NORFOLK, Va. - With 112 NHL victories to his credit, goaltender Marc Denis' latest triumph might not seem significant. But Saturday's 2-1 AHL defeat of visiting Bridgeport is likely to stick with him for some time.
After posting a 1-5 record with the Lightning this season, Denis has made the most of clearing waivers and being assigned to Norfolk,
Tampa's first-year AHL affiliate. Despite his 1-2 record here, the addition of a veteran backstop has clearly lifted the Admirals' spirits and Saturday saw them snap a franchise-record 10-game losing streak.
"When you have the right frame of mind, the pieces tend to fall in place and that's what I think will happen," Denis said. "If the road to my next NHL start goes through Norfolk, then so be it."
Admirals coach Steve Stirling, a former New York Islanders bench boss, said he's encouraged by Denis' attitude and plans to ride his new netminder as long as possible.
"The game plan is to play him as much as he can handle," said Stirling, whose club is 11-22-1-3. If he has to stand on his head and make 50 saves in the first night of a back-to-back, maybe we go with Jonathan Boutin the next night. But the schedule this month is such that he should be able to play a lot."
Norfolk competes at home every weekend in January and plays 9 of 11 contests in Norfolk Scope Arena during the month. With a 19th consecutive playoff berth for Norfolk on the line, Denis could be viewed as a savior if he can backstop a charge up the standings.
"Both the team and myself are trying to get our identities back," he said. "The main thing will be for me to get my timing. I've been in the NHL for nine years, so it's going to be a bit of an issue when the puck comes off a stick a fraction of a second slower. That may not seem like a lot, but it is in our sport."
Denis earned respect right away when he declined the Lightning's offer of a three- or four-day grace period before reporting to the AHL and took only a day before joining the Admirals in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He made 20 saves in a 6-3 loss.
"All the factors probably weren't there for it to be my best game," Denis said, referring to a layoff since his last game action and the travel required to reach Northeast Pennsylvania. "But I wanted to be there. I've been the young guy in the AHL who's seen somebody come down from the NHL with the right outlook.
"So I wanted to join the team on the road and turn the new year on a seven-hour bus ride back to Norfolk after the game."
Denis knows the NHL is moving on without him but he said he'll do his best to concentrate on lifting the Admirals and nothing else.
"I'm not going to be worrying about what I have to do to get out of here," he said. "I'm going to make the best of it and if another opportunity occurs, I'll embrace that too."