The Admirals won 4-1 against the Grand Rapids Griffins Thursday night. An explosive second period put the Ads up and over the AHL Western Conference’s top team. Goals by Taylor Beck, Colton Sissons, Miikka Salomaki, and Kevin Henderson provided the backbone to one of the most impressive performances –start to finish- that the Ads have produced all season.
“We’ve talked a lot, since I got here last year, about are teams being very similar,” said Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason after the game. “If we can compare ourselves to the Calder Cup champions obviously it’s a good thing. I think we play the same way.”
The first period was scoreless and saw the Griffins outshoot the Ads 12-7. Yet, I felt the majority of quality scoring chances came from the Ads. Their opening power-play chance, particularly the first line of that unit, was teeing up some great looks for shots to the net. The best chance in that exchange came with an Austin Watson shot from the slot in-tight. The chances were there. Credit simply has to be given to the Griffins who blocked shots on goal through the opening period.
In the second period things went nuclear. The Ads tallied for three goals in the opening eight-minutes of the period and, in my book, put together one of the most complete periods of the season.
Taylor Beck picked up the opening goal through a deflection. The play cycled from the point where Simon Moser passed over to the left side of defense to Joe Piskula. The rising shot to the net by Piskula deflected off of Beck – who was standing just to the side of Tom McCollum’s net. The goal for Beck is his eighth of the season.
Next came the frenzy. Adam Almquist of the Griffins was called for hooking on a strong drive to the by Mark Van Guilder. Then Ads coughed up a shorthanded breakaway only to have Miikka Salomaki get called for tripping – quite lucky to avoid a call for a shorthanded penalty shot.
The Ads responded quickly to the four-on-four challenge with a beautiful one-touch goal from Colton Sissons. Joonas Jarvinen waited patiently for a shooting or passing lane to open up from the blueline. What he found was Sissons right on the backdoor of McCollum’s glove side. Jarvinen zipped the pass along the ice. Sissons smacked it through for a four-a-side goal. That’s goal number eleven already for Sissons.
Just as time expired on the Griffins penalty against Almquist, Austin Watson was able to take the puck en route to a shorthanded breakaway of his own. Watson had from the blueline in to work with and went forehand to backhand – denied by a blocker save from McCollum.
The penalty against Salomaki ended to finally make it even strength. I don’t think the Griffins were particularly aware of that though because Salomaki went on a breakaway fresh out of the box. The pass from Henderson put him clear through by miles. He pulled Watson’s move to the opposite side, forehand-backhand, and beat McCollum’s glove for his seventh goal of the season.
“I just flicked it up as high as I could in our zone and [Miikka Salomaki] was fortunate enough to get it,” commented Kevin Henderson of his assist on Salomaki’s goal. “It wasn’t a tic-tac-toe play. I didn’t really mean to do it, but I was fortunate he was right there. The timing worked out really well.”
Just as it looked like the Griffins were playing to escape the period, having conceded three goals and burned a timeout with little impact off of it, they picked up a rocket of a goal. Cory Emmerton won an offensive zone face off for the Griffins and the puck fell back to Teemu Pulkkinen who immediately blasted it top shelf. The quick shot semed to fool Scott Darling – and I haven’t caught that side of him much since he was called up from Cincinnati.
The three goal lead for the Ads was restored quickly in the third period after Kevin Henderson scored his third goal of the season. Just 1:56 into the final period of regulation, Watson fired a shot off McCollum that dropped to Henderson who fired at it the moment it fell to him. That goal ended the night in net for McCollum who gave way to Jared Coreau. The goal for Henderson was his first scored in seven games.
The game finished with the 4-1 scoreline and chalk up another win for Scott Darling who has started in six games this month and won five of them. He has stopped ninety-seven of ninety-nine shots on goal in his last three games. His stat line in the month of December should get some recognition from the AHL… or at least it should: 5-1-0-0, 1.34 GAA, 0.957 SV%, and one shutout.
“[Darling] has skill,” smiled Evason. “He’s calm back there. He handles the puck extremely well. He has confidence. I think as important his teammates have a lot of confidence in him. Certainly, when your group can have confidence in both goaltenders, it’s obviously a very positive thing.”
Ads reload and play again tomorrow with the Charlotte Checkers. That means going from playing the best in the West to the thirteenth. If you’re feeling giddy right now it is completely normal.
Thoughts on tonight’s game? Who impressed you the most in this one? What did the Ads do right tonight that they didn’t do in Grand Rapids two weeks ago? How do you see the Ads goaltending situation right now?