Helenius and the Crunch crumble in the third period.
Riku Helenius allowed 5 goals on 24 shots for the loss. He allowed 3 of those goals on 9 shots in the third period. Helenius looked to be back on the right track after a shutout in his last start, but he's been knocked back down to a 3.78 GAA and an ugly .852 sv% with this result.
RCH Tarnasky, (3) (Legault, Schofield), 5:28
SYR Panik, (4) (Devos, Killorn), 9:17 (PP)
RCH Rankin, (4) (Biega, Foligno), 12:16
SYR Conacher, (7) (Palat, Nightingale), 3:45
RCH Foligno, (6) (Rankin, Flynn), 6:12
RCH Brennan, (6) (Mancari, Sundher), 9:38
RCH Flynn, (4) (Foligno, McNabb), 18:08
Richard Panik (pictured) was the game's second star. After a slow start to his season he now has 4 goals and 8 points in 11 games, and a 4 game points streak.
It's a tough thing to see Bolt Prospects Alumni Nick Tarnasky contribute for Rochester. Et tu, Tarnasty?
Syracuse faces Hershey next on Friday.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Riku Helenius allowed 4 goals on 29 shots for the overtime loss. He's struggled in his past couple of starts and currently checks in with a horrific .824 save percentage. Ouch.
SYR Connolly, (3) (Conacher), 8:21 (PP)
ADK McGinn, (2) (Syvret, Schenn), 1:07
ADK McGinn, (3) (Schenn, Mangene), 8:45
SYR Killorn, (1) (Palat), 13:31
SYR Killorn, (2) (Taormina), 14:01 (PP)
ADK Schenn, (4) (Couturier, Gustafsson), 18:58 (PP)
ADK Manning, (2) (Schenn, Couturier), 0:14 (PP)
Alex Killorn (pictured) was named the game's second star. I got a question on the message boards about Alex Killorn's quiet start. Two goals and six points in his first seven games is nothing to sneeze at. On the list of things that concern me about the start of this season, J.T. Brown getting nicked up and Richard Panik having his photograph on the side of a milk carton rate quite a bit higher.
Syracuse came within 1:02 if taking a win against an Adirondack team that, on paper, looks to be one of the better teams in the conference. I liked the start, with Brett Connolly cashing a check he wrote in his interview after yesterday's game, and I liked Killorn bringing the team back after surrendering the lead in the first half of the second period. But, they got back on their heels a bit in the third period and didn't quite get that one more big save they needed. Welcome to the lockout version of the AHL, boys. You're going to have to up your game when protecting a lead when 1/4 of Adirondack's roster was playing in Flyers jerseys last year.
The rematch goes down Friday night in Adirondack.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
When Panik attacks...
Riku Helenius allowed 5 goals on 13 shots before leaving at 9:30 of the Second Period for dropping the gloves with opposing netminder Robin Lehner (yes, that happened). Dustin Tokarski was flawless on 14 shots the rest of the way for his second victory of the season.
BNG Hoffman, (1) (Silfverberg, Zibanejad), 7:25 (PP)
BNG Cannone, (1) (Hoffman, Petersson), 9:18
BNG Eckford, (2) (Stone, Petersson), 1:35 (PP)
BNG Grant, (1) (Stone), 2:51
BNG Borowiecki, (1) (Claesson, Schneider), 6:35
SYR Conacher, (3) (Johnson), 10:29
SYR Barberio, (2) (Johnson, Connolly), 12:36 (PP)
SYR Connolly, (2) (Labrie, Korobov), 6:57
SYR Palat, (1) (Johnson, Panik), 11:39
SYR Wyman, (1) (Panik, Barberio), 16:18
SYR Panik, (1) , 3:44
Richard Panik (pictured) was the game's first star, assisting on the final two goals in regulation of Syracuse's comeback before bagging the overtime winner. That's how you break out of your early season mini-slump in style.
