Breaking Down the Matchup, Milwaukee vs. Texas

Milwaukee Admirals (44-22-14, 102 points, first place in the West Division) vs. Texas Stars (41-29-10, 92 points, fourth place in the West Division)

Season Series: Texas won five of the six head-to-head meetings, including one in overtime and one in a shootout, and the Stars won all three games held at the Bradley Center.

Game Results:
Nov. 20 MIL 0 @ TEX 2
Nov. 26 MIL 1 @ TEX 0
Dec. 11 TEX 3 @ MIL 2 (OT)
Jan. 22 MIL 1 @ TEX 2 (SO)
Feb. 20 TEX 2 @ MIL 1
Apr. 8 TEX 3 @ MIL 2

Here is Milwaukee Admirals coach Lane Lambert’s thoughts on his team’s first round matchup against the Texas Stars:

“I think we are going to have our hands full with Texas, (but the Stars) are a team that we feel like we matchup well against.  It’s going to be an extremely demanding series–one that will be a grind right until the bitter end.”

To read my feature on Lambert’s remarkable job coaching the Admirals this season, click here.

Here is my breakdown of the series:

Offense: Neither team is overly explosive offensively as Milwaukee scored 226 goals this season, while Texas managed the fewest in the West Division (213).  Veteran Greg Rallo (26 goals and 54 points) leads the Stars, who also get considerable contributions from center Travis Morin.  Chris Mueller (24 goals and 50 points) leads the Admirals, but Roman Josi’s 40 points from the blueline is perhaps Milwaukee’s most impressive producer.  Both teams win games by getting scoring by committee, but I will give a slight edge to Milwaukee due to the Admirals impressive depth.

Defense: The reason why Milwaukee finished on top of the West Division and Western Conference was due to their superior defense.  No team in the division came even close to the Admirals in goals allowed (194 total, 2.43 per game).  Milwaukee features four defenders, Scott Ford, Grant Lewis, Aaron Johnson, Teemu Laakso, with plus/minus ratings of +10 or more.  Texas’ top defender, Dan Spang finished as a +5, but key veteran blueliner Brad Lukowich finished a dismal -14.  However, the Stars allowed only 210 goals, second fewest in the division.  Because Milwaukee’s top five defenders are unmatched, I will give the advantage to Milwaukee.

Goaltending: Unless Mark Dekanich makes a surprising return for the first round, Jeremy Smith (16-8-2, 2.26 goals against average, .921 save percentage) will have to carry the load in goal.  Smith has proven plenty capable in that role, but Texas features one of the league’s elite goaltenders in rookie Richard Bachman (28-19-5, 2.20 G.A.A., .927 S.P.).  Bachman showed signs of breaking down late in the season, but I would prefer have him in goal in a matchup against Smith, so here I see a slight advantage for Texas.

Special Teams: Though I was critical of Milwaukee’s power play at several points during the season, in the second half of the season the Admirals vastly improved in that all important aspect of the game, moving up to seventh in the AHL at 19.7%.  Though the penalty kill lags behind at 80.6% (25th best), the Admirals were one of the league’s lest penalized teams.  Of course Texas took the league’s fewest penalties, as the Stars were shorthanded only 299 times–a remarkable statistic.  Neither of Texas’ special teams (PP: 17.1%, 20th; PK: 80.9%, 23rd), scares its opponents, so here I see an advantage for Milwaukee.

Playoff Experience: Texas made an impressive run to the Calder Cup finals last season, while Milwaukee was ousted in the first round by their nemesis, the currently-golfing Chicago Wolves.  Both clubs are young on average, but feature veteran defensive corps.  Due to Texas’ long run last year, I will give the Stars a slight edge.

Coaching: Bench boss Lane Lambert has taken four straight Milwaukee Admirals teams to the AHL playoffs, an impressive feat considering that only four or five teams from the ultra-competitive West Division make the playoffs each year.  Meanwhile, coach Glen Gulutzan is in his second year with the Texas Stars, but has averaged 43.5 wins in those two seasons.  Because both coaches have impressive track records, I will call this aspect even.

