Is everyone in a good mood after yesterday’s 3-0 shutout win for the Milwaukee Admirals? I am, and I think most are, but there are some detractors kicking mud at a pair of players who were punished prior to or during the game itself. Before leaping into the new look Lake Erie Monsters, kick back, get yourself a coffee, and let’s dive into these two players getting the proverbial boot from yesterday’s game.
~The Almighty Ban Hammer~
If there is anything that I can give a resounding 100% thumbs up to on this young Admirals season it has been the authoritative approach that the coaching staff has had with its players. It is now very clear that there are strict team rules that must be adhered to or players face the risk of being scratched from the next game and quite possibly tasked with staying home in Milwaukee as the rest of the team travels to play on the road without the offending member of the team. This much was made clear when both Max Görtz and Pontus Åberg violated team rules prior to the Admirals game on 10/20/15. That was the precedent set by the Admirals brass and one that should set the tone for every wrong-doing that follows. That’s what makes Stevie Moses subsequent violation of team rules two weeks after the baseline was clearly issued a head scratcher.
Moses is being reintroduced to professional hockey in North America for the first time since he had a brief spell as a member of the Connecticut Whale (AHL) after his time with the University of New Hampshire finished up. He played 8 games for the Whale, recorded 2 goals, averaged 3.1 shots per game, and factored into a playoff game for good measure. That was the early sample size of AHL hockey for Moses who has spent his last three-seasons playing in Finland for Jokerit between two different leagues, Liiga and the KHL. His total haul with Jokerit, playoff games included, was 125 points (75 goals, 50 assists) in 170 games.
When Moses was signed by the Nashville Predators in early-April this year I think most viewed this situation as a low risk high reward scenario for the one-year, $1 million price tag on the 2014-15 top goal scorer in the KHL. Best case scenario is him hitting the ground running and earning a spot in Nashville’s pre-season camp while sticking with the team as an active lower-line winger. Worst case scenario, he gets fed to the Admirals to try and find his KHL mojo at the AHL level before his one-year contract runs out. Right now my calendar says that it is early-November. The Admirals have only played eight games and eight games with few real positive results from any specific individual to speak of because the team itself has really yet to find itself. Where is Moses right now? Trending towards the worst case scenario but right in the middle of the two evils because this season is still young. What does him being late to a practice say about his mindset or fire to earn his way back into the mix of the Predators? I can’t really answer that because I’m not Mr. Moses. His play from his first game back out of this team imposed one-game suspension will speak volumes in that respect. The coaching staff has to be appreciative of the response they’ve received by Görtz and Åberg since they were slapped with the exact same penalty imposed by the team. For Moses to act or perform any less than that is when I need to re-write what the worst case scenario for him actually is. Yet, he is a 26-years old with a collegiate and professional career in this game. He should deliver with the right attitude.
The next talking point that came from the Admirals shutout victory was a moment that occurred roughly six-minutes into the first period of the game. Kevin Fiala made a poor decision to pass from the right wing circle towards the point without realizing Brett Sutter was directly camped in the path of the passing lane. Fiala went ahead and slid a puck on the ice. Sutter intercepted it and was off on a shorthanded breakaway that he would narrowly miss on a backhand attempt. The net was open on Juuse Saros‘ blocker side but Sutter ran out of real estate and the shot fluttered to the endboards rather than the twine.
At this point in the game, again, it is roughly six-minutes in and the game is scoreless. The Admirals have been playing on the backfoot all season long it feels like. They’ve been trailing so often and left to go for broke in the third period, empty net, extra attacker, and hope for the best. The desperation levels have been lacking early in games. If the Admirals push as hard as they have in most third periods for a full sixty-minutes they stand such a phenomenal chance at winning games.
The Fiala turnover was representative of so many “see foot, shoot foot” moments on the season for both himself and the team that I believe it left the coaching staff with no other recourse than to bench him. You can only punch in video highlight breakdowns, instructions in practice, and watch the same flaws creep on the ice again and again before enough is enough. How do you get through the point to be smarter with the puck? Bench him. Have him sit back and watch everyone else playing the game as it is needed to be played to win games and see if it sinks in next time out.
