This season Bolt Prospects introduced our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their on-ice contributions. There are no trophies or plaques, but a song remake may be in the works.
We wanted to highlight prospects throughout the year to help fans get better acquainted with the next round of Lightning stars while recognizing the prospectâ€™s achievement on the ice.
This weekâ€™s BP Prospect of the Week award goes to â€¦ Tyler Johnson, Norfolk Admirals (AHL).
AHL rookie Tyler Johnson didnâ€™t have an especially fantastic week on the ice last week â€“ he had one assist in two Norfolk wins â€“ but that point was his 22nd of the month of March. The former Spokane Chief, who was signed as a free agent by the Lightning last March, averaged just short of two points per game this month, finishing with those 22 points in 12 games. He scored in nine straight games and finished a 13-game point streak on March 30. He has helped the Ads to 23 straight wins, a hockey universe record.
He was also awarded the AHL Player of the Month, making this his second-straight March to remember.
Bob Halkidis (yes)!
Dustin Tokarski stopped all 32 shots he faced for the victory. In Saturday's game, he broke his previous mark for wins, and tonight's shutout, his 5th, sets a new personal best for shutouts as a pro. He also ran his winning streak to 10 games and ran his save percentage for the year up to .911. He leads the league in wins by 3 at 29 and he's now tied for second in shutouts, 1 back of Ottawa's Ben Bishop.
NOR Palat, (8) (Barberio, Johnson), 12:27 (SH)
NOR Panik, (19) (Ouellet, Johnson), 17:34 (PP)
Tokarski and Tyler Johnson were the game's first and second stars. While Johnson saw his goals streak snapped tonight, he ran his points streak to 13 games.
Don't look now, but with 40 points, Richard Panik is now tied for 15th in scoring amongst AHL rookies. The Panik attack is 1 goal shy of the magic 20 goal plateau.
Happy Birthday to Ondrej Palat, who celebrated with the game winning, shorthanded goal.
Among the wonderful things the Admirals win streak has already done, we can add this blog's first ever reference to former Lightning defenseman Bob Halkidis.
Standings-wise, the Admirals' magic number for clinching the division has now dropped to 2 points. A Norfolk win Friday or a Wilkes-Barre Scranton loss to Connecticut gets it done. In the conference, tonight's critical 4-point win did a lot to advance things for the Admirals, as they dropped that magic number from 10 to 6 with a single victory. A win Friday will make everything almost elementary. Norfolk could run their lead on St. John's to 15 points, with only 8 games remaining on the IceCaps' schedule, and there would be no way for St. John's to catch the Admirals in ROW, meaning the magic number will actually drop to 1.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
And the streak reaches Rudy Poeschek.
Dustin Tokarski allowed 3 goals on 38 shots for the victory. He raised his save percentage to .908 and posted his 9th straight win and 28th overall for the season in his first start back from Tampa Bay. Looked like a standard Dustin Tokarski effort to me. He'll be tough on himself even though the first goal was on a breakaway, the second one appeared to go through him on a one-timer, and the third was off a rebound he might want back. But, in general, his movement and positioning was pretty well spot on and he made the key saves he needed to to get the win. Classic Tic.
NOR Palat, (7) , 1:00
ALB Zharkov, (15) , 13:29 (SH)
ALB Tedenby, (4) (Gelinas, Whitney), 8:42 (PP)
NOR Killorn, (1) (Conacher, Devos), 15:02
NOR Johnson, (29) (Panik, Barberio), 1:06
NOR Picard, (6) (Palat, Kostka), 13:55
ALB Anderson, (10) (Mills, Harrold), 18:39
Johnson's got goals in 9 straight games and is now 1 shy of a 30 goal rookie season.
I watched tonight's game specifically to see how Killorn is fitting in, and the answer is: seamlessly. They've put him on what I would classify their second line with Conacher and Devos, and he doesn't get lost in the wash. He's assertive and he's noticeable. He's playing a nice, simple north-south game down the wing with speed and shooting it every chance he gets. He tied for the team lead in shots last night and he did so again tonight. He's also sticking his nose in on the wall and he got his first pro goal tonight by going to the front of the net to the danger zone. He found an open path to the cage laterally from the left wing board down low along the goal line, and Conacher hit him with a nice feed, and then he made a pretty little finish switching forehand to backhand in tight with a d-man coming down on him. I'm looking forward to seeing him in a few weeks in the playoffs once he gets better accustomed to his teammates and we see more of the playmaking side of his game, too, but there was nothing tonight that I saw that made me believe we have made any mistakes ranking him so highly on this website. He's the real thing, and I think his effectiveness on each shift may be helped by the fact he's not going to have to log 20-25 minutes a night like he did for Harvard. He's also come to the right place to develop in a hurry playing for the Rookie Whisperer, Jon Cooper. Tonight, 3 of the 4 goals were scored by rookies, which has been the norm for much of this streak. Just add Killorn to the list.
