The Milwaukee Admirals current run of form is a seven-game points streak backed by a six-game winning streak. For how rough the first few games were to watch it is an outstanding turn-around by the coaching staff and players. While this current streak is fantastic to see out of the Admirals the unfortunate reality is that it isn’t even the second longest points streak in the Central Division right now. The longest points streak active in the division goes to the Rockford IceHogs who have a ten-game points streak (8-0-1-1 record). The team entering the BMO Harris Bradley Center tonight, the Chicago Wolves, have the second longest at nine-games (7-0-1-1). Simply put, something is bound to give tonight.
It’s worth looking back to the first Amtrak Rivalry game of the season. It was opening night for both teams and expectations for both were suspect. What were we going to get? Who was going to be more polished? Was a team going to stumble out of the blocks? Or, were both teams simply going to match-up evenly and grind through a tight contest? Spoiler Alert. The Admirals lost badly on the road to the Wolves 5-1. So, there was the answer.
The major talking point from the first game of the season was the Admirals discipline. They allowed the Wolves to go on seven total power-plays and conceded four power-play goals. In the first period alone the Admirals allowed three power-play goals. Oddly, the lone Admirals goal came during the run of first period penalty killing when Vladislav Kamenev scored against Jordan Binnington on a chance I’d best describe as a softy that Binnington would normally stop.
It was cruise control from then on for the Wolves. The damage the Admirals did to themselves was capitalized upon by the Wolves in the first period and second period. It clearly wasn’t a result that the Admirals could be happy with but it provided some glaring weaknesses in their game that I feel they’ve tightened up on since.
~The Amtrak Rivaly~
The Wolves overall record on the season is 8-1-1-1 (18 points). Their points percentage of 0.818 has them sitting not only on top of the Central Division but the entire Western Conference. They only trail the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins insane points percentage of 0.923 for the best record in the entire league. Few are being able to stop the offense and fewer are being able to solve their defense.
Let’s start with the aforementioned Binnington in net. One of the things to watch with the Wolves this season is how they handle their battery in net which can be viewed as a 1-A and 1-B setup rather than a first choice and second choice goaltending partnership. At the moment Binnington has seen the net more but by only a single game over Pheonix Copley. When you have two goaltenders that can serve as the first choice goaltender it presents more of a problem that it does a bonus. How do you keep the two rolling without messing both up? It was a situation that manifested itself with Magnus Hellberg and Marek Mazanec here not too long ago. It will be a talking point of the Wolves all season long.
When looking at the Wolves goaltending you’ll see pretty average statistical numbers by both: Binnington (0.902 save percentage and 2.61 goals against average) and Copley (0.908 save percentage and a 2.58 goals against average). What does that mean? It means look less at the goaltending and more at the defense of the Wolves. Both goaltenders have faced a combined 304 shots on goal for an average of 27.6 shots against per game. The Admirals goalies have faced a combined 395 shots on goal for an average of 30.4 shots against per game. As great as the Wolves goaltenders can be it hasn’t been about them anywhere near as much as it has been the team playing out in front of them to start this season.
With great defense comes a solid foundation upon which you can attack. That’s been the biggest weapon the Wolves have had to start this season. While both goaltenders goals against average is in that 2.5 range the Wolves offense has been averaging 3.9 goals per game.
That scoring is coming from the entire team. The Wolves have four players with double-digit points in scoring already: Pat Cannone, 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists)… Danny Kristo, 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists)… Ivan Barbashyov, 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists)… Ty Rattie, 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists). Beyond them there are eight players with 5 points or more. Fortunately, two of those players are with the St. Louis Blues at the moment: Jeremy Welsh and Magnus Pääjärvi.
For comparison’s sake, when looking at how many members of the Wolves are scoring up above 10 points this season, the Admirals don’t have a single player with 10 points of offense yet and they have played two-more games than the Wolves have. The Ads leading scorer is Viktor Arvidsson with 9 points (4 goals, 5 assists). He started his season in the NHL but is currently on a nine-game points streak. Should he record a point tonight he will tie the Wolves’ Cannone for the longest points streak in the AHL this season at ten-games.
Another noteworthy getting excited about comes from the Admirals blue line. Trevor Murphy has only played in eight games for the Admirals this season. That limited action is due to a combination of a groin injury and Anthony Bitetto‘s conditioning assignment that kept him in Milwaukee for fourteen consecutive days. You might be fearful that such a swift outing of the lineup might catch out a young defenseman like Murphy but he’s been ridiculous since returning. He has scored a goal in four consecutive games, has a pair of assists, has a power-play goal, and marked his return to the ice that sparked this run by recording his first career professional goal on a game-winner in overtime on the road against the IceHogs. It’s also fitting to mention Bitetto in Murphy’s current season because last season Bitetto led all Admirals defenseman with 4 goals in 70 games. Murphy already has 4 goals in 8 games. It’s been an impressive sight seeing the Admirals defense starting to contribute offensively.
It’s also worth acknowledging just how good Juuse Saros has been playing in net for the Admirals. This month he has won all five starts in net while recording a 1.60 goals against average, 0.945 save percentage, and a shutout. There is a tie for the AHL lead for wins at 8 and for second place at 7. Saros sits at 6 wins this season with overall numbers that really put him on the cuff of the AHL’s top ten in goals against average and save percentage. As far as AHL rookies go he only trails fellow Central Division netminders Joonas Korpisalo (Lake Erie Monsters) and Eric Comrie (Manitoba Moose) – both of whom have played less games than Saros. The young Finn has been looking every bit the hype that fans were hoping for and I can only imagine him learning and improving with each and every game.
What are your expectations in the second meeting of this season between the Admirals and Wolves? Can the Admirals start getting this Amtrak Rivalry back in their favor? What will be the key to the Admirals extending their streaks tonight against the Wolves?