Tonight is the first of only five home games for the Admirals in a jam packed fifteen game slate for the month of March. It’s the busiest month of the season for the Admirals. The previous high for games in a month was twelve in November, December, and January. With ten road games this month it’s going to be important to take advantage of home ice. Unfortunately, the Admirals have one win from their last five home games. Time to change that tonight and doing so at the expense of the AHL’s hottest team.
~The Grand Ol’ Enemy~
The Grand Rapids Griffins enter tonight’s game with a record of 34-17-5-1 (74 points) are currently leading the Midwest Division by 4 points over the Rockford IceHogs and are 6 points clear of the Admirals. The Griffins do have a game-up on both the IceHogs and Admirals. So, do take that points gap with a grain of salt.
Grand Rapids is without question the hottest team in the AHL right now. They are on a points streak of thirteen-games (11-0-2-0) and are currently on a winning streak of nine-games. The last time the Griffins were defeated in regulation came at the hands of the Admirals in Grand Rapids with a 4-0 shutout.
On this thirteen game run for the Griffins they have outscored opponents by an outrageous 55-25. They’ve gone past regulation and into overtime five times and came up the better three of the five times. Their power-play: 19.6% (9/46). Their penalty kill: 97.4% (37/38).
~Two Headed Monster~
There are two names that give me the heebie jeebies when it comes to the Griffins: Petr Mrázek and Teemu Pulkkinen. When last we met, the Griffins had Mrázek but not Pulkkinen and shutout the Admirals 4-0.
Scary news? Pulkkinen is now back to complement the Admiral-killer in net. In his first game back from his latest stint with the Red Wings all Pulkkinen did was score a hat trick as the Griffins pounded the Western Conference leading Oklahoma City Barons 7-1.
Pulkkinen, despite his NHL time, remains the AHL’s leading scorer this season with 60 points (33 goals, 27 assists) in 45 games. The next closest to him in the goal scoring department is Shane Harper of the Chicago Wolves with 25 goals and he has played in ten more games than Pulkkinen has.
Since being brought back to Grand Rapids Mrázek has done Mrázek like things. By that I mean: winning all six games he has started since being reassigned, three shutouts, 0.89 goals against average, and a 0.972 save percentage. His last loss in the AHL came in late-October when he allowed 5 goals to the Lake Erie Monsters. He’s only allowed that many goals in a game once since and it came courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
What will the Admirals need to do in order to stop the hottest team in the AHL tonight? The answer is simple. No really, just keep things simple. What had the Admirals looking so sharp last time out against the Monsters in their 3-0 shutout win was a simplified North/South game that had crisp passing and shutdown defense that generated right back up to offense for a massively lopsided shot total of 31-16.
With a penalty kill that has been devastatingly sharp, a netminder that is a wall, and sniper that is picking his spots. Keep it simple. Get bodies in front of Mrázek to take his sight-lines away and look for loose pucks off rebounds. Don’t take stupid penalties to allow the Griffins to wheel and deal Pulkkinen along the left wing on the power-play to hammer that howitzer slap shot of his. Be smart. Be simple. Because it ends up being highly effective for the Admirals when they play that style of hockey.
Expectations for tonight’s game? What must be done to stop the likes of Mrázek and Pulkkinen? Should the Admirals change much of anything from last time out against the Monsters to match-up with the Griffins?