Whale Notebook: Rookie Jean off to impressive start
by Michael Rappaport/Correspondent
After finishing the preseason with a 2-2 record, the Connecticut Whale started the regular season with two games on home ice. Although there were a few bright spots that the Whale can take away from this past weekend, Connecticut was unable to capture any points in the standings.
Connecticut played its opener on Friday night against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The home team jumped out to a 2-0 advantage, as Kris Newbury and Kyle Jean scored for the Whale in the opening frame.
However, after the teams returned to the ice for the second period, Bridgeport dominated the play. The Sound Tigers, who were unable to put any of their 19 shots in the opening period past Whale goaltender Jason Missiaen, beat the Chatham, Ontario native five times before the period ended.
The main forces in the onslaught were Casey Cizikas, who scored two goals, and Nino Niederreiter, who scored a goal and added two assists in the middle frame. The five-goal period ended Missiaen’s AHL debut.
The Sound Tigers greeted Scott Stajcer with a goal a minute into the third period. Mike Vernace and Newbury added tallies 1:49 apart later in the period, but when the final buzzer sounded, Bridgeport came away with the two points.
The Whale wrapped up the opening weekend of the season with a Sunday matinee at the XL Center against the St. John’s IceCaps. As they did in the season opener, Connecticut opened the scoring. Newbury beat St. John’s goalie Mark Dekanich on the power play for his third tally in the two games.
Before the final horn sounded for period one, the IceCaps tied the score. St. John’s center Maxime Macenauer took a pass from Hunter Tremblay and buried a one-timer past Stajcer, who had no chance of stopping the puck.
Unlike two nights prior, Connecticut controlled the play in the second period, outshooting the IceCaps 15-5. However, each team turned on the red light in the frame.
The Whale’s success on the power play continued, as Jean scored on a rebound chance from in front of the net. Dekanich made the initial save on J.T. Miller’s shot, but he couldn’t prevent the 22-year-old from scoring his second goal in as many games.
The Connecticut sextet were less than four seconds away from heading into the locker room with a one-goal lead, but a blast from the IceCaps’ Zach Redmond eluded Stajcer on the stick side.
In the final frame, the IceCaps took advantage of a power play opportunity. With Chris Kreider in the penalty box, St. John’s right wing Spencer Machacek beat Stajcer on the glove side.
The Whale finished the period with 12 shots, but couldn’t get the equalizer against the 26-year-old Dekanich, who finished the contest with 35 saves.
STATS OF THE WEEK
If the Whale can take a positive out of losing the first two games of the season, they can look at their power play as a source of optimism. Out of the six goals that the Whale scored over the weekend, five came with the man advantage.
However, Connecticut needs to improve its discipline. The Whale picked up six minor penalties in each of the first two games.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Although Kris Newbury scored three goals in the two games, the player of the week for the Whale is Kyle Jean. In his first two games of professional hockey, Jean scored two goals and added an assist for the Whale.
The Michigan native -- who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Rangers this summer -- impressed many at the Rangers’ development camp and in the preseason with his size, speed and quickness on the forecheck.
Jean displayed all of those qualities over the weekend. In the opener against Bridgeport, Jean’s speed while killing a penalty led to a penalty shot, and the 22-year-old beat Kevin Poulin with a fancy deke.
Jean also displayed his offensive awareness and ability to create scoring opportunities. The 6-foot-4 left wing led Connecticut in shots on goal in each game, and finished the weekend with 12 overall.
As for his fast start, Jean believes he isn’t doing anything special. “I’m just trying to play simple, play hard, and do what the coaches tell me to do,” Jean said. “I just want to play my game and have fun.”
Connecticut begins a three-game road trip this week with games against the Norfolk Admirals on back-to-back nights. The Whale will battle the Anaheim Ducks’ AHL affiliate on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday night at 7:15 p.m.