The Bridgeport Sound Tigers were sharp Saturday evening in their 4-1 victory over the Manchester Monarchs, building off of home-and-home wins over the rival Connecticut Whale earlier in the week.
Sean Backman scored twice for the Sound Tigers on Saturday, Casey Cizikas put in his ninth goal of the year, and Nino Niederreiter capped off the scoring in his first game back after sitting out a game and a half due to a high stick he took.
When going through the game’s scratches, Bridgeport’s announcer mentioned that Brock Nelson, who has been out since taking a puck in the face on Dec. 14 against the Norfolk Admirals, has a broken jaw. It is the first time I have heard them actually reveal what his “upper-body injury” was, so I figured I’d pass it along.
Anders Nilsson was in net for Bridgeport on Saturday after Kevin Poulin backstopped the team to back-to-back wins over the Whale including his first shutout of the season in the second of those two games.
Nilsson looked good throughout the game, stifling the Monarchs with his positioning and rebound control. He probably could have stopped the goal he yielded, given another chance at it, but he shook it off and made key saves throughout the night afterward.
Actually, both Nilsson and Manchester goalie Martin Jones traded somewhat soft goals in the first to open the game. Backman began the scoring just 1:39 into the contest with a backhand shot that picked the near corner. It was an impressive shot, finding the only inch of room available, but considering the angle he was at, Jones would probably like to have that one back.
At 8:47, Tyler Toffoli answered for the Monarchs. Nilsson appeared to be in position, but a low shot managed to slide between his legs. In Nilsson’s defense, Toffoli was left alone in a good scoring area in the slot when he took a pass on a give-and-go with Linden Vey. Nilsson perhaps overplayed the shot a bit when he was stepping across to square to the shooter.
The score remained tied until 17:30 of the second, when Backman again scored for Bridgeport. He and his linemates, Mike Halmo and Chad Costello, had a good forecheck going. Costello put the puck in front of the net, and Halmo got a shot off from in close. The rebound dribbled out to Jones’ right, and Backman pounced on it and tipped it in for his second of the game and third of the season.
Just over a minute later, Brandon DeFazio created a turnover in the offensive zone that led to a two-on-one down low for Bridgeport. DeFazio sent a nice saucer pass over the defenseman to Cizikas, and while drifting left, Cizikas shot the puck across his body to his right and beat Jones high to make it 3-1.
Niederreiter’s goal came at 9:42 of the third on the power play. Ty Wishart did his best Mark Streit impersonation, sending a slap pass to the slot, and Niederreiter tipped it past Jones for his 16th of the season.
Despite being outshot in the game -- due entirely to a 14-4 advantage for the Monarchs in the third -- the Sound Tigers controlled the majority of this contest. Jones, despite yielding four goals, made some unreal saves to keep it close for most of the night; virtually all of the highlight-reel saves seemed to be on Bridgeport captain Colin McDonald.
After that ugly eight-game losing streak, Bridgeport seems to have found its game again. The team has won its last three, four of its last five, and is 6-1-2 since the losing streak. Bridgeport is currently second in the Northeast division, four points behind the Springfield Falcons.
BY THE NUMBERS
Shots: Bridgeport -- 29, Manchester -- 32
Power Play: Bridgeport -- 1/4, Manchester -- 0/1
Backman: 2g, +1
Halmo: 2a, +1
Cizikas: 1g, +1
Niederreiter: 1g, even
Wishart: 1a, even
Costello: 1a, +1
Sundstrom: 1a, even
DeFazio: 1a, +1
Aaron Ness has been held off the scoresheet for a little while, but his defensive game has looked better. He and Matt Donovan are the only two regular defensemen on the team that are in plus territory for the season (Ness is +1, Donovan is +8).
Chad Costello was signed to a PTO before Bridgeport’s Dec. 22 loss to the Adirondack Phantoms. In three games, he has a goal and four points, and he’s done it in a bottom-six role. Costello, who is 26, was leading the ECHL with 49 points in 27 goals for Colorado Eagles this season before coming to Bridgeport. His line, with Halmo and Backman, may have been Bridgeport’s best on Saturday.
At some point, we’ll have to start talking about John Persson. The Islanders’ fifth-round pick in 2011 doesn’t get mentioned too much in discussions about the team’s prospects, but he has an excellent nose for the net. He is currently third on the team in goals with 10 in his first full AHL season. Last season, Persson played 12 games for Bridgeport after his WHL season was finished, and he got 4 goals and 8 points in that time. He has good size and loves to go to the front of the net. He needs to put some very serious work into his skating, which is a notable flaw in his game.
After struggling for a stretch this season, during which time both Bridgeport goaltenders fell below a .900 save percentage, Nilsson and Poulin have rebounded a bit. Poulin is now up to .912, and Nilsson is at .901. Back on Nov. 24, Poulin let up 4 goals on 19 shots and was pulled in the second period. He slammed his stick on the ice in anger as he left. Since then, he seems to have flipped a switch, looking much more aggressive in net.
Niederreiter: 30gp, 16g, 14a, 30 pts
McDonald: 29gp, 5g, 18a, 23 pts
Nelson: 25gp, 11g, 11a, 22 pts
Sundstrom: 31gp, 8g, 13a, 21 pts
Persson: 31gp, 10g, 7a, 17 pts
Cizikas: 25gp, 9g, 8a, 17 pts
Ullstrom: 20gp, 4g, 12a, 16 pts
Landry: 31gp, 6g, 9a, 15 pts
Donovan: 30gp, 4g, 10a, 14 pts
Watkins: 31gp, 5g, 8a, 13 pts
Bridgeport is on the road this afternoon, Dec. 31, against the Adirondack Phantoms. The Phantoms have won the first two contests against the Sound Tigers by scores of 5-1 and 3-2.