Tonight's win has to be considered a super concentrated, extra strength, team-building win. This was a vicious, nasty game that saw the teams rack up a combined 152 penalty minutes and reached the height of mutual contempt in the brawl between Lehner and Helenius at center ice. That, in and of itself, would make the W a sweet one. But, to crawl out of a 5-goal hole to get the 2 points? That's how you ingrain belief in the team concept. On the other end of the rink, Bingo not only blew a 5 goal lead, but they blew a 3 goal lead going into the Third Period, which should be a death sentence for the trailing team in professional hockey. That's going to be a devastating pill for them to swallow psychologically.
Aside from Panik, multi-point nights abounded for the Crunch, with Tyler Johnson racking up 3 helpers and Mark Barberio and Brett Connolly each getting 1 goal and 1 assist. Newcomer Dmitry Korobov also hit the scoresheet for the first time this season with a helper and was a solid +3 in the win.
Syracuse ended up outshooting Binghamton 42-27 in the game. The Crunch conclude the weekend tomorrow against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Syracuse hangs on hard against one of the league's perennial powers.
Riku Helenius allowed 3 goals on 26 shots for the victory, in a successful return to North American hockey. This battle between Helenius and Dustin Tokarski for the top spot between the pipes in Syracuse is going to rage all season, and both guys are going to be better for it. It's an embarrassment of riches to boast two guys who won championships last season in the AHL and Finnish SM-liiga, respectively. Good. Problem. To. Have.
SYR Angelidis, (2) (Wyman), 11:23 (SH)
SYR Johnson, (3) (Conacher, Palat), 5:36
HER Mitchell, (1) , 7:26 (SH)
HER Almeida, (1) (Taffe, DiSalvatore), 14:36
SYR Conacher, (2) (Taormina), 18:44
SYR Connolly, (1) (Barberio, Conacher), 5:02 (PP)
HER DiSalvatore, (1) (Kundratek, Taffe), 13:04 (PP)
Cory Conacher (pictured) and Tyler Johnson were the game's first and second stars. For my money, Conacher was the best player in the league the first half of last season and Johnson the best in the second half. Why wouldn't they lead the Crunch in the home opener this year? With a little offseason rest, Conacher looks every bit the pesky scorer that tore up the league to start last year.
No offense to our friends in Hershey, but I have to confess to being a little stunned that this year's version of the Bears is the least stacked, on paper, I've seen in a while. Sure, there's some fine players like Orlov and Holtby, but without the likes of Bourque or Giroux, this year's team lacks the fear factor of many recent editions. It's going to be interesting to see how the division plays out over the course of the season.
The Crunch travel to Albany next on Friday.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Despite the large void the NHL lockout created, the hockey season is already long underway. Various amateur and professional leagues throughout North America and Europe have wrapped up their preseasons and are set to begin or are already in the thick of regular season action.
The Lightning's new AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, open their 2012-2013 season tonight with an impressive roster that boasts the nucleus of last season's Calder Cup-winning roster and an infusion of talent with varying professional experience: (J.T. Brown, Brett Connolly, Danick Gauthier, Riku Helenius, Dmitry Korobov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jared Nightingale, Matt Taormina and J.T. Wyman). In the absence of big-league action, watching much of the (currently foreseeable) lifeblood of the Lightning's future skate and bond together is a much-welcomed tonic.
The Tampa Bay Lightning assigned 18 players to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL ahead of what appears to be an NHL lockout, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced.
Among the players moving to New York are reigning AHL Most Valuable Player Cory Conacher, former No.6 overall pick Brett Connolly, and last year's late-season signing, J.T. Brown. Others include recently signed prospects Vladislav Namestnikov, Danick Gauthier, Dmitry Korobov, and Riku Helenius. The additions of Connolly, Brown, Namestnikov, and Korobov will make the Crunch a stronger team, which is scary considering they were already among the favorites to claim the Calder Cup.
