, actually, but tough to catch up on everything Sound Tigers and write about it Sunday evening). At the very least, I’ll post stats and some quick thoughts after watching the archived games, if not a full review.