I attended the Norfolk Admirals second game of the season last Saturday, without an idea as to what I'd wanted to cover. I'd decided early on that I'd pick out a few players, and report on what I saw. So I randomly chose right wing Carter Ashton, left wing Cory Conacher, center Tyler Johnson, and goaltender Jaroslav Janus, who was in net that night.
What I hadn't realized at the time was that Ashton, Conacher, and Johnson were on the same line. They started the game as the second line, and then they were put out together to start the second power play of the game, and during that first shift, they scored a goal. Specifically, Ashton scored on a deflection in front of the net on a Mark Barberio shot.
Ashton did not look like a player straight out of junior hockey. He was confident, knew where he needed to be, taking shots, and throwing hits if needed. Though, he's not a terribly physical player in that regard - throwing hits - he doesn't shy away from the physical play in the corners or in front of the net. At one point, one of the Charlotte Checkers players tried egging him into a fight, but he walked away - and also held his teammates back from jumping in on his behalf.
At 6'3", he towered over his linemates - especially Conacher. Johnson's listed at 5'9", and he probably is, which Conacher's listed at 5'8". Johnson's got a couple of inches on Conacher, so I doubt very much that Cory's really 5'8". Not that Tampa Bay Lightning fans have any problems with shorter hockey players, right?
Conacher is fiesty and fearless. This is a guy who doesn't know what "can't" means. Think of what Martin St. Louis was probably like just out of college, and you'd come close to Conacher. He's got the tenacity of Marty, and the fiestiness of Steve Downie - but in a less impulsive way, from what I could tell. This is a guy who knows that he'll have to prove himself all the time, and isn't afraid to prove the nay-sayers wrong.
Johnson, no knock against him, looked like he was playing in his second professional hockey game. Don't get me wrong, he still played very well, but he did look like he was right out of junior hockey, which he is - a touch overwhelmed and still trying to get used to things. He centered the line, and did very well at it. I can't imagine how he's going to look mid-season if he's already playing this well now. He is also fearless, but is more apt to pick his spots than barreling in like Conacher is - he's just a touch more restrained that way.
Ashton scored one the power play, and ended up with just one goal on the night. Conacher ended the game with one goal and two assists - one assist for each of his linemate's goals. Johnson had one goal and one assist on Conacher's goal. The line had a total of three goals and three assists for this particular game.
As for Janus, he played a very good game. The final score was 4-3 Admirals, and two of those goals that Janus allowed in he was screened. The last goal was a bit of a softie, and that unnerved him at the beginning of the third period. He calmed down soon afterward, though. He didn't see quite as much action as the Checkers' goalie did - shots were 44-29 Admirals - but he definitely kept the team in the game.
I saw Janus play once last season, and it wasn't a very good game. He looked shaky and nervous. I was told that he tends to be an up and down sort of goalie - he's a bit streaky. So I caught him on a good night.
He's one of the few stand-up goalies around right now, as most goalies these days tend to play in a butterfly style. So he stayed up on his feet, and was pretty mobile, especially laterally. To me, he looked like he could work on his angles a bit more.
Interesting note: The Admirals did not have a captain selected. They had three A's - defenseman Mike Vernace, left wing Mike Angelidis, and right wing Michel Ouellet. There was a ceremonial puck drop before the game, however, and Vernace took it. I have no idea if they're not going to select a captain at all this season, or if the C will be awarded later.
Overall, the team was very much in a similar spot to the Lightning, in terms of general play. They let a lot of odd-man rushes happen, and they sometimes had problems with turning the puck over in the neutral zone. The defense wasn't spectacular, but it worked alright.
The bottom line was that the line of Conacher-Johnson-Ashton was brilliant and the goaltending was pretty good, while the rest of the team was still trying to find their way.
I'll be back down there in about a month to check things out again. If you have any suggestions or requests, please leave them in the comments. Keep in mind that I'm just seeing a single game snapshot of the team, and not the general trends over many games at a time.