First and foremost, this edition of Chatterbox will be a veritable Jack of All-Trades as far as recapping last night’s game and setting up tonight’s road contest against the Rockford IceHogs. It will be busy but I like being busy. And, when the Milwaukee Admirals have the chance to sweep a three-in-three set, being busy never felt so good.
I don’t like really saying the term “win streak” when the Admirals have only won two games in a row but, hey, they’re finally on a winning streak. I think if you were to really put things in a better perspective though this is an Admirals team that has been finally playing solid hockey for the past five games. Now the consistency of play is starting to really click together and the results are coming. After some rough performances all of the sudden you can look back at those last five games to see that the Admirals have earned seven points out of a possible ten points. Things are starting to finally gel.
If there was a serious disappointment to last night’s game it was that Juuse Saros ended up missing out on consecutive shutouts. He would have been the first Admirals goaltender to accomplish that feat since Magnus Hellberg did it to end his rookie season back in 2012-13. The shutout bid went kaput with Kristian Näkyvä delivering a high hit that sent the Lake Erie Monsters on a power-play with 2:37 left in regulation. Not only that, but the net was emptied and the extra attacker was brought on. It was a long range shot that hit traffic and ended up being a garbage style goal to be scored for Alex Broadhurst. You can’t really fault Saros on the goal. It was just bad luck that starts with an avoidable situation of a bad penalty taken late in a game where the Admirals were in control. The discipline of the Admirals is still a bit dodgy for me. The penalty killing has greatly improved but it’s always nicer when you never have to be on it in the first place.
“But, what was the response of Stevie Moses,” you ask. Well, I’ll tell you. It was good. If there is any quality that I like about Moses it’s that he appears shift after shift to push it up to eleven and work hard. The trouble with that is of course running the risk of doing too much when you don’t need to and then causing turnovers or simply bad decisions on the puck. What I saw of Moses last night that I greatly appreciate was more of what he did when he wasn’t on the puck. His pressure on Lake Erie Monsters puckhandlers was intense. He skates very quickly and he didn’t allow for a lot of breathing space or comfort for the Monsters when they were trying to get plays out of their own zone. Did he score a goal? No. Was he the top goal scorer in the KHL last season? Yes. Does him not scoring a goal in his return to the lineup mean he’s doing poorly? No. There is far more to the game of hockey than just scoring goals even if some feel that’s why Nashville signed him. Get him going in the “less is more” approach and I think his offensive game will get going just fine.
The Milwaukee Admirals are now a calm and cool undefeated team in games in which Kevin Fiala is healthy scratched a game after being benched. Take a moment to look less at Fiala’s name, less at Fiala’s play, and think more about the style of play that has been working so well for the Admirals in recent games. I guarantee you that’s the message that is being sent by having him sit out these, effectively, last two games. When will he be unleashed in an effort to show and prove that he’s learned his lesson? Let’s kick back and await for that moment together, shall we?
Lost in a fair bit of the Fiala and Moses talk was the return to the ice of Vladislav Kamenev from his two-game suspension by the AHL for his boarding incident against Matt Fraser of the Manitoba Moose. In the same way you view Moses and look for a response I feel the same can be said of Kamenev. In fact, I was especially interested to see how a young player such as himself reacts to a situation such as that so early into his professional playing career in North America. Would he clam up or play timidly? Or, would he continue playing as well as he was prior to the suspension? For my money, Kamenev looked like he didn’t miss a beat in his first game returning to the ice after serving his two-game suspension. He’s incredibly composed for a 19-year old on the ice and plays in such a calm fashion. He isn’t what I’d deem flashy or explosive but I think that’s probably also what has made him one of the better forwards on the Admirals at the start of this season. He isn’t over-doing it. He’s taking what the game is giving him. So, with a question mark of how would he respond to his suspension by the league hanging over his head these last two-games I think he provided a nice answer by playing a solid all-around game.
~Bitetto Returning to Nashville~
I must admit that this was a matter of right place right time but I was able to learn of this news as it happened. After doing a post-game interview with Anthony Bitetto in the locker room he came back moments after finding out that his conditioning assignment was officially over. He should be traveling to join the Nashville Predators in the morning.
