The Milwaukee Admirals have opened up the regular season with two regulation losses while being outshot 71-41, outscored 12-3, while only technically scoring a single goal. So… where do we begin?
The finger pointing could go in enough places that Goro from Mortal Kombat wouldn’t be able to point to them all – nor would the Goddess Durga for that matter. Offense. Defense. If you’re angry enough you might even be wagging a finger between the pipes and questioning if some of this damage could have been less if not for some clutch saves. The bigger named scoring talent looks lost and confused. And, in general, the ability to connect passes to one another has seen better days in a lower tier pick-up hockey game. To put it simply, there is a whole lot of wrong that is on display and it isn’t entirely something we should be expecting to go away instantly.
What’s perhaps most troubling to me is the Admirals lack of detail in their play to start the season. The coaching staff with Dean Evason at the helm preaches sound fundamental hockey. “Play the right way. Do the right things.” To see such sloppy passing, players thinking they can take on and beat two or three defenders all by themselves with skill, or blow defensive assignments in transition is something that was rare to see… until late last season under Evason’s watch.
The single most glaring element of this team right now is the non-existent offense. Which is bizarre to think you could use such a term knowing the skill level in that department is so high. There are two first round draft picks, three second round draft picks, and last season’s top goal scorer in the KHL in the forward group alone. Yet, flashy abilities aside, the basics are what is getting screwed up. When a team is trying to build a head of steam to race from defense to offense but can’t pass up the ice cleanly it presents an opportunity to be counter attacked – and counter attacked with the opposition coming down your throat in numbers. The Chicago Wolves had 37 shots posted against Juuse Saros. The Charlotte Checkers had 34 shots on goal against Marek Mazanec. The goaltenders need a breather and the offense can’t connect passes to get these men a break. The inability to sustain attacking hockey means cycling around on defense. Getting grinded out on defense leads to sluggish minor penalty mistakes. And, would you look at that, the Admirals are trailing on the scoreboard as easy as you like.
I suppose what I’m getting at here is that the transition game of “defensive assignment first and then attack” is the specific problem plaguing the offense. That same inability to go from defense to offense is also what’s making the penalty kill such a nightmare at the moment. Pucks are going to the net and, if they’re not in off the shot, they’re still right there on the doorstep. Collecting, clearing, and getting out of the defensive zone isn’t happening anywhere near enough as it should be and it’s lead to a penalty kill unit that has allowed six power-play goals in two games from eleven chances.
When you get away from what’s beneath the surface to the more out in the open stuff that’s when you get a little more angry. Kevin Fiala just about sounded like a lock to make the Nashville Predators opening day roster heading into the pre-season camp. He gets cut, joins the Admirals, and has proceeded to look like a ghost of the player that delivered last season’s most thrilling moment. He looks slow. He looks uninterested. And he looks every bit the reason why he was sent to Milwaukee. The sooner he stops feeling sorry for himself the sooner the Admirals get a high powered winger that can spearhead an offense. An igniter if you will. Someone to set the table and make every other forward have to follow that shift up with work ethic that is up to par with what Fiala can muster up. Until that moment manifests itself the best forwards on the ice right now are the ones doing a lot of the simple things right. Vladislav Kamenev has looked very composed in each of the Admirals first two games and it’s leading to scoring chances. Pontus Åberg was the most lively and aggressive forwards on the ice against Checkers and probably deserved a goal for his work rate. Frédérick Gaudreau and Félix Girard both looked smart on and off the puck and their battle level on offense was great to see considering they are meant to be the fourth line.
All that said and the word “finishing” isn’t to be seen because the Admirals haven’t really had a proper finish. Kamenev’s shorthanded goal was really all there was and that will probably go down as the softest goal Jordan Binnington will allow all season. Miikka Salomäki and Taylor Aronson have Jake Chelios and Trevor Carrick respectively to thank for their goals against the Checkers. Drew MacIntyre stopped both Salomäki and Aronson cold. Oddly, for the first time in a good while, the Admirals received some of those favorable puck bounces they’re always banging on about. Remember the hopes for all of those last season? They finally turned up tonight. And they still lost 7-2.
So many kinks to iron out and so little time before taking to the ice once again. Speaking of iron, if iron sharpens iron I must say on a positive note I am very glad that this spell is happening instantly to start the season. Why? Because with so much youth and so much season still to play there is a lot of time to learn how to do things -quoting Evason- the right way. Adversity is an essential part of any team or individual learning process that I feel the best have to learn how to endure and overcome. Why not face it right away as to combat it when it turns its ugly head later in the season? The results are bad. There is no denying that. The benefits of being able to get over this hump and earn period-to-period, start-to-finish, back-to-back style results is the difference between the teams that make the playoffs and the ones who watch them instead.
After the game I had the chance to catch up with Evason, Mazanec, and team captain Colton Sissons. Here is what they had to say following the rough result at the home opener.
Comments on the comments? What are you initial impressions of this year’s team and its struggles? What concerns you the most about the Admirals through two games? What improvements do you think are needed to get on the winning track?