Norfolk Scope at full capacity for the first time since 2007, taken during the second period.
Due to life doing what it does best - be inconvenient - I haven't been able to visit the Norfolk Admirals as often as I would like to this season. But, I made the three-hour drive down last weekend, just to see what was going on. And, I wasn't the only one.
Skipping the festivities in Ottawa for the NHL All-Star Weekend was JM Steve Yzerman. He was in Norfolk Scope for both games against the Hershey Bears (the Washington Capitals farm team) on Friday and Saturday. I was only there Saturday night and saw him slink in myself, but that's what I was told. The NHL Board of Governors, as well as the general managers, met in Ottawa to discuss business, but Yzerman was not among them.
So, take that as you will.
This was the last game before the AHL All-Star Break, and the next game for Norfolk isn't until Thursday, 2 February. Three Admirals were heading to the AHL All-Star Game in Atlantic City tonight - center Trevor Smith, rookie left-wing Cory Conacher, and defenseman Mark Barberio. The first and second periods were pretty good, but you could tell a bit into the third that both teams were looking forward to vacation a little too early.
The other person of note at the game, sitting next to Yzerman, no less, was Caps great Olaf Kolzig - and he is also the associate goalie coach for Washington. They'd had a Kolzig bobble-head night on Friday. Perhaps not so well-known to Tampa Bay Lightning fans is that many of the good folk in that part of the country are Caps fans. So honoring Kolzig like that really isn't all that odd, considering.
Incidentally, Peter Dineen - the head scout of the Columbus Blue Jackets - was also supposed to have attended, but if he was there, he was not in the press box.
Dustin Tokarski was in net, and Jaroslav Janus was backing him up. Mike Angelidis, who is the captain in Norfolk, was doing his best to get the team going. And, really, overall, they played fairly well. Frankly, I sort of think that the Lightning should watch tapes of the Ads.
That's about it, really. Wait...you want more? Details? Well, if you don't mind reading a sort of long post, then okay. I can do that.
As I've mentioned already, Angelidis was doing his best to get the team going. Though, you could've said that he went a bit too far. He was in one fight and in the middle of two scrums in the first period alone. And it just sort of went downhill from there, as he got a game total of nine minutes in penalties all in the first period. The two teams really don't like each other much, and it showed.
In terms of who stood out, no one really did. They played as a cohesive unit, and they played well. There were numerous breakaway opportunities by Norfolk in the second and third periods. But, on the power play, they were unable to keep the puck in the zone on any sort of regular basis. And I'm sure that sounds awfully familiar to people, too.
The Ads almost doubled up Hershey in shots. The first period sort of dragged for the Admirals - except for the fights, of course. They had serious problems getting the puck out of their defensive zone, and nothing was clicking for them. I had someone tell me that they've also developed the bad habit the Lightning had for most of the season of not playing a full 60 minutes and expecting to win games. In this instance, despite Tyler Johnson scoring a power play goal in the first (the Bears had scored first), the first period wasn't very pretty.
The second period was their best by far. Conacher, who had assisted on Johnson's goal, scored an even-strength goal - but, again, they were playing catchup. Hershey had scored earlier in the second to make the game 2-1, so Conacher's goal just tied things up again. They had plenty of breakaway attempts, but just couldn't get anything past Braden Holtby in the Bears' net.
The third period was completely different from the previous two periods in that periods one and two actually looked like a professional hockey game. It was clear that everyone had already mentally taken a vacation, since it looked more like an afternoon drop-in game instead of an AHL game. It was absolutely ridiculous how out of position all of the Admirals were for most of the third period.
The game-winning goal that got past Tokarski was a bit of a soft one that went five-hole. I didn't see exactly what had happened in front of him, so the benefit of the doubt sort of suggests a deflection or a screen. But, the fact that it dribbled in between his legs just made it look bad. That was one that he probably wanted back.
Overally, I got the impression from this one game that the Admirals were much more with it than the Lightning have been. And, keep in mind that the Lightning's injuries have affected this team, too. For every guy that gets called up to Tampa Bay, Norfolk has to find someone to replace him. In spite of that, the Admirals are three points out of first in the East Division, and fourth overall in the Eastern Conference in the AHL.
Perhaps this wasn't the best game to watch in order to gauge development of players or assessing how the team is doing since it was the last game before the break. But, despite its disadvantages, I could tell that this was a team that was firing on all cylinders. They're a force to be reckoned with in the AHL right now, that's for sure.