The Syracuse Crunch played back-to-back games in Norfolk, Virginia, for the first time since the affiliation swap between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Anaheim Ducks. Goaltender Dustin Tokarski got the start in both games, and earned wins for both. The first game earned him his second shutout of the season, winning 3-0.
However, emotions were running high in that game, and, understandably so. There were 124 combined penalty minutes in the first two periods Friday. They calmed down a lot in the third, however, and were able to finish the game without the penalty box being standing-room only.
I attended the game last night, and while it was certainly entertaining and they won in overtime 4-3 on a Brett Connolly goal, it was also easily the worst game that I have ever seen that team play in the 2½ seasons that I've watched them.
It should've been a blowout; the Crunch should've won by like five goals. But because they weren't playing well, they fell behind early and they gave the Admirals a chance. Syracuse had Norfolk right were they'd wanted them, and they weren't paying any attention.
During warmups, it was clear that the Admirals were already a beaten team. They had no energy, they weren't talking to each other, and they were just going through the motions and looked like a group expecting to lose. And that's how they played the start of the first period, too - listless, with the Crunch skating circles around them.
Then, almost three minutes into the game, Norfolk scored. And when they scored, it was like a switch flipped. Suddenly, they weren't as downtrodden as they had been, they felt they had a chance to win after all, and they were able to stay in the game.
In all honesty, I genuinely believe that the only reason that the Crunch stayed in this game - and the only reason that they won - was purely out of habit. They're used to winning, so they did what they had to to win...in an autopilot sort of way. They definitely weren't the well-oiled Syracuse machine that they typically are.
They were sloppy, they were still overly emotional from their return visit, and they weren't playing as a team but as a bunch of individuals. The neutral zone turnovers were many, the retaliation penalties happened more than they should, there were some serious defensive breakdowns, goaltending was spotty, and there was a lot more trying to catch up to the play instead of running the play. Granted, there are legitimate reasons for that, but still. It wasn't pretty.
There were, however, far fewer penalty minutes than the game before - only 52 combined penalty minutes for the entire game, which included three fights. In fact, the first fight didn't happen until the third period. So, that's something, I guess.
Oh, and while I didn't see any player stray to the wrong bench or the wrong dressing room, there was some momentary confusion when it came to the penalty boxes once or twice.
Thankfully, these two games are out of the way. Now, they can get to that heated rivalry thing that this will soon turn into. These two teams really dislike each other right now, and that will become hate before too long.
Particularly since there were many fans in the stands at Norfolk Scope that had signs and were cheering for the Crunch players. Probably not as many as the night before, but there were still a fair number of them. There while were no Crunch jerseys in the stands that I could see, there still were plenty of jerseys from last season with Crunch player names on them.
All in all, the weird part about Syracuse and Norfolk playing each other finally seems to be over. The first visit to each other's arenas are done, and the fans have their personal allegiances sorted out. The next five meetings between these two teams should be very interesting to watch.