Palat is playing on what is Norfolk's top line right now with Johnson and Richard Panik, and what I really have been shocked by is the development of Palat physically over the course of the last year. This isn't a guy who believes corners are only for bus stops and mail boxes anymore. This guy digs, and despite his size, he wins his fair share of battles. When you couple that with his playmaking abilities, you have yourself a player.
The most impressive prospect tonight, to me, was Panik, though. I am giddy at the development of Panik over the past few months. He wasn't perfect tonight in the sequence that led up to Albany's extra-attacker goal, but put that aside, and the tape of this game and the Admiral's win in the second game a week ago against Charlotte will show you just what a dynamic all-around player he has become in a short time. Last week was the dazzling between the legs goal and the hands. If you watch him, he's like guys like Lecavalier in that he'll try to do some really creative things that most players won't attempt in pro hockey, because he can. He did that once or twice tonight too on plays where he tried some setups that just missed clicking. Also, tonight, you saw the power game out of Panik. The turnover on Palat's goal was the direct result of Richard coming to destroy someone on a hit, and later in the game he absolutely killed Vladimir Zharkov finishing off a clean check that clearly dinged up Zharkov. The Panik attack is continuing to evolve, and whereas a month ago you might have been able to dismiss him as a guy who was living off the power play, right now he's playing the kind of game that projects well in all phases. Heck, Cooper's even using him with Conacher on the PK, and he's doing a really good job with that, too. If he continues to work as hard as he has been over the past little bit, the sky is the limit for this young man. He could be an All-Star caliber NHL player if he keeps his head and his heart in it. Remember, a year before his entry draft, Panik was projected as a top-10 pick before the bottom fell out due to some things that were beyond his control (limited ice time for his Czech Extraliga club) and some that were in his control (not training like a professional). So, the talent is there, and God bless Jon Cooper for reaching Panik and getting him on track.
Norfolk's win is it's 20th in a row (hence the Rudy Poeschek reference), and thanks to St. John's and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton going head-to-head tonight, a win tonight was going to help one of their magic numbers. Because the IceCaps knocked off the Penguins 2-0, Norfolk moves their division lead out to 14 points with the Pens holding 1 game in hand. So, with 8 games left in the regular season, the magic number for the division is close at hand (4 points, assuming the Admirals manage at least 1 more regulation/OT win). They also maintained an 11 point gap in the conference on St. John's, with the IceCaps holding 2 games in hand. So the Admirals have a magic number for the conference of about 10 points (ties get complicated, of course). Wednesday, St. John's comes to Norfolk to start a 2 game set with the Admirals, so winning those games will whittle that magic number down for the conference in a hurry, and by this time next Friday, the Admirals could have a lot of things effectively wrapped up, if they can keep on this streak another couple of games.
For those wondering, the team also holds a 6 point lead on Oklahoma City for the best mark in the AHL, with the Ads surrendering 1 game in hand. So, the magic number for home ice throughout the playoffs would be at about 13 points right now (again, ties get complicated).
Box score from TheAHL.com.
The record goes down, and it goes down hard.
Jaroslav Janus stopped all 20 shots he faced for his 10th consecutive victory. It's also his first shutout of the season, and he pushes his save percentage up to .909 for the year.
NOR Conacher, (33) (Kostka), 11:25
NOR Johnson, (27) (Palat, Panik), 17:14
NOR Hutchings, (2) , 5:38
NOR Panik, (18) , 6:53
NOR Conacher, (34) (Panik, Johnson), 8:07 (PP)
Conacher scored on a fortuitous bounce that went through Justin Peters for the game opening goal and then a shot from the right wing circle on the power play on a busted play that was supposed to go into the slot. The most impressive play of the day to me, though, was when he picked up 196 pound defenseman Michal Jordan and threw him to the ice like a piece of garbage during a goal mouth scrum.
You're going to see Panik's breakaway goal on youtube. The Panik attack came in the form of a deke to the right where he came back through his legs and roofed it going top shelf to his left. So much skill there for a guy who is also so strong on his skates. He had a 3 point night tonight to put him at 18 goals and 37 points in 54 games. To put that in perspective, Carter Ashton had 19 goals and 35 points in 56 games before he left the Admirals. The two are now tied for 15th in rookie scoring in the league, and the emergence of Panik and Tyler Johnson, who set an Admirals goal scoring streak record tonight, is what made Ashton expendable, to a degree.
