Heat: Scouting the Enemy

Miikka Salomaki is a bull. The Abbotsford Heat wear red. Explosions! (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

The Admirals start a highly competitive three-in-three weekend with the top team in the Western Conference the Abbotsford Heat. This will be the fourth and final meeting between the two teams in the regular season. With road games against the Rockford IceHogs and Grand Rapids Griffins looming in the days to follow – this is a big first step to a weekend where the Ads should start looking to right the ship after a few off-games.

First and foremost let’s talk Admirals. Entering tonight’s game they are now trailing the Rockford IceHogs in the Midwest Division and Western Conference by 2 points – sporting an overall record of 23-16-6-5 (57 points). In fact, with a win on Wednesday, the Rochester Americans bumped the Ads down to eighth place in Conference. Yep, that’s the bubble spot. What we then have tonight is a very possible playoff scenario, first seed versus the eighth seed, Heat against the Admirals.

The Ads have been a bit hot and cold the past few games and are on a run of 3-4-1-2 (9 points) from their last ten games. The offense has been very erratic. The goaltending has also been a bit hit and miss as well. After a solid week of practice – we’ll get a look tonight to see just what kind of response the team will have after some flat performances. They will also have a fresh goaltending duo in the form of Scott Darling and Hannu Toivonen. Darling provided the Admirals with AHL award winning work in December. It’s going to be great to see him back in net and, hopefully, continue where he left off before his lower-body injury nearly a month ago.

For those who happened to miss the news yesterday, Marek Mazanec picked up a slight injury during team practice on Wednesday. As I said – slight injury. Dean Evason said he sees this as a short term injury. Mazanec should miss the weekend games and be re-evaluated on Monday before the team makes a decision ahead of their Wednesday game against the Griffins.

One thing that I didn’t make too public yesterday, outside of a tweet on the Roundtable Twitters, was that Joonas Rask practiced with the team. He was in full-gear and leading the group on the way back to the locker room. I talked with him briefly and he seems his ol’ self. I’m not certain he could factor into the weekend – but I certainly wasn’t expecting to see him back and practicing with the team as quickly as he did.

Our enemy tonight, the Abbotsford Heat, are a perfect storm of party crashers for tonight’s Cheap Trick concert game. They are the best team in the Western Conference: 32-15-4-1 (69 points). They have gone 6-1-3-0 (15 points) from their last ten games and are on a two-game point streak. The Admirals started off the season against them and also had a previous meeting against the Heat in Milwaukee in November:

Oct. 11 @ Abbotsford: L, 3-2 (OT)
Oct. 12 @ Abbotsford: W, 2-1 (SO)
Nov. 19 vs. Abbotsford: L, 4-3 (OT)

If the big concert crowd is looking for a show – they might be in for some extra hockey. The previous three-games spilled beyond regulation. Sadly, that is a major sore spot for the Admirals. As far as the entire AHL is concerned – only the San Antonio Rampage have played as many overtime games, 17, as the Admirals. In overtime, the Ads are tied with the Iowa Wild with a league-high 6 overtime losses. The Ads also have 6 losses from a shootout and, for those wondering, their skaters have yet to score in the shootout from 10-consecutive shootout attempts. The last time the Admirals have scored in a shootout came three shootouts ago when Simon Moser beat Richard Bachman. While every point is nice, even against the best in the West, overtime is the Ads kryptonite this season. It’d be fantastic to not go past sixty-minutes.

The Heat are loaded with scorers. They have three players on the team who have 40-or-more points: Markus GranlundBen Street, and Max Reinhart. They also have three others who are in the 30-or-more points range: Corban KnightChad Billins, and Corey Locke. Perspective, the Admirals top scorers are in the 30-point range: Miikka Salomaki, Colton Sissons, and Taylor Beck. It makes sense that a team like the Heat has scorers and is out in front in the West. You have to have some sort of firepower to be playing a team like the Texas Stars and be ahead of them in the standings! The Ads defense will need to have a highly detailed  game if it means beating the Heat. Either that or Darling or Toivonen will need to play out of their mind.

In net the Heat have Joni Ortio who has been really good for the team this season. Only two other goalies in the entire AHL, Jake Allen (22) and Drew MacIntyre (22), have more wins than Ortio (20). He has a 2.22 GAA, 0.926 SV%, and has 2 shutouts. He played against the Admirals the last time these two team met back in November: making 37 saves, allowed 3 goals, and earned the overtime win. How did they put the pucks past him? See for yourself and hope they get that and a bit more tonight.

What are your expectations for tonight’s game against the Abbotsford Heat? What does the team need to do to beat the best in the West? If they’re able to take a regulation win tonight – how well does that set them up for the rest of the weekend?

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