The Admirals were able to shutout the Oklahoma City Barons 4-0 Thursday night. Magnus Hellberg finished the game off with a 40 save shutout and earned his first win since 11/22 vs. CHI. The goal scoring was on-point tonight with help from two power-play goals, one from even-strength, and an empty netter to seal the deal.
After a rough opening power-play, the Ads had the chance to shine with the man-advantage after a too many men on the ice penalty against the Barons. A great entry into the zone led to a tic-tac-toe effort between Charles Roussel, Miikka Salomaki, and Austin Watson. From the point, Roussel was able to sling a pass to the right faceoff circle to Salomaki – who then tossed the puck to the front of the net. There was plenty of traffic in front of Barons netminder Richard Bachman, but the puck knuckled up, off the shin of Watson, and in for a power-play goal. That’s Watson’s seventh-goal of the season.
In the middle of the action a fight between Mike Liambas and Steve MacIntyre broke out. This clearly carried over from the previous game in which MacIntyre was trying to engage several Admirals during the game – including a cross-check to Liambas’ neck. This being a fight between Liambas (5’9”) and MacIntyre (6’5”)… it was as awkward to look at as I’m sure it had to be to fight in. There weren’t many blows thrown. Heavy grappling and a take down by MacIntyre. Liambas appeared to hurt the left half of his body as a result of the scrap. He did return to the game the very next period.
In the second period the Ads tallied another power-play goal. A physical drive down the boards by Vinny Saponari lead to an errant clearance by the Barons that fell to Bryan Rodney at the blueline. While this wasn’t one of Rodney’s better nights on the ice as an Admiral –lots of giveaways for him tonight– he was able to display exactly why he can be lethal offensively when passing from the point. Rodney took a quick peak at the power-play unit in front of him, and picked out a wide-open Anthony Bitetto lightning quick. Bitetto was able to skate in off the right faceoff circle, measure his shot, and burned Bachman with a wrist shot. That was Bitetto’s eighth-goal of the season and fifth-goal on the power-play.
Colton Sissons tagged the Barons in the third period for his team leading ninth-goal of the season. This play was triggered from another great feed from Rodney that put Sissons into a decent scoring opportunity at the low right circle. The shot by Sissons was fantastic. He took advantage of his shooting angle, roofed the puck above Bachman’s left shoulder, and extended the Ads lead to 3-0.
Late in the third period, the Barons were put on the power-play from a Saponari slash that hacked Linus Omark to the ice. The Barons, already with the man-advantage, pulled their goalie looking to get a breakthrough against Magnus Hellberg. Saponari left the box, found a loose puck, and scored an empty net goal for his first Admiral goal.
While his play this season might feel hot and cold at times, the display tonight in net from Hellberg was by far his best display in net this season. The only thing that was going to beat him tonight was himself. Literally. The biggest save of the game for Hellberg might not have even counted on the scorer’s sheet. A wild bounce off the boards fooled Hellberg, who was preparing to play the dump-in behind the net, and steering right in on goal. The big Swede leaped back in front of the net and cleared it away before putting a damper on his 40 save shutout performance. Make no mistakes about it: the defense in front of him tonight, playing against a unit as skilled as the Barons, were sharp from start to finish. Still, Hellberg never looked flustered or fooled on a single shot to the net tonight. For how long he’s had to wait for a start, 11/30 @ Charlotte, this was quite a performance for him.
Injury notes: Scott Ford, who I spoke to a week ago as he was wearing a boot that had behind it a broken foot, actually suited up and played tonight – a full three-to-six weeks ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, Simon Moser was not in tonight’s lineup due to back issues.
Thoughts on the win tonight? Is this the performance you’ve been waiting to see for Magnus Hellberg? How on Earth did Scott Ford play tonight’s game with a broken foot? Are the power-play woes resolved? Do these last two games set the stage for positive results in a back-to-back scenario tomorrow and Saturday in Grand Rapids? Seriously, what is Scott Ford made of to be able to play tonight?!