Take a breather, everyone. The Milwaukee Admirals earned their first win of the season last night and did it in impressive fashion. In fact, of the possible outcomes, I feel like the Admirals clawing back from 2-0 down at the start of the third period to win it 3-2 in overtime is as good as it gets. If the Admirals won a 4-1 cruise mode you’re left saying, “Well that’s nice but it was just the Iowa Wild.” If the Admirals lost via beatdown in regulation once again… you, like me, would have resorted to a toddler level temper tantrum.
What I appreciate the most about the performance last night was that it looked like a team. The Admirals performance against the Charlotte Checkers, much more than the one against the Chicago Wolves, looked like a veritable hodgepodge of individuals playing their own games. How often will a single player blitz through three defending opponents with skill to score a goal? Not often. The game requires flashes of that skill level crafted with chemistry that complements the structure of a team. When players decide to punch themselves out of the game plan and try to single-handedly win a game on their own you get the 7-2 loss that the Admirals earned for themselves last Friday.
If the Chicago game wasn’t a wake up call the Charlotte one needed to be. The Admirals needed to get back to having a team first mentality. Whatever was said, instructed by the coaching staff, or worked out on the ice appeared to bring out our first legitimate glimpse of what this Admirals team could be when it plays like an actual team. There was solid structure to the way the defense operated. Passing, while still not perfect, was an improvement. The offense that generated 41 shots on goal in the first two games put up 35 shots on goal last night. It’s all hopefully the start of better and more consistent things to come.
I made a point to say as much during the game but I will say it again here. I don’t know if Kevin Fiala is playing injured, if he is still beating himself up over getting cut from Nashville Predators pre-season camp, or if he is struggling to gel with his particular linemates here in Milwaukee – but he looks incredibly off right now. It’s as if he doesn’t have a fully functional motor running at the moment.
He was able to produce six shots on goal last night, which was equaled by Adam Payerl for the most in the game, but only a single shot that rang iron felt threatening… and, in writing that out, that probably doesn’t even get registered as a shot on goal. He has been moving very slowly. He doesn’t look like he is attempting to take anyone on with skill. He has every bit the ability to be an igniter on the Admirals offense but he’s not even been on the ice for a single goal scored by the team this season. Think about that for a moment. When the chips were down last night, when head coach Dean Evason called a timeout with less than two minutes remaining to pull the goalie and bring on an extra attacker, Fiala was still on the bench. The man that did it all but actually score the goal against the Grand Rapids Griffins last season isn’t trusted as much as Vladislav Kamenev, Stevie Moses, and Cody Bass to be on the ice to go for broke to win a game. Not only that, but fourth line winger Frédérick Gaudreau has by far looked better than Fiala on a shift after shift basis in two games than Fiala has in three games.
I don’t know what the issue is. Is Fiala hurt physically? Is Fiala hurt emotionally? Is he struggling to assimilate all the new faces and playing styles or is he overthinking his own game and hindering it by doing so? These are questions that need to be answered rather quick for Fiala if he is to really push for any sort of NHL time this season.
I’d be foolish to not hit on this subject. Aaron Sims is always kind enough to tweet out the Admirals line combinations before each game. Last night I was surprised to see two names missing in action: Pontus Åberg and Max Görtz. This was a surprise especially in the case of Åberg who I thought was one of the few in blue that played a really good game against Charlotte. As it turned out, the two Swedes were actually withheld from last night’s game in Iowa due to committing undisclosed team violations. One more than that, both players didn’t even travel with the team to Iowa.
As I cleverly wrote: the team violations were undisclosed. This could mean not knowing what happened until I next talk with Evason or the players – or more likely not knowing what happened at all. I could sit here and speculate from anything to sleeping in and missing practice to something potentially worse -but- I don’t have a single clue what the two could have done to merit not even traveling with the team to still support their teammates. I’ll say this much, no matter what they did, that’s a proper slamming of the foot by a coaching staff laying down the ground rules. No one ever wants to be made an example of but, for all we know, Åberg and Görtz were made an example of for the benefit of clamping down on behavioral issues before they ever begin this season.
What did you think of last night’s performance from the Admirals? How important could a comeback win like that be in getting the Admirals to start playing better hockey as a team? What have you seen out of Kevin Fiala in the first three games? Is it less to do with Fiala and more an all-around offensive/scoring problem for the Ads?