Intangibles: It is hard to top the intangibles Milwaukee has going this season.  Despite featuring a lineup ravaged by call ups and injuries, the Admirals managed 102 points and claimed the top spot in the division and conference.  However, Texas dealt with plenty of adversity after nearly claiming the Calder Cup last year.  With Dallas out of the NHL playoffs, Texas will have a full arsenal of weapons to choose from.  Meanwhile, Milwaukee has a huge pool of developmental talent eager just to get into the lineup, creating an intense competition for roster spots.  But something just seems special about this year for Milwaukee, so I will give a slight edge to the Admirals.

Final Summation: Despite any worries about Smith in net, the rookie performed admirably in his recent starting duties for Milwaukee.  The Admirals top five defenders are as good as any in the AHL, and Milwaukee employs a tenacious brand of north-south hockey that is a joy to watch.  Even though Texas dominated the regular season series, I like Milwaukee to advance to the West Division finals with a seven-game series win.

So Roundtable, how would you breakdown the series, and what are the keys for Milwaukee to prevail?

Winning at home?

The play of Jeremy Smith vs. Richard Bachman?

Mueller, Bourque and Thang vs. Spang or Lukowich?

Lambert’s game plan vs. Gulutzan’s?

Anything else come to mind?

5 thoughts on “Breaking Down the Matchup, Milwaukee vs. Texas”

  1. Side note, AHL annoucned next year will only have 76 games in the regular season and first round of playoffs is best of 5 (WTF?). There will be no more 4-in-5’s.

    Regarding the first round this year vs Texas, it’s going to come down to special teams and turnovers. Both teams are great defensively. For the Admirals, we have to move the puck well. The last game at the BC against Texas, the Stars did a good job keeping the Admirals along the boards and deep in the offensive zone (similar to how the Wolves played against us most of the season). If the Admirals are to score and be successful offensively, we need to move the puck fast, have few turnovers, and keep the Stars defenders moving. They clog up the center of their defensive zone forcing long shots from the points, or along the boards, which their goaltending seems to be very comfortable with. If we can cycle the puck and force openings in the middle of the ice, we should be able to score. If we can cause turnovers in the neutral zone and stay out of Johnson’s office, we should be able to dominate the control and flow of the game.

    Admirals in 6 :)

  2. This is a very close match up on paper. I agree with most of the ratings, but I think they are even more closely matched and an injury or not being in playoff mindset swings some of the categories. Goaltending is a big factor in the series, if Smith matches Bachman or Bachman continues to show signs of wearing down then I like our chances. Puck control and turnovers will also be big with two teams closely matched like this – mistakes and mishandles could cost a game. The PP performance is going to make a difference too, we have got to take advantage of our PPs fully.

    I’d like to see us win both home games to start with as it would give a nice cushion, however I don’t think if we lose one that we’re just finished. If we lose both, I think we’re in huge trouble.

    Admirals will win and originally I felt we’d need the whole series to do it, but I’m leaning a bit towards perhaps more of a surprise with the Ads taking it in 5.

  3. Admirals in six; in five if they run Bachman tomorrow night. Is there no hope for Dex or Klasen to play? How about Blake and the others up in Nashville returning?

  4. This matchup is very tricky for milwuakee. Texas is very detailed and takes care of the puck in their own zone, not too much sloppy play, Bachman is a excellent netminder. The Ads are going to have their hands full in this one, they have to play solid in their own zone and take advantage of any mistake the stars make cause there are not going to be many. We have to keep our head up and attack the crease and get Bachman out of position. Honestly i dont think we have a real good chance vs them, too many green players may be the down fall. My heart says Ads win in 6 but my brain says we lose in 5. (hope my brain is wrong) :) go ADS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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