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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Let The Games Begin! A Preview of Whale Playoff Hockey

Courtesy of theahl.com

(Ed. Note: The Whale started their playoff series with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers last night with a 3-0 win in Bridgeport. Game two is Saturday night at 7 in Bridgeport. The Whale return to Hartford for game three on Sunday and 5PM. If necessary, game four will be Wednesday in Hartford at 7PM and if a game five is needed to decide the series, it will be played in Bridgeport Saturday, April 28.)

The Whale finished the 2011-2012 regular season with two losses. They lost their home finale to Manchester in a shoot out 5-4 and they lost the season finale 2-1 to Syracuse. They finished second in the Northeast Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference of the American Hockey League. The season started well and the Whale had what appeared to be a Calder Cup contending team. That team was dissolved when Carl Hagelin, John Mitchell and Stu Bickel were called up to the Rangers.  Hartford would never get them back as all ended up staying in the NHL with New York. 

The Whale finished with a 36-26-7-7 record with 86 points. They played Bridgeport, the Northeast Division winner, and their first round opponent, ten times this season.  They won four and lost six.  Five of those games were played in Bridgeport where the Whale didn't win any.  They went 4-1 at home against the Sound Tigers.

The first round of the playoffs will be a five game series,  a change from last year's seven game first round series.  If Bridgeport wins a game at home, it will force the Whale to have to win more than one game on the road, something that they have not been good at this year, especially in Bridgeport, where they haven't won this season.

When looking at the matchup between the two teams there are some pretty even statistics. The Whale scored 30 goals against Bridgeport and allowed 34 goals. Whale top scorers in the season series were Jonathen Audy-Marchessault who had five goals, six assists for 11 points in those 10 games.  Assistant Captain Kris Newbury had 2 goals, 9 assists for 11 points in nine games.  Andre Deveaux who only played in seven games against Bridgeport had three goals and five assists for eight points. 

The Whale will need as much offensive fire power as they can get because the offense has been sputtering lately with just eight goals in their last six games. They have been shut out three times since St. Patrick's Day when they lost to Springfield 3-0.  The offensive drought couldn't come at a worse time. 

There are new bright spots on the roster that may boost the offense in the playoffs. Casey Wellman, added before the trade deadline, and Christian Thomas who has played with the Whale since his OHL season ended, both represent new blood for the Whale.  Wellman has played 30 games with the Whale and he has nine goals and 13 assists.  Thomas has only played 5 games with has a goal and assist to show for it.

As is almost always the case, the goaltending may very well be the deciding factor in this series.  Chad Johnson, the starter most of the season, played in seven games against Bridgeport with a goals against average of 2.70.  Cam Talbot played in three games against Bridgeport surrendering 14 goals for a goals against average of 4.61 against Bridgeport.  I think it's almost a given that Johnson gets the start in net on Thursday night in Bridgeport.  

Bridgeport used two goalies against the Whale. The main man between the pipes was Kevin Poulin. In those 9 games he had a G.A.A. of 2.62, close to his season average of 2.79.  The other game was played in net by Anders Nilsson who played 25 games at the AHL level this year with a 2.42 goals against average.  He allowed 5 goals in the one game he played against the Whale. 

Losing all five regualar season games in Bridgeport is a worry for the Whale.  In those five games the Whale went into overtime three times, so a bounce here or there could have easily changed the record in Bridgeport.   Crucial to the Whale's chances is the power play which was they capitalizing on  19.1%  of the time against the Sound Tigers.

The three things the Whale needs to do to get out of Bridgeport with a win is (1) avoid defensive breakdowns in front of their own net,  (2) keep the offensive scoring punch fresh and, (3) as always, the rest is up to the goalies.  
A five game series is quick and anything can happen. The Whale could either be advancing to the next round or making travel plans after the 5PM game in Hartford Sunday. The second season starts now!

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