Wild: Scouting the Enemy

Salomaki-STE-1
Taylor Beck and Colton Sissons are up with the Nashville Predators. That means Miikka Salomaki leads the team in scoring, 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists), as the team ventures over to Iowa. (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

It’s game day! Pretty nice to say after a few days off, eh? You want to know what is even better to say? We don’t have to deal with the Rockford IceHogs again until Saturday, Feb. 22. Instead, we stroll down to Iowa for a game before kicking off a five-game homestand to start the month of February.

The Admirals enter tonight’s game with a record of 20-13-6-3 (49 points). They are currently third in the Midwest Division and sixth in the Western Conference. In their last ten games they have grinded out a record of 4-3-1-2 (11 points). The big happenings? Colton Sissons was called up to the Nashville Predators, played his first NHL game, and recorded his first NHL point – an assist. Here’s what he said of the experience:

Let’s hope history repeats itself with Sissons. First AHL game. First AHL point (assist). First NHL game. First NHL point (assist). Second AHL game. First AHL goal. Second NHL game…

That said, the lack of Sissons and fellow recent call up Taylor Beck does take away the team’s top two scorers. That means the top man in camp, as far as scoring is concerned, is Miikka Salomaki with 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists). He’s been a rather consistent performer – not always offensively but in the two-way sense of the game. With the top two gone, it is going to be important to have guys like Salomaki and Filip Forsberg producing big for the team.

Perhaps the even bigger story from the recent call ups is that there is now a gaping hole in the center spot. This season it has been: Colton Sissons, Mark Van Guilder, Austin Watson, and Mathieu Tousignant. There hasn’t been a call up to respond to this circumstance. That means we should have a winger moving down the middle starting tonight in Iowa. Who will it be? If I were in Dean Evason’s shoes, I would cook up my line combos like this for tonight:

Salomaki-Watson-Forsberg
Moser-Van Guilder-Cehlin
Henderson-Tousignant-Saponari
Liambas-Rask-Budish

UPDATE: Patrick Cehlin will return to game action tonight for his first game since playing against these very same Iowa Wild on 11/3/13, This means Evason now also has the tricky choice of Valentine, Roussel, and Rodney on defensive assignments to round out six d-men.

This season the Admirals have played the Iowa Wild four times and won each contest:

Nov. 3 @ Iowa: W, 5-2
Nov. 16 @ Iowa: W, 1-0
Dec. 29 @ Iowa: W, 4-0
Jan. 6 vs. Iowa: W, 4-3 (SO)

Two shutouts from four games? Nicely done Scott Darling (played in two games against Iowa and has stopped all 65 shots on goal). Marek Mazanec, who will no doubt get his seventh straight start tonight, played in the team’s first meeting of the season. He made 28 saves from 30 shots in that game. In the head-to-head this year the top scorer’s for the Admirals (that aren’t in Nashville) are defensemen Anthony Bitetto and Bryan Rodney who each have 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists).

The Iowa Wild will enter tonight’s game with a record 19-16-3-3 (44 points). That is the lowest in the Midwest Division and they are currently ninth in the Western Conference. In their last ten games they have gone 5-2-1-2 (13 points).

Oddly, the Wild are a better road team than they are at home. This season the Wild have earned 20 points in 22 home games and have earned 24 points in 19 road games. Just as odd with the home and away stats are the goal differentials. Road, +2 goals. Home, -10 goals. That’s pretty severe. With the Ads not fairing much better on the road, 20 points from 23 road games and a goal differential of -21 goals on the road, this could be a game based on maintaining structure and minimizing mistakes. The team that does that the best should earn the two points.

The Wild are lead in scoring by defenseman Brian Connelly with 25 points (3 goals, 22 assists). The top goal scorer is Brett Bulmer who has team-best 10 goals to go with his 5 assists. I am sort of put off by the term, scoring by committee, but it really does apply well to the Iowa Wild when you look at the team’s scoring stats. It’s never one or two guys you have to worry about with the team. Which is probably a bad thing for the Wild – who are the third lowest scoring team in the AHL this season with 103 goals scored – only the Utica Comets (98 goals scored) and Adirondack Phantoms (100 goals scored) are worse off.

The man in net for the Wild in tonight’s game should be Johan Gustafsson. The rookie goaltender from Sweden leads the team with 18 games played this season as well as a team-best 8 wins. So far in the month of January he has gone 4-1-1-2 and played in 4 shootouts from 8 starts. He has decent numbers this month: 2.52 GAA and a 0.928 SV%. The good news? History. He has faced the Admirals three times this season and lost each time: twice in regulation (11/3/13 @ Iowa and 12/29/13 @ Milwaukee) and once in a shootout (1/6/14 @ Milwaukee).

Thoughts for tonight’s game? How would you work tonight’s line combinations? Who has to step up in Sissons and Beck’s absence? Will Marek Mazanec finally play a game at the AHL level where he concedes less than two goals?

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