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Not Far From the Tree: Sound Tigers struggles mirror Islanders

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Hartford Wolfpack vs Bridgeport Sound Tigers
No, seriously, the dude’s name is “Lafranchise.”
Photo by Gregory Vasil/Getty Images

They’re a significant amount of points out of a playoff spot after enduring a month in which they won only two of a possible 11 games. Their leading scorers are hardly setting the world on fire (10-15-25 in 30 games for the leader) and they’ve gotten more attention for their treatment of rookies this season than anything they’ve done on the ice.

Oh. Did you think I was talking about the Islanders? Sorry. I should have mentioned first that this is a post about the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders’ AHL affiliate, who lost a 3-2 shootout to Springfield last night and have tumbled out of the post-season picture roughly halfway through their season.

The loss not only made Bridgeport 2-8-0-1 in their last 11 games, but was the first AHL game for goalie Jaroslav Halak since 2008. Halak, who was placed on waivers by the Islanders last week, made 30 saves in regulation and overtime but was beaten on a frankly embarrassing goal in the shootout, as the Falcons’ Tim Bozon lost control of a puck that decided to slide under Halak’s pads anyway.

To make room for Halak, the Sound Tigers sent goalie Eamon McAdam to ECHL affiliate the Missouri Mavericks. Although McAdam is 7-2 on the season, both he and Stephon Williams are sporting sub-.900 save percentages and Christopher Gibson is out with an injury.

At 17-14-0-1 and in fifth place in the Atlantic Division, the Sound Tigers trail Hershey by eight points for fourth, which would secure them a playoff spot. There are still 40-odd games to go but, like their parent club, floundering for your first 30 games or so isn’t conducive to having a successful season.

Bracken Kearns scored both goals for Bridgeport in Wednesday’s loss, including the tying goal with just a few seconds left in the third period. Kearns, like much of the roster, is an AHL veteran rather than actual prospect for the Islanders. The scores against Springfield were the 200th and 201st of his AHL career. The ghost of Steve Bernier is lurking (with an impressive 12 goals and seven assists in 23 games) and could join Stephen Gionta as a call-up anytime the Islanders need another old guy for some reason. But names like Tanner Fritz, Andrew Rowe, Connor and Kellen Jones and Kane Lafranchise might not ever see time as Islanders, regardless of how awesome those names might be.

In terms of the actual prospects, steady but unremarkable defenseman Adam Pelech was recalled today for the big club’s road trip to Denver and Glendale, and Scott Mayfield’s gotten some NHL time this season as well. Ryan Pulock, so integral to the Islanders during their playoff run last year, is hurt again, this time with an upper body injury. He’ll get a chance again because the Islanders are going to need him. And while Kearns leads the team in scoring with 25 points, defenseman Devon Toews is second with 23 (on four goals and 19 assists) in his rookie year out of Quinnipiac. If you’re looking for a true bright spot this year, Toews might as well be your guy.

[Update: Guess who will be the Sound Tigers representative for the AHL All Star Classic? Told you Toews was a bright spot.]

High profile rookies and first round picks Michael Dal Colle (7g-7a-14 in 32 games) and Joshua Ho-Sang (3g-13a-14p in 28 games) haven’t lit up the scoresheet, but that doesn’t really say how well they’re doing down there. Our own David Sheer was impressed by Dal Colle’s vision and Ho-Sang’s electricity, but so far in their development cycles, those qualities haven’t exactly translated into bunches of goals.

Of course, with Ho-Sang comes the extracurricular stuff that can’t help but pop up. Despite being a healthy scratch and a fourth liner at various parts of the season, Ho-Sang called Sound Tigers coach Brent Thompson, “the most caring guy I’ve ever played for.”

It’s hard to rate an AHL coach when you haven’t watched a game all season. It’s likely that the team’s talent level (not to mention the apparent implosion of his goaltending), isn’t giving Thompson a whole heckuva lot to work with. But Thompson seems cut from the same cloth as Islanders coach Jack Capuano. They’re both players coaches who preach BATTLE LEVEL and value games played above tactics discernible to the outside observer.

We don’t give enough attention to the Sound Tigers around here (which is why you should all be following CT Post beatwriter Michael Fornabaio). But with the Islanders’ season essentially on life support after a series of bad decisions, our attention naturally turns to the team’s future. We’ve already seen firsthand Anthony Beauvillier get yo-yo’ed around the line-up and Mathew Barzal play twice before bring returned to the WHL. And when the rest of that future has two wins in 11 games and faces its own uphill climb to the post-season, our attention turns to other forms of entertainment.

The Sound Tigers’ next game is Saturday at Hartford, which is currently in last place in the Atlantic Division. Tonight, you can watch Barzal and 2015 first rounder Kieffer Bellows battle for gold at the IIHF World Junior Championship (8 pm, NHL Network, TSN). Both will get medals and one of them is coming home a winner.