I attended the Norfolk Admirals 30th game of the season, and 11th home game, versus the Albany Devils. The Devils are the AHL affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, and former Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Mike McKenna was the starting goaltender for them on this night. Norfolk beat Albany 5-1.
Here are some thoughts about the team, the game, and the prospects.
- Cedrick Desjardins started the game in net, but he didn't get a lot of work initially. He faced only four shots in the first period. However, he did face 15 shots in the second, and 12 shots in the third, for a total of 27 shots on goal. Albany scored only one goal, and that was 8:07 into the second period.
- The Admirals had 20 shots in the first period, 15 in the second, and 12 in the third. Paul Szczechura had eight shots, Mark Barberio had five shots, and five other players had four shots each. So it was a fairly balanced attack by the offense, though one of those players with four shots was first-year-pro defenseman, 20-year-old Radko Gudas.
- Desjardins looked sharp, but hardly outstanding. Of course, he didn't have to be. I have finally seen how the defense is supposed to play in Guy Boucher's 1-3-1 system, and it is awesome. The Admirals defense have finally figured that part out, but the Lightning defense haven't yet.
- How the defensive schema's supposed to work is this: Just as the team sets up in the offensive zone with a forward in front of the net, two forwards and a defenseman stretched across the middle of the offensive zone, and a lone defenseman back on the blue line, that's how they're supposed to set up in the defensive zone as well. There's a forward on the blue line, a defenseman and two forwards stretched out across the middle of the defensive zone, and a lone defenseman in front of - or, perhaps more accurately, off to one side - of the goalie. Not much was getting past those three players in the middle of the defensive zone, and they didn't have to drop to the ice to block shots, either. They were tying up players trying to crash the net, getting into shooting lanes and stealing pucks as they were shot, and stripping pucks off of sticks as opposing forwards were trying to skate around them. It was very impressive, and I hope the Lightning defense can understand how that works sooner rather than later.
- I was sitting between the Admirals local beat reporter and a Montreal Canadiens scout, and both agreed that Desjardins is ready for the NHL. The beat reporter was wondering if he'd get a look at by the Lightning some time this season, as Dustin Tokarski had last season. The scout admitted that with Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price in net for Montreal last season that Desjardins didn't get an opportunity to play any games in the NHL.
- An interesting factoid - the beat reporter noted to me that last year, before Steve Yzerman took over as GM of the Lightning, there were no French Canadian players in Norfolk. Apparently, under the previous administration of Barrie & Koules, they preferred guys from Western Canada instead. Now, the Admirals have five that were born in Quebec: Stefano Giliati, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Mark Barberio, Mathieu Roy, and Pierre-Cedric Labrie. (Desjardins was born in the nearby province of New Brunswick.)
- The scout, since we were talking about the goaltending situation in Tampa Bay, didn't think that the team would pick up Evgeni Nabokov. Whoever signs Nabokov likely won't keep him anyways. If signed by an NHL club, Nabokov must go through waivers with all 30 teams, and from the worst record up to the best. The Lightning currently sit in the middle of the pack in the NHL.
- James "Killer" Wright had a fantastic game. He scored two goals - a shorthanded goal and a power play goal - as well as had four shots and was a +3 on the night. And in a penalty-filled game, he didn't go to the box once. He earned the first star of the game, while Barberio was the second star, and Szczechura was the third.
- Gudas, who was drafted in the 3rd round, 66th overall, in the 2010 draft, had a great game as well. He's not a terribly big guy - only 5'11" and 195 pounds - but he's quick and he's very good positionally. He's also not afraid to be physical, which is interesting since he's Czech and a lot of European players tend to play more of a finesse game than a physical game. Gudas can do both. For a guy that was a healthy scratch the first couple of games in the season, he's really become a very good defenseman. But even having said that, he still has a lot to learn, though he's learning it very quickly.
- Norfolk scored two shorthanded goals, which doubled their number of shorties on the season to a total of four. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the Pittsburgh Penguins farm team, have eight shorthanded goals, leading the AHL in that statistic.
- As a side note, AHL officiating seems to be better than NHL officiating - at least, from the few Norfolk games that I've gone to. They've been penalty-filled affairs, certainly; this is the minors, after all. But, for the most part, they seemed to be reasonably fair.
- The Norfolk Admirals are currently sitting in second overall in the Eastern Division of the Eastern Conference. Their record is an impressive 18-6-5-1 (W-L-OTL-SL) for 42 points. And they're 7-1-2-0 in their last ten games. Their overall winning percentage is 0.700 right now. They've also played a majority of this first part of the season on the road, just as the Lightning have. The top four teams in each division qualify for the playoffs in the AHL.
By the way, if you're interested in voting, the AHL All-Star Game ballots are up. Instead of just picking the "best" players, like the NHL does, they list everybody in the league. It makes for a more interesting - and perhaps fairer - competition, if nothing else. The AHL All-Star Game is 30-31 January in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and you can vote up until midnight of 9 January, HERE.
The next game I'll be attending will be mid-January, so let me know if there's a particular player you'd like me to watch or interview, or question you'd like to have answered, and I'll see what I can do.