The full list of new Syracuse residents includes forwards Brown, Conacher, Connolly, Gauthier, Alex Hutchings, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik; defensemen Mark Barberio, Radko Gudas, Korobov, Charles Landry, Dan Milan; and goaltenders Helenius, Dustin Tokarski, and Pat Nagle.
We'll offer some opinions shortly on who could end up in ECHL Florida with the Everblades and who likely stays in Syracuse.
The strength of the Lightning organization remains at the forward positions, where the team still boasts an impressive mix of star veterans like Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, and Ryan Malone, and the game's best young star, Steven Stamkos. The team will spend some of its offseason tweaking its third line, and they made overtures to Swiss star Damien Brunner to try to improve their scoring depth on the wings. But, ultimately, the team should feel pretty solid offensively. Keeping the puck out of the back of their own net has always been the bigger challenge.
With the Lightning prospect season finally completed, it is now time to turn our attention to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. While the team's prospect system enjoyed unprecedented success, the team's struggles at the NHL level last season left the Lightning with a draft pick bonanza after a bevy of pre-deadline deals. Heading into the draft, the Lightning currently holds a pair of first round picks, and at least one second round pick following the trade of picks 37 and 50 to Nashville in the Anders Lindback trade.
It's been a day since the Norfolk Admirals hoisted the Calder Cup for the first time. The amazing thing about championships is that they're a shared milestone in the lives of, really, thousands, between the players, coaches, staff, and fans. Those journeys often contain compelling stories that make the triumph worth that journey. For Jon Cooper, it was about closing down his law practice to coach his way from Michigan high school hockey, to the USHL to working with Hockey USA, to a 2 season sprint to glory in the AHL. For Cory Conacher, it was about not being drafted and playing hockey at off-the-beaten path Canisius, dealing with diabetes, and earning an NHL contract in March of an MVP season before posting 4 assists in the championship clinching Calder Cup Finals game.
The stories of the players and the coaches are the ones we'll read about in the coming months and years, and they should be. When the Lightning made their Stanley Cup run in 2003-2004 and were playing the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals, John Tortorella refused to fire back at Ken Hithcock's remarks about "Italians from Boston," because Torts rightfully understood, "It's about the athletes." Ultimately, they're the ones who score the goals and make the saves. They sacrifice their bodies and take the stitches and they take the slings and arrows if they lose. Ultimately, it's their moment, and to a lesser extent the moments of their families who supported them in the journey up to those moments. The hockey moms and dads who woke up at 6:00 am to drive their kids to games. Scratching together money for skates and ridiculously expensive composite sticks. The wives and significant others who live with the players and coaches through the disappointments and the frustrations, and live in fear of moments when things can go wrong, like when slap shots can hit a man in the ear at 90 miles an hour, similar to what happened to Scott Jackson.
Less compelling, perhaps, is the story of an organization, but, these are stories can be worth telling, too... especially in this case. We started beta testing Bolt Prospects in 2004-2005, one year after the Lightning's Cup win, in the heart of the NHL lockout. That year was also the first year since the Detroit Vipers of the IHL folded after the 2000-2001 season that the Lightning had a full-time minor league affiliate: the Springfield Falcons. Absent a full-time affiliate, it became clear the Lightning would struggle to maintain their spot on top of the hockey mountain, because split affiliates would not give prime ice time and coaching help to another organization's players. That problem prompted the start of an 8 year process for the Lightning that ended in building what must be considered the sport's preeminent developmental apparatus with the Norfolk Admirals' Calder Cup championship and the Florida Everblades' Kelly Cup Championship.
Not just 2011-2012 Calder Cup Champions, but arguably the greatest single-season team in AHL history.
Dustin Tokarski allowed just 1 goal on 19 shots for the clinching victory. As with most of the last 2 rounds, he didn't have a huge volume of work, but he made saves when called upon. Some felt he might've received a minor snub by not getting MVP after going 12-2-0 with 3 shutouts, a 1.46 GAA, and a .944 save percentage. I think they got it right making Alexandre Picard the playoff MVP, but it should be noted that Tokarski's numbers in the Eastern Conference Finals and Calder Cup Finals are surreal. 8-0, 3 shutouts, and he only allowed 6 goals in those 8 games. The guy came to the Lightning with a reputation of being a big timer when the game's get important. He lived up to his reputation in this postseason.