You could look no further than the man that ended up kicking up into Fiala’s place than Eric Robinson as to what the coaching staff clearly want out of Fiala’s play. Smart puck control, crisp passing, creating scoring chances, and keeping active pressure on defense. Robinson came from his early ECHL stint to start this season and had his work rate in the game be rewarded with double shifting on the top line and fourth line. Oh yeah, he also ended up scoring a goal in his first AHL game of the season. Fiala is 8 games and 29 shots deep into this season without a goal. Something isn’t clicking for him. And watching him press, turn pucks over, and set up scoring chances in the opposite direction shouldn’t be rewarded with anything other than what he earned for himself yesterday: the bench.
Now here is where I find a lot of comments going nuclear when it comes to Fiala. “This is who he is. He’s a brat. He’s spoiled. He’s stubborn. He’s immature.” Those are the types of comments I saw yesterday in response to Fiala being benched. Now, I don’t know when so many people became so personally familiar with Fiala to know all of these attributes as well as they appear to cite them -but- it’d be amazing if people could dodge hitting that torch button and remember that this is a 19-year old kid. He has an immense amount of talent and is in the process of learning how to hone in them in. That’s what the AHL is all about. Without getting through growing pains such as this how is Fiala ever supposed to well and truly get any better? Him being benched is his first real wake-up call since playing professionally here in North America. I say that because I don’t feel Fiala’s play on the ice would backup a claim that him being cut by the Predators in pre-season camp was a wake up call that he needs to be better than what he is right now if he wants to play NHL hockey.
How Fiala comes out of being benched should speak to his character. It’s not a matter of eye-popping scoresheet numbers or highlight reel goals. All Fiala needs to be doing right now is slowing down his game and being smarter with what he does on the puck. With the amount of talent he possesses less really should translate to more. When the dust settles on this season, and he looks back on what he’s done, Fiala being benched should count for far more than a one-off scalding. It should be the actual starting point to his 2015-16 season.
~Lake Erie Monsters~
Since we last saw the Lake Erie Monsters they’ve switched affiliations. For the entirety of their existence the Monsters were the Colorado Avalanche’s AHL affiliate, 2007-08 to 2014-15. This changed in the off-season when the Columbus Blue Jackets switched AHL affiliates from the Springfield Falcons to the Monsters as the Avalanche’s AHL affiliation moved on to the San Antonio Rampage. So, when you think Monsters this season you’ll be best served looking at Blue Jackets information and previous Falcons AHL stats.
The Monsters enter tonight’s game with a record of 4-1-0-2 (10 points). They’re one of six teams in the AHL to have played less games than the Admirals have this season yet enter with the better points equity. The Monsters’ one and only regulation loss on the season came on opening night for them as they fell 6-3 on the road against the Rochester Americans. Since then they’ve claimed points in six-straight games with four wins and two shootout defeats.
Second year pro Kerby Rychel leads the Monsters in scoring this season with 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) in 6 games. Lucky for the Admirals, Rychel was called up by the Blue Jackets on Wednesday and shouldn’t be an issue for the Admirals tonight.
I find the main man to look out for is going to be Hännikäinen. He leads the Monsters in shots on goal with 25. He’d probably be up in the upper tier of the entire league with his 3.6 shots on goal per game average but the Monsters simply just don’t have the games played yet. Expect him to continue getting pucks to the net and anticipate the rebounds of his shots to be the more dangerous factor in him doing that. Fun Fact, Hännikäinen and Moses were teammates when they played at Jokerit.
In net the Monsters have a solid 1-A, 1-B tandem going between 22-year old Anton Forsberg and 21-year old Joonas Korpisalo. Both have been outstanding. Forsberg in his second year of work in the AHL has three wins from four games, 2.27 goals against average, and a 0.915 save percentage. Korpisalo, who tasted AHL hockey briefly last season, is impressing in his rookie AHL season already. He actually has more shutouts right now than wins. You can thank a tough luck shootout loss to the Wild for that factoid. He followed up that effort with a second straight shutout before karma finally caught up to him on Halloween when he allowed 5 goals from 34 shots. He still has a 1.58 goals against average and 0.940 save percentage. Both of these goaltenders are more than capable of making life difficult for the Admirals tonight.
Expectations? Further reaction to yesterday’s news regarding Moses and Fiala? Did Robinson earn himself another game tonight and, if so, who sits out with both Moses and Vladislav Kamenev expected to return to the lineup? Does Saros see his first AHL shutout get rewarded with a consecutive start?