Admirals hockey is back with a whole bunch of changes. Yet it feels the same…
Nic Riopel saved every shot that came his way for his first shutout at Norfolk Scope. His team was victorious, netting three goals to give them the win over their opponent. The problem here is the opponent was the Norfolk Admirals, the subject of scrutiny of this blog. Riopel would have been familiar with the Admirals team he faced: somewhat unorganized, failing to get shots, and altogether undisciplined.
After an offseason of monumental change, the Ads were looking for a start in the positive direction. They brought in a new coach, Rod Aldoff, who has had a string of success at the minor pro level. A new and enthusiastic owner, all of 27 years old, Ardon Wiener, bought the team from the all-too-distant Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG). Newer players were brought in, but a good core from last year was kept together. It was several layers of paint on a familiar structure.
When you are a hockey franchise, the key element is the team. Norfolk’s hockey team has seen varying degrees of success since the Tampa Bay Lightning-affiliated team won 28 in a row, captured the Calder Cup, and bolted for Syracuse with an “It’s not you, it’s me”. Five seasons later, and there’s one playoff series win (and appearance) to show for it. It’s supposed to be different this year: finally some consistency.
Friday’s game showed what could be from this Admirals team. A frenetic pace of incredibly fast players, a good deal of shots on net, making some opportunities into goals (a goal, at least), and an incredible shift by a line with Kevin Henderson. The Ads came up short, but at least they showed an ability to use their talent.
Saturday was different. Despite getting worked on Friday night to the tune of 35 shots, Oilers prospect Eetu Laurikainen was given the nod again on Saturday night. Playing a goalie on back-to-back nights has been proven time and time again to be a terrible idea. It’s especially a bad idea when they faced a barrage of shots the night before, and could probably use the night off. I think this may have been a directive from the Oilers, who still remain the affiliate of the Ads, to give Laurikainen as much playing time as possible. It might be a good idea to ignore the Oilers on personnel decisions other than “Take Connor McDavid if you have the chance. He’s very good”. While there were definite criticisms to be had from Friday, the lineup on Saturday didn’t quite make sense.
Now, it should be noted the Admirals received players for Friday night’s game that morning. Better conditions for seasons have happened. Saturday would see some minor changes, including the addition of Alexandre Ranger. The speedy forward was a definite asset for the Ads last year, and looked to build on an impressive rookie year. While it made sense to insert him in the lineup, some other decisions were questionable. Defenseman Steve Tarasuk played well on Friday, yet was scratched in favor of Anthony Calabrese on Saturday. I don’t understand these moves. I also don’t make the decisions.
I am not sure what happened to the team between Friday and Saturday. The team on Saturday made zone passes to nowhere, couldn’t break out of the defensive end, and never really sustained pressure on offense. Norfolk let Kalamazoo take 6 power plays (5 in reality), though the Wings technically never scored. On the other side of the ledger, the Admirals were only the recipients of two power plays. Rod Aldoff showed questionable tactics on the team’s final power play. Down 3-0 with about 4 minutes left to play, the Ads had the man advantage. At this point in the game, you pull your goalie. The worst thing that can happen is the other team scores to make it 4-0 in a game you were likely going to lose anyway. The best thing that happens is you score a goal and make a comeback somewhat more viable. In the middle, you actually run your power play set, get some zone time. Aldoff did not pull Laurikainen, and a lot of nothing happened.
It was another disappointing Admirals loss. I feel like I could write it fifty times. Obviously, I don’t want this to be the case. Norfolk still has a whole season to go, of course. Wednesday presents an opportunity for the Ads as they take on Greenville, who is similarly winless. The Swamp Rabbits are also in the division, as well. Here’s to improvement.