Washington was alive with the sounds of skates on the ice and goal sirens Thursday night when the Hershey Bears powered their way to a 2 – 1 win over the Norfolk Admirals behind a strong start by Braden Holtby in the AHL Showcase.
With the NHL Players Association and the NHL continuing their childlike squabble over dollars and Collective Bargaining Agreement language, hockey fans were able to quench their thirst with some American Hockey League action on the Washington Capitals’ ice. When the home town fans weren’t booing the Caps or chanting “Fire Bettman” they got to catch a glimpse some Caps regulars. Dmirtry Orlov took the ice on the top defensive pairing for the Bears and Holtby, last year’s Capitals playoff savor, took up his now familiar spot between the Verizon Center pipes.
Holtby struggled mightily in Hershey last season, making some wonder whether he regressed from two years ago when he made his NHL debut and put up some strong numbers in relief of an injury depleted goaltending pairing. His struggles though disappeared once he was called upon and led the Caps on an improbable run to Game 7 of the second round of the NHL playoffs. Those Hershey struggles from last year may have followed him to Verizon Thursday, at least to open the game, as he did not start well, surrendering a goal ten seconds into the game.
“I don’t know, I’ll have to look to see if it was just the fact there was a stick in front and I thought it was going to deflect or it actually did a bit,” Holtby said about the goal following the game. “I first saw it going low, then it kind of fooled me going higher. I thought I was seeing the puck all night, so it was kind of surprising.”
Hershey fought back almost 14-minutes later when Zach Hamil and Eric Bralow combined for a beautiful play. Hamil skated up the right side of the ice before dishing to Barlow who ripped a shot past the outstretch glove of Admirals goalie Frederik Andersen. Hamil ended up on his stomach, flying over a defenders stick on his way to the net and the puck ended up in the back of the net to tie the game at 1-1.
Other Capitals regular, Orlov, showed what makes him an intriguing young player for the organization. His heavy shot from the point was respected by the Admirals and he was a mainstay on the point throughout almost all the power play chances before he left with an upper body injury in the second period.
“We had some early power plays and I thought our power play was quiet effective at generating chances and I thought Dmitry was a part of that,” Bears Head Coach Mark French said. “I thought it hurt the power play when he, when we lost him, I think he had a pretty good jump in his step today.”
Neither team conceded any ground heading into the third with score all knotted up. After the Admirals killed off another penalty to open the period, they held the Bears goalless on eight power plays, Ryan Poltuny took a feed from Steve Oleksy, who was on the point, and sniped a missile glove side to put Hershey up 2-1 with a little over 15-minutes to go.
It looked like Norfolk tied it up with a short-handed goal with a little under five and a half minutes to play, but it was kicked it and immediately waived off. Hershey found themselves on their heals after the near equalizer was waived off and it clearly gave the Admirals a little bit of a boost in the final minutes.
With the seconds ticking off the clock, Hershey demanded just a few more saves out of Holtby. He made some fantastic saves demonstrating his technical proficiency while in the butterfly position to keep Norfolk off the board. Despite the Admirals firing with some chances late, and knocking Holtby down several times, the Bears held on to send the fans home happy with a hard fought 2-1 win to move to 10-1-1-0 in the AHL and push their point total to 19.