In his conditioning assignment that lasted thirteen days and six-games Bitetto produced 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) with a plus/minus rating of -1, averaged 2.5 shots per game, and totaled up 27 penalty minutes. For those not following along too often over in the Nashville-land, more than half of those 27 penalty minutes came from a five-minute major for cross checking and a game misconduct. In what could prove to be his final time playing as a member of the Admirals in Milwaukee Bitetto scored a lucky bounce goal in the last game of his conditioning assignment. He was also part of a defensive corps. that played a man down for half the game when Conor Allen was slapped with a major for slashing and a game misconduct.
This move leaves the Admirals at six defensemen at the moment. It should mean Trevor Murphy gets inserted back into the lineup after suffering a minor injury and being scratched the previous five-games. Both Jonathan Diaby and Garrett Noonan are options to be recalled from the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL if the seventh defenseman is wanted. In addition, thinking along the lines of what brought Bitetto back to Milwaukee, a conditioning assignment for Victor Bartley who has played one one game out of the Nashville Predators opening twelve games this season could be a possibility now that they will have eight defensemen up top.
Prior to yesterday’s game I actually did a pre-game interview with Admirals head coach Dean Evason. If you didn’t catch that on SoundCloud, or our other social media platforms, you can listen to that right here. I also talked with Evason following the completion of the game as well as spoke with the aforementioned Bitetto. I then spoke with Max Reinhart and Viktor Arvidsson. Here’s what they said following last night’s 3-1 win against Lake Erie.
~Scouting the Enemy~
The Rockford IceHogs enter tonight’s game with a record of 7-3-0-1 (15 points) which slots them in second place of the Central Division behind the Chicago Wolves. Unfortunately for the Admirals, they are facing just about the hottest team in the AHL as they finish up their three-in-three. The IceHogs carry a streak of 6-0-0-1 into tonight’s game. Only the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ eight game winning streak is hotter than that.
If there is a small silver lining to this game perhaps it could be the element of travel that plays into the Admirals hands. Yes, the Admirals will be finishing up three games in three days but the IceHogs are coming off of a 4-1 win on the road against the Grand Rapids Griffins last night. Arena to Arena you’re looking at a four-hour bus ride. I’m thankful that the Admirals have those sorts of bus trips to Iowa almost completely out of their system for this season. The reason why is simply due to the restless nature of the travel. Admirals: three-games in three-days. IceHogs: four-hour bus ride back home late at night. I say the Admirals might be the fresher team out the gate.
This is the second meeting of the season between the Admirals and IceHogs. The first game took place in Milwaukee and ended with a 4-2 IceHogs win. That game was all knotted up at 2-2 midway through the third period but an awkward bounce off of Kamenev’s stick in the Admirals attacking zone sprung a breakaway for Marko Dano that paved the way for a bizarre game-winning goal.
What’s funny to think about is how much the Admirals have changed in terms of on-ice performance since that game. It has only been two weeks but in that time the Admirals special teams has really improved and the detail in their play has really sharpened. In that loss to the IceHogs they went 1/4 on the power-play but allowed a five-minute major power-play go for naught. I’m not so sure the Admirals are that team anymore. The power-play has gone 7/27 (25.9%) ever since that game. Their penalty kill has gone 20/24 (83.3%). The special teams improvements alone makes this a much different game for the Admirals.
Another major difference in this meeting is the personnel changes that both have made. Arvidsson no doubt makes a big difference to the Admirals. And I suspect the IceHogs without their top two scorers, Dano and Tanner Kero, will also be a different team. But just because those two have gone up to the NHL doesn’t mean the IceHogs are losing a step. Clearly their record reflects that. And having veteran Bryan Bickell brought to the team could only make them stronger. They still have the likes of Jeremy Morin, Mark McNeill, Garret Ross, Ryan Hartman, and Brandon Mashinter to deliver offense. Bickell, a three-time Stanley Cup winner coming down and scoring a goal in his first night back in the AHL since the 2009-10 season, is something that can put them even more over the top than they already are.
~Roster Move Update~
Eric Robinson has been reassigned by the Milwaukee Admirals on loan to the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL. Robinson produced 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) in 4 games for the Cyclones this season. Upon his arrival to the Admirals he suited up and scored a goal in Thursday afternoon’s 3-0 shutout win. He was listed as a healthy scratch for last night’s game.
In addition, the Nashville Predators did make the Bitetto news official this morning.
Comments on the post-game comments? What are your expectations for tonight’s game? Should the Admirals attempt starting Saros for all three games of this three-in-three?