The Albany River Rats are in southern Virginia this weekend for a back-to-back set of games against the Norfolk Admirals. Several Caniacs went up to watch the Hurricanes prospects in action and we are pleased to announce that a long time friend of the blog, "C-Leaguer" made the trip and agreed to write up his description of what happened in the games.
Thanks very much to "C-Leaguer" for his efforts, and we look forward to see what he has to say after Saturday night's tilt. Here is his report for Friday night:
River Rats Fall to Norfolk Admirals 3-2 in Shootout
On Friday night the Carolina Hurricanes AHL affiliate, the Albany River Rats, dropped the first of a two game set to the Norfolk Admirals 3-2 in a shoot-out. In a game dominated by sloppy play for much of the early action, the Rats were able to control the flow of the game in the third period and erase a one goal deficit to force overtime and salvage a point in the critical two game stand between divisional foes.
The Rats opened the scoring at 3:47 in to the first when Chris Terry was able to tip a Zack Fitzgerald shot from the point past the Norfolk Admirals goaltender Jaroslav Janus. Fitzgerald was the only player credited with an assist when the goal was announced, but the play was set up by recent ECHL call up Milan Gajic who was able to make a nice cross ice pass to Fitzgerald.
While the early score seemed to bode well for the Rats, this would unfortunately be the only decent scoring opportunity the Rats would muster in the first period. Luckily, Norfolk seemed to be content to play a sloppy game early on and the Rats were able to carry a 1-0 lead in to the first intermission.
As the second began recent acquisition Justin Pogge continued to battle in net and the Rats were able to hold on to the lead despite being outplayed. All that changed just before the halfway mark of the second period when Adam Hall for the Norfolk Admirals was able to deflect a shot past Justin Pogge to tie the game at 1 – 1 at 9:59 of the second. The puck had been worked around behind the net and was shot out in to the crease where it deflected off of the goal or goalie and floated up ten to fifteen feet in the air. Hall, who was in the slot but well covered, was able to locate the puck and follow it until it was boot high at which point he batted it towards the Rats goal and somehow found a way to get it past Pogge.
Pogge was able to rebound from that goal and make a good save at the 13 minute mark of the period. Unfortunately, soon there after Drayson Bowman took a penalty for interference that sent the Rats to the PK. The PK unit looked good and was able to kill the first 90 seconds of the penalty with ease. With only ten seconds left on the power play the Admirals collected the puck behind their own goal and headed up ice for one last rush. On that rush Justin Keller would take a shot that the replay showed to be from just outside the blue line that would beat Pogge and make the score 2-1 in favor of the Admirals with only seconds left on the power play.
Just seventeen seconds later Mitch Fritz, who wears an "A" for the Admirals and is the somewhat reminiscent of Oggie Olgethorpe from "Slapshot" fame, took an instigator penalty when he initiated a fight with Blanchard. Fritz got the better of the two in the fight by a large margin but because he was called for the instigator the Rats were able to go on the powerplay and one of the leaders of the Admirals was forced to sit for seventeen minutes (two for instigating, five for fighting, ten minute misconduct).
The Rats were able to finally establish some offensive zone possession on the powerplay following the instigator penalty, but were not able to capitalize on the man advantage. Casey Borer had a nice move after the power play expired where he faked a shot, got a defensemen to dive in the way only to hold the puck and move back towards the center and fire the puck on net through a clear lane. The shot rang off of Janus and lay on the near side near the net for a few seconds before an Admiral was able to clear the puck. The second period ended 2-1 in favor of the Admirals and while the Rats were outscored 2-0 and outshout 19-3 in the period the late play allowed them to take momentum in to the third period while only being down one goal on the road.
The third period kicked off with the opening lines for both teams back out on the ice for the opening faceoff. The Rats wasted little time evening the score when Jamie McBain tied the game with a shot from just inside the near side circle that beat Janus to the far post at 29 seconds. The laser shot past the outstretched Janus not only tied things up, it also seemed to inspire both teams to play their best hockey of the night.
Pogge, who seemed to struggle with rebounds and use his size to get in the way of pucks as opposed to using his glove to stop pucks, seemed to settle down after the score was tied. He had one of his best stretches of the night when he made some critical saves during a powerplay for the Admirals at about the four minute mark of the third. Rebound control was still an issue, but the Rats were able to clean up the mess and keep the puck from ending up in the back of their net. The third period came to an end with no further scoring and each side registering 8 shots on goal during the period.
