So, where do we begin? The Milwaukee Admirals remain the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Depending on how things play out this weekend that may no longer be the case. The Admirals play host to the Amtrak Rivals tonight. Meanwhile, the ninth seeded Toronto Marlies play a road-home set tonight and tomorrow with the Rochester Americans. To put it bluntly, there is the potential that the Admirals will not be the eighth seed as early as dinner time Saturday night.
That of course comes with a grain of salt. It shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. The Admirals still have three games on the schedule and can claim wins. Plus, the Americans beat up the Lake Erie Monsters 5-1 on the road last night. There’s reason to believe they can play stride for stride and take points from the Marlies.
Most important thing though. The Admirals need to win, period/exclamation point/CAPS LOCK. They have only two wins from their last sixteen games and only one win in regulation from their last seventeen games. That absolutely needs to change. If things continue as they have it will mean the Admirals streak of making the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs stops at twelve. The only time in the team’s AHL history that they missed out on the playoffs was their debut season to the league in 2001-02. The team’s winning percentage that season was 0.001 better than the Admirals current winning percentage today.
~Short & Sweet~
The Wolves current record is 37-26-6-1 (81 points). They have played three less games than the Admirals and sit 2 points ahead as the seventh spot of the Western Conference standings.
Since the Admirals saw the Wolves they have won four of their last five games. The lone loss they suffered was a 6-2 loss to the Texas Stars. The Wolves instantly bounced back by beating Lake Erie 7-3.
We’ve seen these Wolves recently, so there isn’t too huge of a need to re-hash the who factor of this team. Instead, I’d like to poke at the how factor. How did the Admirals lose the last time the Wolves played in Milwaukee two weeks ago? And what are the steps needed to be taken to avoid such a result tonight.
The 8-4 loss was one of the most punishing games to sit back and watch from the Admirals the entire season. Yes, the Admirals were shorthanded on the night. Both Viktor Arvidsson and Kevin Fiala were with the Nashville Predators at that time. But the things that took place in that game were pretty much all avoidable.
That contest opened with yet another shorthanded goal allowed by the Admirals. While I understand the team is unwilling to change the structure of their power-play (one at the point, two on the half walls on opposite wings, two near and around the net) the lack of bodies back in defense and, just as importantly, understanding the defensive coverage required as they skate back has been abysmal this season.
The shorthanded goal by Jeremy Welsh? He was all alone because three Admirals decided they were going to hound Nathan Longpre. While that in itself isn’t so bad it is the inability to pounce on the puck carrier, force the puck off, use those numbers to force back on offense, or take a peak back and look for a secondary defensive assignment. No one did that. No one. Wolves defenseman Petteri Lindbohm was the only man trailing Welsh. It was a defensive lapse that was completely avoidable.
Small note on that shorthander: Marek Mazanec, stick side. It was a breakaway goal, yes, but that’s becoming a running theme that is worth mentioning. In his last four games 6/11 goals that he has allowed have come on the stick side including 3/4 in the shootout.
Now some of the good news. Joe Pendenza, Austin Watson, and Pontus Åberg put in a grinding shift and produced a goal off of second and third chance opportunities. The Admirals have been aiming so much over the last month to generate pucks to the net and create scoring chances from there. Pendenza flipped a puck at Jordan Binnington, it was fumbled loose, and Åberg capitalized. That was a perfect example of what the Admirals want to do.
The Admirals would give up a power-play goal later in the first period, which was tough, but -hey- special teams. The goal scored twenty-seven seconds into the second period? That was another defensive lapse. Adam Cracknell was left all alone in front of Mazanec for a shot and the follow up rebound swats that he needed to score. Scott Ford was up ice. And Gary Steffes was last man to react to Cracknell’s movement.
Here is when things get irritating. Eric Robinson scores his first pro goal. Steffes notches a power-play goal that snapped an 0/39 drought on the power-play for the Admirals. It was a 3-3 game. What happened? A long range redirect goal puts the Wolves back out in front 2:31 after the Steffes power-play goal. Rough, but the Admirals just came back from 3-1 down to tie things up and it is only the second period right? Go get the next one. 1:27 later, Cracknell squeezes a puck through Mazanec from the left wing on a one-timer.
The Admirals closed the gap to a one-goal game again after Mike Liambas scored from another net front garbage-style goal to make it 5-4. What came next is simply the way the puck has been bouncing against the Admirals. A puck flew up into he air, hung for a few seconds, and Magnus Pääjärvi hammered it off the first bounce off the ice into the top shelf for a goal. The game was pushed back to a two-goal lead for the Wolves and took the final amount of air out of the Admirals sails that night. Sure, there were two more empty-netters scored -one of which was recorded as a shorthanded marker for that man Welsh again- but Pääjärvi’s miracle bomb was the KO punch.
How did the Admirals rebound? They played a much tighter game that allowed them to earn a point the very next night against the Wolves and started to turn the tide a bit. Then the Rockford IceHogs and Grand Rapids Griffins happened.
What is the key to the Admirals final three games of the regular season? Simplicity. The Admirals need to play a simple game which can allow for tight and intelligent defense to get pucks up and out of their zone quick and let the forwards handle the offensive load. Don’t go for the home run stretch pass. Don’t get flustered when either the Wolves or Marlies attempt to clog up the neutral zone to eliminate speed. Create speed by getting pucks deep and winning those foot races to the puck down low, battle free, and let the offense set up.
All that should be required for the Admirals approach is to play simple and play smart hockey. When they’ve achieved that this season it is them at their maximum effectiveness. Remember that phrase, “play the right way,” that head coach Dean Evason preached throughout January? That’s what that was. And it is something that hasn’t been accomplished for a full sixty minutes probably since then.
Three games. Six points. The Admirals need to bag a win tonight to alleviate the pressure they are putting on themselves. I wouldn’t count on the teams behind the Admirals in the Western Conference standings to lose out. As such, the Admirals can’t afford to do so either.
What are you expecting from the Milwaukee Admirals tonight? Can the Admirals rebound or are these final three games going to continue as the recently scheduled programming has provided? What is needed for the Admirals to produce a win tonight to get the ball rolling?