When Ryan Strome was called up to the New York Islanders for his NHL debut, their AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers didn't just lose their first-line center -- they lost the AHL's top scorer and a key to their offense.
In a sense, the blow to the offense was softened somewhat by the earlier return of offensive defenseman Matt Donovan, who resumed putting up points (14 in 17 games) during his spell back in the AHL. But now Donovan too is back with the Islanders, and Bridgeport is feeling it.
They lost Saturday night at home, 2-0 to Portland, making it five games in a row without a win and just one win in their last eight.
Since Strome's departure on Dec. 10, the Sound Tigers have shuffled to try to fill the void but produced only 24 goals in 14 games. As Michael Fornabaio of the Connecticut Post described the search to replace him:
... wingers Anders Lee and Mike Halmo have remained together for the 13 games* since. But seven different players have started games with them.
Johan Sundstrom got the first crack for three games, but an illness has kept him out ever since. Riley Wetmore stepped in for the next three; he took a puck off the head Dec. 21 and only returned to practice this week.
Lee moved to center for a game to let left winger John Persson join them; other centermen in between Lee and Halmo have been Alan Quine, Andrew Clark, Philip-Michael Devos [since releaed from his PTO] and the current occupant, Chris Langkow.
*Note, the above was posted before last night's game, when Lee and Halmo were split up and Clark centered Lee and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, the NHLer who was demoted to make room for Strome. Also, Persson was out injured last night.
Kirill Kabanov, an Isles prospect with such tools but who has yet to put it together, hasn't been an option and was the healthy scratch Saturday.
Not that the Sound Tigers were lighting up the AHL before Strome and Donovan's recalls, but they've now hit the midway point of the season looking up at everyone in the division other than Hartford, Sunday afternoon's (3 p.m.) opponent who is also winless in five.. As Fornabaio posted after Saturday's loss, the coach wasn't upset with the way they played...
"Looking at the whole tempo of the game, the structure of the game, I’m very happy with the work ethic," Scott Pellerin said. "All of our lines came to play. They sustained some offensive-zone time. They competed at a level I’m happy with."
... and so Bridgeport sits:
... 14th in the conference, 10 points and a tiebreaker behind eighth-place St. John’s. It owes games in hand to everyone in the way.
Then again, though their 90 goals are below every Eastern Conference team in a playoff position, it's not bottom of the league nor conference. You know what is last in the East? Their 123 goals allowed.
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