SOUND TIGERS — Aiming for First Place This Weekend

Last week the Sound Tigers reeled off three wins with a combined score of 13-7. They beat Norfolk last Wednesday in an 11am game, which is the annual school field trip game attended by many area schools. Over the weekend, they beat Manchester on the road and won a Sunday matinee against the rival CT Whale. All of that makes this weekend’s three games in three nights (tonight @ Wilkes-Barre, Sat vs. Manchester, Sun @ Providence) a real shot at ending up atop the division by Monday morning.

The Sound Tigers currently sit in second, two behind Springfield and four ahead of Adirondack, with an 8-3 record. It’s happened for a lot of reasons; there’s not really one part of the team that’s carrying them. They’re getting solid goaltending from both Kevin Poulin and Anders Nillson, the defense is playing well, and there are the two first round picks in Brock Nelson and Nino Niederreiter, who each have a 7-6-13 line and lead the team in scoring.

Nelson’s emergence in his first professional year is excellent news. The Islanders moved up in the 2010 draft to the very end of the first round to grab Nelson, and it’s still very early but it seems as though that is already paying off. He’s scored a goal in each game thus far in November continuing the offensive prowess he showed at North Dakota and, as LHH writes in a recent profile, has been given lots of special teams time indicative of someone who isn’t just a point producer:

While Nelson is second among AHL rookies in scoring, what may be most impressive in his short time in Bridgeport is Nelson’s work on the defensive end.

Sound Tigers Head Coach Scott Pellerin has praised Nelson’s two-way play, along with his ability to be put in all kinds of situations. Nelson has seen considerable time on the power play and penalty kill this season, at times single handedly eating up chunks of clock with his strong puck possession.

For Niederreiter, it’s a bit of a different story after what was a frustrating NHL season in 2011-12. In the AHL, it’s a level that’s better suited for someone who is — let’s all reminds ourselves — only 20 years old. He’s now in a spot where he’s one of the most, if not the most, important part of the team’s offense. Instead of an NHL fourth line, it’s an AHL first line playing against players that are his peers and it seems to have made all the difference. He’s also been able to avoid injuries, after missing training camp last year with a groin issue and a Mark Fistric delivered concussion. It’s a good start and hopefully a direction that both he and Nelson can continue in.

One of the early season mysteries was Anders Nilsson’s, uh, disappearance with an undisclosed injury. After missing the first couple weeks, Nilsson started two games for the Sound Tigers this week (Manchester and Connecticut) and seems to be just fine. He currently is 2-for-2 in wins with five goals against and 48 saves (.906 sv pct).

Other wounded players include David Ullstrom and Casey Cizikas, with the latter sidelined for the second time this year. Mike Fornabaio reports that Ullstrom should be available for tonight’s game in Wilkes-Barre, after suffering a ‘lower-body injury’ on November 3rd. Cizikas didn’t skate yesterday but could be ready to go this weekend. He left Sunday’s game with a super-secret ‘undisclosed injury.’