Overtime began and the better level of play seen from both teams in the third continued with it. At 3:40 in to the extra session the Rats were able to muster a strong challenge on the Admirals goal getting off a point blank shot and drawing a hooking penalty. At that point Jeff Daniels called his timeout and drew up a few plays. Chris Terry was able to win the next couple of faceoffs back to Jamie McBain in spite of being up against a much taller opponent from the Admirals. The Rats were able to generate two decent shots off of the face off wins, but both ended with Janus freezing the puck and another faceoff.
After the second shot was held, and with only about 30 seconds left on the clock, Jeff Daniels inserted Oskar Osala in to the PP group, leaving Terry, McBain and Rodney on the ice. Unfortunately for the Rats Terry was not able to win a third consecutive face off and the puck was dumped down the ice. The Rats were able to gather the puck quickly and make a final run at the Norfolk goal. After entering the zone and setting up possession. Osala went directly to the crease at which point the rest of the Rats began to fire the puck on the net. This was the first time that Osala was used specifically as a big body in front of the net on the power play, and while the Rats were unable to score in the final seconds OT they were able to generate two decent opportunities.
With no score in the OT the game headed to a shoot out. The Admirals elected to shoot first and were able to cash in on four of their five attempts. Keller, Blair Jones, Matt Fornataro, and Mitch Fadden were able to beat Pogge while only Juraj Simek was turned away. The Rats were not able to match the Admirals prowess scoring on only two of their four attempts. Jacob Micflikier and Drayson Bowman were turned away in the teams first two attempts, but Terry and McBain were both able to score and at least force a fifth round. The Rats lost the shoot out 4-2 and the game 3-2.
Some Notes on Individual Players:
- Overall I was quite impressed by the play of Jamie McBain. He was able to quarterback the first unit powerplay and lead the penalty kill. His skating was smooth and his outlet passes were well disguised. He made a play on the PK midway through the third were he followed the puck from the far corner up to the half wall at which point the puck was passed back to the point. He continued to follow the puck to the point appearing to take himself out of a solid defensive position. However, instead of being out of position, he was perfectly placed to force a bad pass from the pointman, intercept the puck, and start a 2 on 2 break out the other way. He wasn’t dominating, but he was in control and taking in everything on the ice while he was skating. He was also able to make a nice move in his shoot out attempt out waiting the goal and rolling a puck off Janus’ back and in to the net.
- Oskar Osala had a good night, but didn’t yet seem to be in sync with his team mates. He used his size well at points and he made a point to take on the larger players on the Admirals. Whether this was to make a statement to his team mates or to management is unknown, but it was nice to see the 6’4" 220 pounder play big. That said, the big man did receive a lot of time on the PP and, with the exception of the last thirty seconds of OT, he did not park himself on the crease. He did crash the net after shots were fired, but he did not put himself out there to be a screen on the PP the way someone his size could. Whether this was due to his tendencies as a player, him not being used to the system, or Jeff Daniels coaching remains to be seen. Osala did handle himself and the puck well on the perimeter, showing that he is perhaps more than just a big screen. That said, it was nice to see Osala park himself in front of the net during the final thirty seconds of OT after Daniels drew up the play.
- Justin Pogge fought the puck all night. He’s a very large goalie and he uses his size to get in the way of pucks. His style, while effective, lead to numerous rebounds. He also seemed to get flustered in the second not long before the shot from outside the blue line beat him to give the Admirals a one goal lead. To his credit, the Admirals were in his face all night long, putting a player near the crease every opportunity they got. That said, there is simply no excuse for a goalie as big as Pogge to be beaten by a shot form just outside the blue line especially when it comes from the direct center of the ice. I think part of the responsibility for his play can be attributed to his unfamiliarity with the defense. At times the two were not on the same page and Pogge seemed to be rattled by this. That said, he’ll need to improve his rebound control over what he showed last night if wants to challenge Murphy or Peters for a higher spot in the organizational depth chart.
Outside of that no other players stood out. Tlusty didn’t play. A radio announcer mentioned something about him being suspended, but I was never able to verify that. Bowman and Bryan Rodney played decent games, but nothing I would say was solid. They both seemed to get sucked in to the sloppy play early. Borer had a quiet game, but in a good way. It appeared as if Jeff Daniels was putting the recently returned defenseman in to situations were he could succeed. I think it was a smart use of the player, and a good effort to build confidence in a young man who lost nearly a year of hockey.
Saturday brings another game against the Admirals and with it a chance to regain the point they lost in the standings to the divisional foe. Here’s hoping the Rats are able to pull one out and stay ahead of the Admirals in the divisional standings.