1 Friday night was ripe for a few firsts--The Admirals defeated the Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning) for the first time this season in a 4-3 shootout, recently acquired center Kyle Wilson scored his first goal as an Admiral, and for the first time this season Norfolk has earned points in five straight games (4-0-1-0).
2 Despite Anaheim's revolving door trend with call-ups, the Admirals are showing some scoring depth. On Wednesday night against the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) winger John Mitchell scored two goals including the game winner. On Friday night against Syracuse, forward Josh Brittain got a goal, an assist, and put home the only goal in the shootout for the win.
3 In case you haven't noticed a theme yet, goaltender Frederik Andersen continues to be a shining star for Norfolk this season. He's won his last three starts and taken points in his last four. He currently leads the AHL in save percentage with .931 and is number three overall with a 2.11 goals against average. It's plain to see that without him the Admirals aren't even going to get a sniff of the post-season.
4 Goalie Igor Bobkov made winning his fourth shoot-out of the season look easy, stopping all five Syracuse Crunch
shooters Friday night. Bobkov has been perfect in the shoot-out this season winning all four he's faced.
5 Admirals' Captain Nate Guenin has points in five straight games (1G,5A) including a two point night (1G,1A) on
Wednesday versus the Charlotte Checkers.
6 With a focus on defensemen this week (you'll see the trend in a second) Mat Clark got his sixth helper on the season Friday night in Syracuse. Clark, known more for his physical play, has seven points so far (1G,6A).
7 In his last seven starts, Igor Bobkov is 3-3-1-0. Prior to last night's game against the number one ranked Crunch,
Bobkov hadn't played in 13 days (loss in Hershey) and has played in only 2 games since a 3-0 loss on Feb 22 against the Providence Bruins (Boston Bruins).
8 In eight games played this season, the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals) and Norfolk Admirals have split the series with four wins a piece. Norfolk picked up two of those wins with a weekend sweep of the Bears last Friday and Saturday, allowing only two goals against and a combined fourty-one shots against (Fri-17, Sat-24)
9 Defenseman Jordan Hendry, known more as being a "stay-at-home" defenseman, picked up his eight and ninth assists of the season against the Hershey Bears last Saturday. Hendry has eleven points (2G,9A)
10 Defenseman Sami Vatanen is tenth among rookies and fourth among defensemen in scoring with 36 points (5G,31A). Vatanen has seven mult-point games this season including a three point game (1G,2A) against the Hershey Bears last Friday.
Enough about the offense already! For many Admirals' fans, the talk lately has been about the ease with which parent club Anaheim has jerked the offensive legs out from under the Admirals with call-ups. The recalls of players like Peter Holland (19+19=38), Patrick Maroon (17+19=36), Emerson Etem (13+3=16) and more recently Brandon McMillan (7+3=10) could spell drought for many teams. However, as long time Admirals' fans and current players will tell you, for Coach Trent Yawney it's not about the offense. In fact, for his team, the game plan is to play good defense and the offense will come.
Good defense starts with good goaltending. For the past few weeks I've had the privilege of highlighting the
accomplishments of goaltender Frederik Andersen (with a few sprinkles of Igor Bobkov) who has taken the full weight of the Admirals' playoff hopes and put it squarely on his back, and thus far seems to be handling the pressure very well. Norfolk has climbed to within two points of the eighth and final playoff spot and have taken points in 12 of their last 15 games.
More importantly though has been the stability on the blue line. Norfolk's defensive corps have been spared thus far from significant recalls which has afforded them the opportunity to stabilize and get comfortable playing with each other. Led by Captain Nate Guenin (plus-10) the Admirals have a good mix of both offensive and defensive specialists. Defensive-defensemen Mat Clark (minus-16), Ryan Parent (minus-10), and Gabe Guentzel (minus-15) get the dirty job of playing big minutes against other team's top lines and often times not getting the benefit of goals from their own team to offset their somewhat poor plus/minus stats. On the other hand, rookies Sami Vatanen (plus-3) and Hampus Lindholm (plus-4) and veteran Jordan Hendry (minus-3) account for 11 Goals and 62 assists (also including Nate Guenin).
But it's not just about scoring goals or getting assists, it's also about keeping the puck not only out of but away from
the net. During the Admirals current five game point streak (4-0-1-0) the Admirals have held opposing teams to single digits in shots on goal per period. Out of 18 regular periods of play, Norfolk has given up ten or more shots on goal only five times. Also of note, the Admirals have allowed just ten goals against while scoring 18 goals of their own, again in many cases without the services of their points leaders.
Every player asked to talk about the system continues to credit the "defense first, offense will come" mentality. In a
game against Hershey last weekend in which the Admirals were out-shot 24-18, they still managed to put in four goals including two in the third period on only four shots. The Admirals are getting ready for the post-season, playing play-off hockey even with sixteen regular-season games to go. "They are playing to their identity," said Coach Yawney after a recent game, and it's pretty clear that this is a trademark Trent Yawney team--play defense, make the most of your opportunities, and win close games. For this team, the best offense is a good defense.
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