The Devils knew they had to do a lot of the little things right if they were going to be the first team to beat Norfolk since Feb. 5.
Little and big things went any way but right, and the Norfolk Admirals pushed their record winning streak to 26 games Friday with a 5-1 victory over Albany.
“I wish I could put my finger on it,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “Arguably our worst game of the year.”
Albany could get nothing going against the Admirals, who carried a 3-0 lead into the first intermission on goals from Trevor Smith, Michel Ouellet and Evan Oberg.
“I just know that they brought it and we didn’t,” Albany defenseman Jay Leach said. “From any sort of aspect of the game, they brought it. They were in on forechecks, we were not. They were breaking pucks out, we were not. They were on the rush, we were not. You name it, they were doing it, we weren’t.”
Trailing, 5-0, celebratory music played over the loudspeakers at 9:03 in the third period when Darcy Zajac’s shot from the right side found the net, but the goal was disallowed.
Norfolk goalie Jaroslav Janus never had a chance at the shot, as he was leveled by Albany’s Vladimir Zharkov a moment before Zajac teed it up.
Zharkov put the Devils on the board at 14:13 on a power-play deflection of an Eric Gelinas shot, but it was too little too late.
The Devils had no energy and showed no intent through the first 40 minutes, dropping to 4-4 against the Admirals this season. Six of their meetings had been one-goal wins for one side or the other — hard-fought and even contests.
“It was not even a game tonight,” Kowalsky said. “Their level is where it’s been, and ours was
nowhere near that. That’s the bottom line. We got in an early hole, and we’re lucky it was only three. It was a terrible night.
“It’s hard to understand. I don’t know if it’s because it’s the last weekend of the season and we’re done. I really don’t know why. Not to take anything away from them, but we did nothing for basically two periods. We lost every battle, it was basically soft hockey. That’s the one thing, they keep you honest, and we’ve played honest against them up to this point. It was very disappointing.”
Even though they entered the building on a 25-game winning streak — the longest in North American pro hockey history — the Admirals weren’t taking Albany for granted, even with a 4-0 lead in the second intermission.
“We felt a little pressure tonight because Albany’s really played us tough,” Norfolk coach Jon Cooper said. “I’ll be honest, we were going out in the third period and it was 4-0, and all I could think was, ‘Gosh, we blew one of these to these guys this year.’ It’s never easy. You sit here and think, the position we’ve put ourselves in, these should be games that maybe we’re getting other guys in, but we’ve got a streak going here, and now it’s at the point where it’s so close to playoffs that we just want to keep this going.”
Albany goalie Keith Kinkaid, a Union College product, sustained a lower-body injury in the first period, but continued to play into the second. He was relieved at the 8:14 mark by Jeff Frazee. Kowalsky said after the game he was unsure of the extent of the injury.
Another Union College product, Kelly Zajac, made his professional debut. He had no stats on his end-of-game line, but he is known more as a defensive forward.
“I thought he did some good things defensively on some plays where he had to backcheck and was strong on the puck,” Kowalsky said. “Again, not a real fair game to assess him, but I liked him on the penalty kill, I didn’t really get too much of a look at him on the power play. He didn’t show me too much that I didn’t already know, but again, definitely not a good game to evaluate a young kid playing his first time in the American league.”
Albany has two games remaining as it hosts Providence tonight at 7 and Syracuse on Sunday at 4 p.m.
“We have two games left to at least redeem our performance,” Leach said. “There shouldn’t be anyone in this room who’s very proud of what just went on. Hopefully, tomorrow night, we come back with a lot more urgency, getting back to things we do well.”
Norfolk 3 1 1 — 5
Albany 0 0 1 — 1
First Period — 1, Norfolk, Smith 25 (Segal), 2:55. 2, Norfolk, Ouellet 16 (Aulie), 7:17. 3, Norfolk, Oberg 7 (Palat, Johnson), 17:29 Penalties — Cote, Nor (tripping), 12:43; Gelinas, Alb (tripping), 12:58.
Second Period — 4, Norfolk, Segal 17 (Picard, Kostka), 5:17. Penalties — Johnson, Nor (slashing), 10:14; Cote, Nor (hooking), 14:21.
Third Period — 5, Norfolk, Devos 7 (Aulie, Ouellet), 7:07. 6, Albany, Zharkov 16 (Gelinas, Perkovich), 14:13 (pp). Penalties — Zalewski, Alb, double-minor (high-sticking), 2:21; Gudas, Nor (roughing), 5:39; Mills, Alb (roughing), 5:39; Zharkov, Alb (goaltender interference), 9:03; Cote, Nor (charging), 13:07; Gudas, Nor (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:17; D.Zajac, Alb (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:17.
Shots on goal — Norfolk 13-7-6 — 26. Albany 7-7-7 — 21.
Power-play opportunities — Norfolk 0 of 4; Albany 1 of 5.
Goalies — Norfolk, Janus 22-8-2 (21 shots-20 saves). Albany, Kinkaid 17-20-3 (17-13); Frazee (8:14 second, 9-8).
A — 2,481. T — 2:09.
Referee — Ryan Hersey. Linesmen — Robert St. Lawrence, Mike Emanatian.