After losing, 4-0, to Norfolk in game 5 on Wednesday, the Connecticut Whale faces elimination for the first time this post-season when their Eastern Conference Semi-Final series (ECSF series ‘I’) resumes on Friday in Virginia with game 6 (7:30pm ET).
The Admirals made hockey look easy on Wednesday, shutting out the Whale, 4-0, and outshooting them by a margin of 14 (36-12), en route to a 3-2 series lead. Norfolk started goaltender Jaroslav Janus for the first time in the series, and the 22-year-old netminder successfully stopped each shot that the Whale fired in his direction.
Cam Talbot made his ninth-straight appearance in goal (dating back to the Whale’s final regular-season game in Syracuse on April 14), and allowed four goals on 36 shots. As expected, Talbot’s performance in game 5—along with the fact that he has started in nine-straight games for the first time in his pro career—has led to speculation that the Whale may turn to Chad Johnson for game 6, in hopes that he can save the season.
Johnson played the bulk of the games during the regular-season, appearing in 49 contests and finishing with a record of 22-18-6. Johnson does not have any pro playoff experience, however; after missing the playoffs in 2009-10 with the Hartford Wolf Pack, and in 2010-11 he was recalled on an emergency-basis to back-up Henrik Lundqvist during the New York Rangers’ playoff run.
The question at hand is whether the Whale should stick with Talbot for game 6, and hope that he can bounce-back to help his club force game 7 on Sunday; or go with the well rested Johnson, and hope that he can grab a big victory. I’d say Ken Gernander’s best bet would be to start Talbot—the goaltender that has led the Whale this far.
But, we will probably have to wait until tomorrow night to find out for certain who will protect the net for Connecticut in the do-or-die game 6…
What needs to happen?
Goaltending isn’t the only important issue that the Whale coaches will mull over as they prepare for Friday.
If you really take the time to go back and analyze game 5, you will find that the Whale had way more negatives than they did positives.
Is there a perfect formula for the Whale to follow in order to win game 6, and force the AHL’s top team to game 7? No, of course there isn’t. But, when taking a closer look at what the Whale has done in the past to become successful—most notably, during this series—you can probably create a small list of things that the Whale needs to do in game 6 if they would like to save their season.
First and foremost, the Whale needs to create more shots, more scoring chances and better overall opportunities when in the offensive zone if they are to have any chance at winning game 6. The 22 shots that Connecticut rattled off at Janus last night obviously weren’t enough, and the chances that created those shots were mostly weak.
What made the Whale successful in round 1 against Bridgeport (and in games 1 and 4 of this series) was their ability to drive the net and create juicy chances off of rebounds. Those types of scoring opportunities were not present on Wednesday. The Whale has also had a tough time establishing a consistent forecheck. That also was not the case in round 1.
The Whale also needs to figure out a way to work more efficiently on the power-play, they are 0-for-8 on the man-advantage in the past two games, and 3-for-25 in the series.
Defensively, the Whale can improve on rebound control and giveaways for game 6. Three of Norfolk’s four goals in game 5 came off of rebounds, while the fourth goal was scored on a wraparound attempt. The Whale blueline has been without veteran Brendan Bell for most of the series, as he continues to struggle with a lower-body injury. Rookie Dylan McIlrath has played in Bell’s absence. It is unknown right now whether or not Bell will return for game 6.
Discipline was a problem for the Whale earlier in the series, but in game 5 the Whale limited their penalties to three in the entire game.
You can definitely add discipline the list of ‘do’s’ for the Whale as they prepare for game 6 of the series on Friday night.
Read my recap of game 5 here.
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