Norfolk scored, but…
The Admirals have still yet to record a point in the 2015-16 season. The team has been slow-going, having mustered only a goal in their first nine periods of play. Friday night presented an opportunity for the team to get on the good side of the ledger against Elmira.
Things looked much the same for most of the night, with the Ads giving up the first goal to home squad. Elmira happened to score a goal on a power play, putting a dent in a pretty decent Ads penalty kill. Unlike the previous three games, Norfolk actually had an answer! Both Mike Krieg and Mike Seidel would find the back of the net in the second period, giving the Admirals their first lead all year.
Norfolk looked confident most of the night. They controlled the pace of play, managed the penalty kill outside of the first goal, and attacked the net. Things got weird in the third period. A puck hit a referee near the end of the second period, Kyle Rankin of Elmira picked it up in the right ring, and he fired it to Paul Geiger, who tied the game for the Jackals. Referees aren’t supposed to impact the game, but they can’t control where the puck goes.
The final frame saw the deciding goal. After two successive icing calls, the Ads needed to get the puck out of their zone. If they kept up their strong play, they could have a goal or at least make it to overtime. A point would be a huge success for the Ads. Unfortunately, they gave up a marker. After Ben Davies won a faceoff, he kicked out the puck to Mike Seidel. Seidel wants to carry the puck or chip it. Former Ad Davis Vandane is in the way, and a chip probably results in a third icing. It doesn’t matter, as Vandane chips it back into the d-zone. At this point, Aaron Harstad recovers. Harstad (he’s in the very bottom of the frame here) wants to chip it forward to Seidel. Problem: there are a couple of Elmira defenders waiting. The smart play is most likely to ring it around the boards for Frankie Simonell (77), who can pick it up on the other side of Connor Knapp.
Elmira’s Casey Thrush (44) takes the errant puck and starts an offensive zone possession for the Jackals. See #2 up there? That’s Mike Radja. Ben Davies (center of the screen) goes to play Thrush’s pass, but he hits Radja.
Davies leans over to try to take away Radja’s opportunity. It doesn’t matter. Radja has a high-quality opportunity in the slot. Connor Knapp turns it away. Simonelli (at the net in this picture) clears away the rebound, down toward the bottom of the screen. Ads need to take care of the puck, clear it out, and get a change.
Casey Thrush is in a better position to grab the rebound than Davies and Seidel. Thrush gets the puck, and looks for options. One of his options: Davis Vandane.
Vandane’s got one Elmira guy in the faceoff circle, but there also lots of Admirals bodies in the high-quality area. Vandane takes the shot.
Daultan Leveille has his stick perfectly positioned for a deflection. There are two Ads behind him: Frankie Simonelli (closer to Leveille) and Aaron Harstad (closer to Knapp). The puck in this picture is a bit off the ice, close to Leveille’s stick. Harstad moves out of the way for Knapp to make a save. Knapp has his glove hand up to try and make a save, and his blocker is down…
Look where the puck is: to the left of Harstad’s skate, on the ice. Deflections take weird angles. The puck ends up…
In front of Knapp’s right pad. Knapp goes to close his five-hole, because he thinks that’s where the puck is going. The puck slides by Knapp’s pad, and goes in the back of the net. A lot to digest here.
First, the icings. Both of the icing plays were Admirals faceoff wins in the d-zone, but they chipped it all the way to the other side of the ice. A common play was to see Davies win the faceoff and quite literally kick the puck out to his right, which was Seidel. From here, Seidel is trying to lead the rush. Vandane proved to be a serious mark. The players who made the most impact on this possession were Vandane and Thrush, who controlled the left side of the ice. Norfolk couldn’t get out of there. You’ll notice Josh Brittain is in some of these frames, but doesn’t necessarily make a positive or negative impact. Norfolk needs to focus on trying to carry out of the defensive zone, and not necessarily chipping.
Zone exit and entry strategy appears to be simple. The Ads try to control the puck from the defensive end, will stretch pass to the red line if available, and then dump it in. Several of the entries I’ve watched are dump-in plays, or the aforementioned stretch chip. Carries aren’t too often. If you play this as your normal strategy, you’ll see it again and again as a way out of the zone. The Ads need to find a way for defensemen (and, in this case, forwards) to make smart decisions with the puck which won’t result in icing or turnovers at the neutral zone.
Despite being somewhat lost in the defensive zone, the Ads are very aware in the o-zone. Some of this is evident in the sheer number of shots the Admirals put on net. On the whole, they’re a better team than Elmira. However, they ran into a decent goalie and couldn’t maintain defensive integrity. Offense works so well-defensemen make smart pinch decisions, forwards keep the puck in, and the play is generally well oiled. Defense does matter–but it needs to execute with more carries as opposed to dump-ins. I’m not sure who is in charge of this system, but I’d like to see more carries.
Goaltending is another problem. Connor Knapp is playing okay so far this year, and his goaltending performances haven’t been abominable. Two games is too much to make a big deal out of, but he has a mediocre-at-best track record in the ECHL. He did need some run support on Wednesday, to be fair. Knapp saved 23/25 tonight at even strength, which isn’t bad. However, he needed to make the stop on the power play to have a solid night. Yes, the PK unit needs to get the puck out of the zone. Your goalie also has to come up big.
Eetu Laurikainen likely starts on Saturday night. The 2nd-year North American Pro has a lot to work on. He’s at a bit of a disadvantage at a listed six feet, which means he’s not the norm for most goalies these days. He needs to use his athleticism and positioning to make up for it, a la Nic Riopel. Laurikainen’s save percentage through 2 games is similar to Knapp’s, but he’s made more mistakes you would expect from a younger player. Keegan Asmundson is on the roster, but has yet to play. Norfolk’s goaltending needs to be good enough-someone needs to get close to .920-and their defense needs to tighten up. More shot-heavy performances tonight will lead to goals.