NOR Panik, (5) (Johnson, Conacher), 6:17
TOR Zigomanis, (4) (Colborne, Lashoff), 19:43 (PP)
NOR Kostka, (5) (Palat, Conacher), 4:26
NOR Johnson, (5) (Killorn, Aulie), 16:45
NOR Kostka, (6) (Conacher, Johnson), 0:44 (PP)
NOR Johnson, (6) (Cote, Conacher), 12:35 (EN)
NOR Labrie, (5) (Ouellet, Smith), 13:33
Cory Conacher, Tyler Johnson, and Mike Kostka were the game's three stars, but you couldn't swing a stick without hitting a hero in that Admirals lineup tonight. They really did save one of their best all-around games for last in taking this Game Four, championship clinching victory.
Richard Panik got it off to a good start with the opening goal. The Panik attack used his speed to undress Simon Gysbers wide and got a bounce off a defender on a centering feed to Johnson for the opening marker, which really helped take Toronto's crown out of the game. Panik ended up getting kicked out of the game late in the First Period on what I felt was a dubious call. Yes, he swung his elbow blindly trying to create space for himself making a play near his own blueline, but it looked like his shoulder was what actually made contact with the Marlies' player's chin. Nonetheless, I think you could make a strong argument that Panik was Norfolk's best player in Game Three and the First Period of Game Four. He's dynamic, and you have to be excited about the player he's becoming.
A 5-on-3 goal kept Toronto alive, barely, but Norfolk really turned it up in the Second Period. Ondrej Palat showed nice vision on a beautiful feed from out of the corner to the left point to Mike Kostka for the eventual game winner. Palat's just a great stick handler and passer, and he's gone from a longshot signed for AHL depth to becoming a legitimate NHL prospect. I'm so impressed with Ondrej Palat and what he did from about the midpoint of the regular season on. And Kostka ended up being the hero in the Toronto series, as a whole, but that goal was illustrative of one of the aspects of Norfolk's game that makes them so good. Their points are so mobile and they use them so well 5-on-5 in the offensive zone. I'd really love to see a day where the Lightning had the personnel to play this style.
Johnson got the big goal last in the Second Period off a magnificent play by Alex Killorn. Killorn made a nice little stickhandling move to get through a defender in the high right wing of the zone and fired a very sharp pass to Johnson in the left wing circle. Johnson was stopped on a quick shot but banked the rebound off Scrivens and in from below the goal line. Nice job to stick with it by Johnson, and a magnificent play by Killorn.
From there, Norfolk pretty much ended it with a 5-on-3 goal of their own early in the Third Period. Cory Conacher had his 3rd of 4 assists in the game pushing a puck back to the right point while he was down on the ice for another Mike Kostka bullet, and it was about over. Conacher sent Johnson off to a 1-on-1 skate race for an empty netter with about 7 1/2 minutes left to go, and Johnson's not going to lose that race, and Pierre-Cedric Labrie, my guy, buried one shortly thereafter past Scrivens to complete the rout.
The victory should place the Norfolk Admirals near the top in terms of the greatest single-season teams in AHL history. Between the regular season and playoffs they won 70 of the 94 games they played including the final 28 games of their regular season and their final 10 games of the postseason, which included sweeps of the Eastern Conference Finals and Calder Cup Finals. They had the AHL's best offensive production in the regular season and the third best defense, and in the postseason they allowed a league best 1.67 goals a game.
