The Chatterbox, Vol. 53

Yeah. At least that’s how it has felt lately. (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. At least that’s what the feeling was for the Milwaukee Admirals in the first period of their 3-1 loss to the Adirondack Flames Friday night. We saw lots of solid hits and hard plays from the Admirals and a speed level reminiscent of the hockey they played during their successful start to the season.

Then it happened. The Admirals power-play hit the ice, controlled and sustained the attacking zone for 1:54 of the man-advantage, and didn’t just not score a goal – but took a penalty of their own immediately after. What did the Flames do with the follow up power-play? They scored.

The Admirals scored a dirty, junky, garbage style goal working a loose puck in front of the net. That basically ended the second period with a high note to equalize things at 1-1. What did the Flames do in response? They scored. 2:25 into the third period. And kept the Admirals at a distance before striking with the killshot with 2:03 left in regulation.

After the Admirals last win, which was over two weeks ago, we as fans were celebrating the performance and words of Rich Clune who said that the Chicago Wolves were a “soft” hockey team. In fact, he said plenty more than that.

“I would be nice to them if they just shut their mouths and took what was coming to them,” said Clune of the Wolves. “But they seemed to like to throw personal comments out toward me. None of them are really tough enough to really deal with me in a fight. They just don’t match up with us at all, toughness and speed. I love running them over every night.”

Since those comments the Admirals have gone on a winless stretch of seven games for a 0-5-0-2 (2 points) record. It’s the worst losing streak in the AHL history of the Admirals and they have now fallen down to fourth place in the Midwest Division standings. If the season ended today – the Admirals, ninth in the Western Conference, wouldn’t be in the playoff picture despite a franchise best start to a hockey season.

While those words alone act as the bookmark to the start of this losing streak – it has been our offense that has been getting “run over” every night. I feel as if the team is being manhandled to the walls and are forced to wide shots from the boards that either get blocked en route to goal by traffic or the goaltender sees it the entire way. The Admirals are not the biggest team in the league. They are not the strongest team in the league. And they’re playing like it.

The Admirals have been outscored 22-12 in regulation during this losing streak. 7 goals from the 12 goals the Admirals posted during this losing streak came from 2 games. I said it last time in Chatterbox. It’s not good enough. Nowhere near good enough. With the goaltending performances of Magnus Hellberg and Marek Mazanec of late – both netminders have been given nothing to work with in front of them.

Brendan Leipsic hasn’t scored a point in 5 games. Mark Van Guilder, ditto. Austin Watson hasn’t scored a point in 6 games.  Viktor Arvidsson has a solitary assist in 10 games. Our entire defensive unit during this losing streak has a combined 7 points (1 goal, 6 assists) in 7 games… anyone not named Anthony Bitetto or Joe Piskula haven’t registered a point of offensive contributions from the blue line in the month of December.

I’m not sure where the offensive accountability is but those meant to be producing have just shut down.

The stat that still baffles me those most this season is that Colton Sissons has no assists in 24 games. Through as many games last season he had 8 assists. Is this an in-between the ears problem? Has what went on in Nashville during the off-season, signing veteran centers and not handing the reigns off to the youth movement instead, gotten in his head? He started his season off here in Milwaukee out of pre-season with the hopes he could build an explosive offensive game rather than play things safe and defensively. Right now he isn’t doing either. Sissons has taken a plus/minus rating hit of -1 with each game played in December. He doesn’t look like the player he was last season and I can’t do anything other than theorize as to why that is. As I said. It baffles me.

I would talk about the Admirals going 0/20 on the power-play during the five-game homestand but I think we all get it at this point. Our 6.4% power-play conversion rate is second worst in the league to the Charlotte Checkers mark of 6.2% in 2 less games played than the Admirals.

Now comes the good part. The Admirals are 6.4% on the power-play on home ice this season. Their parent club, the Nashville Predators, are an NHL worst 2.3% and they have played an equal amount of games as the Admirals. It’s an in-system powerless-play epidemic. Between the NHL/AHL clubs the Predators and Admirals have a home power-play of 4/91 chances for a 4.4% conversion rate.

I don’t know what to say anymore at this point other than this road trip could be the reboot the entire team needs. The Admirals are coming off of what is their longest homestand of the entire season and they didn’t win a single game. That means getting into a routine and a possible cycle of same ol’ same ol’ while festering over the recent bad run of form. It’s in this moment that I think back to the comments made by Bitetto during the Admirals worst losing streak last season.

“Our hardest win right now is getting that first one back under our belt,” said Anthony Bitetto in the Chatterbox last season. “That’s where we have to bear down and get that first win. We have a good team here. If every guy believes in that we will be fine.”

The Admirals are incredibly talented. That start to the season was proof of just that. The rest of the AHL got better as the season started and so to must the Admirals. It might not click on Tuesday night when they face off on the road against the Lake Erie Monsters but I have a hard time thinking that the team we saw playing against the Flames will be the same one turning up for Boxing Day hockey against the Chicago Wolves… that team that is soft that doesn’t match up with us at all according to Clune.

Following the most recent defeat I spoke with Dean Evason, Joe Pendenza, and Austin Watson. I made efforts to try and speak with former-Admirals Mathieu Tousignant and Nolan Yonkman but, by the time I was finished with interviews in the Admiral locker room, both were out towards the Flames bus. Sounded as if Yonkman did amazing fan service after the game – signing autographs and taking pictures. Incredibly classy from both the fans that remain fans of his and the man himself by giving the love right back. Here is what our team had to say post-game.

Dean Evason’s thoughts on the game:

Evason on missed chances offensively:

Evason on the goaltending performance:

Evason seeing improvements:

Evason on the mental boost to get on the road:

Evason looking ahead to the Lake Erie Monsters:

Joe Pendenza on how he was able to score his goal:

Pendenza on how distant a memory the hot start to the season feels:

Pendenza’s assessment of the offensive woes:

Pendenza on the Admirals goaltending during the losing streak:

Austin Watson discusses the upcoming road trip:

Watson on the offensive problems:

Watson on the Admirals power-play struggles at home:

Watson talks about the momentum shift, second period to third period:

Comments from the comments? Is this road stretch coming up the much needed wake up call for the Admirals offense? As taxing as this stretch has been to watch, what have you thought of the performance of both Hellberg and Mazanec? Have they been unlucky to have not secured wins for their efforts during this run?

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