So, the Admirals now own the all-time AHL record for a single-season winning streak at 18 games. They also tied the mark set by Syracuse a few years back of 18 wins that they spread over 2 years winning 15 to end one season and 3 to start the next. Norfolk can break that record, too, with a win against Albany on Friday. That's the last bit of streak business that's left to take care of before they need to divert their attention to locking down their division and the conference, and getting into the playoffs healthy and ready to smoke through the early rounds quickly.
I'll have a separate story up later on the streak from the perspective of Bolt Prospects and the Lightning organization sometime within the next day or two. Suffice it to say, there's a reason why we have spent the past 6-1/2 years or so doing the website, and days like this validate the effort.
With St. John's losing to Manchester today, Norfolk opened up a 10 point lead in the conference with the IceCaps holding 3 games in hand. So, Norfolk now controls its destiny in the conference with a key weekend set against St. John's still on the schedule. Norfolk also maintained a 10 point edge on the Pens in the division, with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton holding a game in hand. Remember, the AHL reduced its regular season schedule to 76 games starting this year, down from 80 in order to reduce heavy scheduling and promote better player health. So, Norfolk has just 10 games left on their schedule before the postseason, so the magic numbers are going to come up really quickly now for clinching. Norfolk's remaining games are against: Albany (3 games), Binghamton (3 games), St. John's (2 games), Adirondack (1 game), and Wilkes/Barre-Scranton (1 game). So only 3 of Norfolk's remaining contests are against teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today. Advantage: Admirals.
Oh, and all 5 goals today came from rookies. If Jon Cooper's not the AHL Coach of the Year this year, then obviously the award is trash.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Sunday. Sunday. Sunday!
Jaroslav Janus allowed 2 goals on 32 shots for his 9th consecutive victory, besting tandem mate Dustin Tokarski's previous Admirals record of 8 set just a couple of weeks ago. He now has raised his save percentage to .906, which matches Tokarski's AHL save percentage, and his 17 wins ties him with several others for a spot in the AHL's top-20 in that statistical category.
NOR Conacher, (32) (Smith, Labrie), 7:07
NOR Cote, (2) (Devos), 8:59
CHA Boychuk, (15) (Terry, Sanguinetti), 13:42 (PP)
NOR Dimmen, (3) (Ouellet, Gudas), 1:55
NOR Johnson, (26) (Oberg), 6:26
NOR Palat, (6) (Johnson), 7:35
NOR Hutchings, (1) (Palat, Oberg), 15:02 (PP)
NOR Panik, (17) (Smith), 16:45
CHA Boychuk, (16) (Dalpe, Sanguinetti), 14:33
Ondej Palat (pictured) and Tyler Johnson were the game's first and second stars.
Tonight's box score should be the yard sign for Jon Cooper's candidacy for AHL Coach of the Year. Not only did Norfolk match the AHL single-season winning streak record with the win, but look at the scorers in this game. 7 different goal scorers. 6 of the goal scorers are AHL rookies. 7 rookies contributed points tonight. This is not a veteran-heavy team, nor is it being carried by 1 or 2 players. This team is young, athletic, and deep, but none of that means anything without a coach who builds a program and gets his young athletes to buy into the system.
Panik attack, y'all.
Oh yeah, and with Springfield's victory over Portland tonight, Norfolk also clinched a playoff spot, too. Norfolk now has 91 points (they only had 93 points all of last season, and that was a good team), which puts them 8 up on St. John's in the conference and 12 up on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the division. What stuns me the most, though, is that they've run their cushion on Hershey up to 19 points. Wow. What that all means is that, if they can finish strong and win the conference, the Admirals will very likely get a first round opponent with a negative goal differential for the season. Advantage Norfolk, which leads the league now with a ludicrous goal differential of +70. +37 (Toronto) is the next closest mark in the league, for reference. What that hopefully means is the Admirals can get out of the first round quickly. As any hockey fan knows, the playoffs are as much about attrition as they are about anything else. The Lightning's '04 Cup win would likely not have happened had they not disposed of the Islanders and Canadiens quickly in the first two rounds, giving them the gas to outlast the Flyers and Flames in a pair of 7-game series at the finish line. Conversely, the Lightning having to go 7 games against the Penguins in the first round in the 2011 playoffs likely led to them being out of gas by Game 7 against the Bruins. Norfolk is putting themselves in a position to potentially win the attrition war, and if they do, we know they have everything else to make a serious championship run.
History will be made, as the commercials say, Sunday at 3 pm against this same Charlotte team. A victory gives Norfolk the all-time, single-season AHL win streak mark. As Herb Brooks said to Team USA before they played the Finns in the Gold Medal match in 1980 after their legendary upset of the Russians, "If you lose this game you'll take it to your (expletive) graves... YOUR (EXPLETIVE) GRAVES!"
Finish the drill, Admirals. Make us proud.
Box score from TheAHL.com.