The gold standard in the AHL, entering this year, was considered to be Hershey's team from two years ago that had a stunning +144 regular season goal differential and set the AHL record for regular season wins. That Hershey team, like the Admirals, was tops in the regular season in offense and third in defense. Norfolk only had a modest +93 regular season goal differential, mind you, but Hershey's team lost 5 games in the playoffs, whereas Norfolk only lost 3. Where I think the Admirals can make the argument for being the best AHL team of all-time is with their 28 game regular season winning streak record and their 10 game win streak to end the postseason, including sweeping the Eastern Conference and Calder Cup Finals. Note that they never trailed a series in the playoffs and they never came close to facing elimination. The outcome was never really in doubt, for anyone who watched this team and knew what they were capable of. Only a rash of a half dozen injuries and/or a world class goaltending hot streak was going to stop them, and even Pasquale and Scrivens' great goaltending in the last 2 series couldn't stop the inevitable. Norfolk's final loss of the regular season was on the day of the Super Bowl against the Springfield Falcons. From that point on, they posted a mind-blowing 43-3 record, between the regular season and playoffs. If the .745 overall winning percentage didn't do it for you, maybe the .935 winning percentage in the last 46 does.
And, if anybody's thinking this is a team built with high draft picks, they're wrong. Picard was the only first round selection on the team, and Panik and Scott Jackson, who returned tonight after missing 2-1/2 weeks from a puck to the head, were the only second rounders, and Jackson wasn't signed and had to latch on with the Lightning as a free agent. Beyond that, the team you saw on the ice today included 5 guys who were taken in rounds 5 through 9 and 7 guys who were undrafted free agents. That all underlines the job that the Lightning organization (past and present) did in identifying this talent, especially current Lightning Assistant GM and Admirals GM Julien BriseBois, and the unbelievable job The Rookie Whisperer, Jon Cooper, did this season. Cooper, despite this being only his 2nd season in professional hockey, may already lay claim on his resume to one of the greatest coaching jobs in AHL history. My only hope is that some other organization doesn't come poach him from the Lightning.
Top to bottom, it was just a special time these past 4-5 months during the streak and the playoffs, and a special team that came together from humble beginnings to achieve pure greatness. I was going to write a special post to the site after the Admirals broke the win streak record, but I didn't want to put a point on it until the streak was over. Problem is, this team just wouldn't lose, and by the time it got to the playoffs it felt inappropriate to try to ground anything in historic perspective with so much still left to be done. That's the amazing quality of this team. They're winners, and they're winners in whatever style of hockey you want to play. The first half of their streak they were blowing teams out with their speed and their skill, and the second half of the streak they were winning close games and many times having to play from 1-2 goals behind. Entering the playoffs teams might've thought they were soft. Nope. Like I said after Game One, this team has jam in every flavor. I giggled on the inside when Brian Burke complained today he didn't like how Scrivens was getting bumped and run by the Admirals going so hard to the net. They bullied an organization run by a guy who believes in bully hockey. Other teams may have believed that a team with that much offense couldn't win tight checking games. But, look back on the last two series and you'll see the close games where Norfolk triumphed. Game Two against St. John's was a 3-1 win with an empty netter. Game Three a 1-0 overtime victory. Game One against Toronto, again, a 3-1 win with an empty netter. Game Three, another 1-0 overtime win. Whatever style you wanted to play, the Admirals would beat you. Physical? They'd bloody your nose. Track meet? They'd skate you right out of the barn. Clutch and grab tight checking? They'd beat you 1-0, 2-1. No problem. I've never seen a team like this in my life, and I'm fairly certain I never will again, and it was a privilege for me to get to write about them all year long.
They certainly finished the drill.
I will, hopefully, try to write a separate story about how this fits into the context of the Lightning development system's emergence from the painful first steps in Springfield in 2004-2005 during the strike season, pretty soon. For now, though, as you can imagine it's something pretty incredible for me to have had the opportunity to witness things going from that point 8 seasons ago to being at the top of the world with championships at both the AHL and ECHL level and a solid claim to all-time greatness at the highest level of minor league hockey. The journey makes reaching the destination all the more sweeter, and the future looks so incredibly bright.
Box score from TheAHL.com.