Griffins: Scouting the Enemy

Yesterday’s practice was an eye opener. Every single Admiral on the roster, except for Miikka Salomaki, was on the ice.

After a good six days between games, the Milwaukee Admirals are back in action tonight with the new leaders of the Midwest Division in their sights. The Grand Rapids Griffins played on Tuesday night on the road against the Iowa Wild. Once the Wild figured out that they were playing a team that wasn’t from Milwaukee or named the Admirals they simply stood no chance and the Griffins claimed sole possession of the Midwest Division for the first time all season with a comfortable 6-2 win.

~Long Story Short~

The Griffins overall record is 31-17-5-1 (68 points) and they’ve been riding a 10 game point streak (8-0-2-0). Their goal differential of +38 (174 goals forced, 136 goals allowed) is the best in the Western Conference and second to only the Manchester Monarch’s +41 (160 GF, 119 GA) in the AHL.

 ~The Mrázek Factor~

The last time we saw the Griffins I was having what I would consider a minor panic attack when seeing that Petr Mrázek was on the Grand Rapids roster. The coaching staff saw it best for him to be re-introduced to their lineup slowly rather than straight into the firing line and he sat on the bench for that game. We will probably not be so lucky tonight.

Mrázek has played in 3 games for the Griffins since his recent reassignment from the Detroit Red Wings. Gasp. Shock. Awe. He has won them all. His statline from those games sees him holding a 1.30 goals against average, 0.957 save percentage, and a shutout. So, same ol’ same ol’ for him.

As mentioned in the previous scouting report on the Griffins – Mrázek is a known Admiral Killer. His career totals in the head-to-head against Milwaukee is: 11 games, 7-3-0-1 record, 1.66 goals against average, 0.934 save percentage, and 2 shutouts.

If he has hit the ground running back at the AHL level it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him in net, sucking the life out of a packed concert night crowd, and making life miserable on Admirals shooters. The game plan, as you could say with any goalie of this caliber, is rather simple. Screen him, take his sight-lines away, throw pucks early and often, and crash the net for loose pucks. To beat Mrázek will mean generating and capitalizing on second and third chance opportunities. Bank on it… but, mostly, just hope that Jared Coreau starts instead.

~No Pulkkinen, No Callahan, No Problem~

The run that the Griffins have been on has basically been accomplished with out two of their best forwards. Teemu Pulkkinen remains up in the NHL playing for the Red Wings. And, in a bit of sad news, Mitch Callahan will be done for the rest of the 2014-15 season with a third-degree ACL tear in his right knee.

So who has been picking up all the slack? Who has been the man that has taken the reigns? Look no further than the last time we faced the Griffins and the guy who scored with 0.4 seconds remaining to tie the game and then won it in overtime, Andy Miele. This month the 26-year old forward has produced 13 points (5 goals, 8 assists) in 10 games. His scoring currently leads active players on the Griffins roster.

~The Admirals Revamped Defense~

There will be a few returning faces to the Admirals defense tonight. Johan Alm is set to play his first game since early-December. He has missed 32 consecutive games with a wrist injury. Also returning from injury will be Jimmy Oligny who had tweaked his right knee on a scary collision into the end boards at the end of January. He missed the Admirals previous 10 games. For one more addition, Ian White -who had missed the last two games following the loss of his grandmother- will also be back in the lineup.

In total, you’ll have three returning faces to the Admirals defense. That’s not even counting the returning Anthony Bitetto from his latest spell in the NHL. The biggest of those returns will be Alm who was going to be a big player in the system this season. It feels like it has been forever since he was in a game. Alm has only played 21 of the Admirals 53 games this season. While the injury itself was unfortunate the positive spin to take from this is that it means a 100% healthy Alm at the start of the playoff crunch. That’s a very welcome boost.

~We Talking About Practice, Man~

I had attended practice yesterday and everyone was on the ice for the Admirals except for Miikka Salomäki – who remains sidelined with an upper body injury. Joe Piskula was back on the ice skating and could be a week or so away from making a return to the team. The good news for him and the Admirals is that there is no rush to get Piskula back on the ice now that so many bodies are back on defense. I think it would be best for the Admirals captain to fully heal before returning to game action. Early projection on him was four to six weeks. Doubt it even makes four weeks. But I think it best for the team that

Interested in what the lines looked like? Some lines really kicked around wildly – especially on defense. These are more-or-less what they looked like throughout the practice:

Clune-Van Guilder-Grant
Liambas-Girard-Budish (Pendenza)

Diaby-White (Noonan)

And you’re usual suspects were both in net. Garrett Noonan cycled a few times. Joe Pendenza also played a bit of center and wing with that fourth line. I get the impression those two will be the odd men out tomorrow night.

Interview with head coach Dean Evason (2/26/15):

Expectations for tonight’s game? Was this time off what the Admirals needed as a team to regroup and get back to winning games? How will the re-introduction of Alm, Oligny, White, and Bitetto go on defense?

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