Cuda Corner: Sluggish start dooms Barracuda despite comeback effort

Antoine Bibeau and Josef Korenar need to be bought dinner.

The San Jose Barracuda need to start figuring things out.

With last night’s loss to a red-hot Condors team, they have lost three games in a row, and have allowed 21 — yes, 21 — goals over their past three games.

The ‘Cuda entered the SAP Center on Wednesday night looking to gain ground on the hottest team in the AHL, the Bakersfield Condors, who have soared to the top of the Pacific Division off the heels of a 17-game winning streak. Antoine Bibeau started in net for the Barracuda, hoping to rebound from his last start in Ontario, where he allowed seven goals on 44 shots. Shane Starrett, the starting goaltender for the Condors, had a different experience in his last time out, stopping 32 shots out of 34 against the Barracuda on Saturday night in Bakersfield.

The Condors swarmed the Barracuda in shots early. The line of Cooper Marody, Tyler Benson and Kailer Yamamoto caught the ‘Cuda defense napping midway through the first period, leading to Benson burying a shot off a three-on-one opportunity to give the Condors a 1-0 lead.

A turnover by Cavan Fitzgerald proved costly as that same line of Benson, Yamamoto and Marody pounced on another three-on-one opportunity, this time with Jeremy Roy as the sacrificial lamb. Yamamoto made no mistake, slapping one past Bibeau after a tape-to-tape pass to and from Tyler Benson.

Not long after, Mitch Callahan ripped a shot on net from past the faceoff circle that was originally stopped by Bibeau, but the rebound was recovered by David Gust, who back-handed it across the crease for a 3-0 lead.

Shortly after, Antoine Bibeau was yanked from the game in favor of Josef Korenar,

Bibeau wasn’t happy about it, and I can’t blame him, because the defensive effort in front of him was, suffice to say, terrible. He smashed his stick on the dasher boards before throwing his gear down the tunnel.

But not even a goaltending change could seem to wake up the Barracuda. With under 30 seconds to go in the period, Mitch Callahan tapped in a power play goal to make it a four-goal game.

The Condors opened up the second period with another goal, this time from Evan Polei. Polei and David Gust caught Jacob Middleton on a two-on-one and Polei tapped it in.

Midway through the second period, Antti Suomela caught a stretch pass from T.J. Hensick on the other side of the ice and walked in on Shane Starrett before sending a wrist-shot past him for the ‘Cuda’s much-sought first goal of the game.

The deficit grew back to five with under two minutes to go in the period. William Lagesson unleashed a slap-shot from the top of the face-off circle that got past Korenar, putting the Condors up 6-1.

In the final frame, the boys in teal were able to cut down the Condors’ lead when Jacob Middleton dodged a check from Mitch Callahan, turned, and fired a shot past Starrett to get the ‘Cuda their second of the night.

And then ... there was hope.

Soon after the second goal, Jacob Middleton scored his second of the night to slice the lead in half.

Then things got very interesting.

Dylan Gambrell caught a back-hand pass from Alexander True down low and put it past Starrett to make it a two-goal game.

The Tank started to come to life. Could the Barracuda pull off an improbable comeback and get themselves closer to returning to the Pacific Division throne?

Unfortunately, those dreams were killed.

Josef Korenar completely laid out to stop a barrage of Condor chances, but Evan Polei found a way to give the Condors a 7-4 lead.

Joe Gambardella tied a Condors record for most goals in a season by one player with an empty-net goal to ice the game. He is now tied with current Grand Rapids Griffins captain Matthew Ford, who had 27 goals in his only season with the Condors in 2015-16, their inaugural AHL season.

These two teams will face each other once again at the SAP Center, where the Barracuda will don Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles jerseys for Nickelodeon night on Saturday, March 9, closing out the regular season series between these two teams.