If you were to tell me that the Milwaukee Admirals would get this hot -this fast- following such a poor start I’d have loved to see my face as you told me. I imagine my eyebrows shooting up so hard North that they’d have flown off. That’s the level of surprise I’m in right now. And don’t take that as a negative either. It’s not because I never thought this team had it in them. Far from it. I just wasn’t expecting them to rebound from their lackluster early performances in a fashion like this.
The Admirals 5-3 win over the Chicago Wolves did a lot of things. The Admirals points streak is up to eight-games. The winning streak is up to seven-games. The Admirals snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Wolves that dated back almost a calendar year. You might remember that as the game when Rich Clune called the Amtrak Rivals a “soft hockey team” in his post-game interview on the ice. Since then? Not so soft. Case and point being that the Admirals beat Wolves netminder Jordan Binnington for the first time in his career. He had beaten the Admirals in all seven starts last season when he was an AHL rookie and on this year’s season opener. Oh, and for funsies, the Admirals snapped the Wolves points streak of nine-games by taking them down in regulation. So many positives. So much time. So let’s keep going!
~Splitting The Deck~
The Admirals current record is 9-4-1-0 (19 points). Their 0.679 points percentage now has them in third place of the Central Division and sixth place in the Western Conference. You can cut the Admirals season to this point in half by looking at what happened in October and what has happened since the calendar turned to November. In October the Admirals went 2-4-1-0 (5 points) in seven-games for a 0.357 points percentage. In November the Admirals have done nothing but win all seven-games they’ve played: 7-0-0-0 (14 points). What’s caused this turn-around is really a question that can have a multitude of answers depending on what area of the ice you’re looking at. The defense is playing much better which translates into offense. The offense is starting to get rewarded on the amount of shots they’re throwing to the net as the success rate of goals to shots on goals improves. It’s a mixed bag of improvements that gel together into this current run of form. Once again using the October and November split as an example you can get a small gauge as to some of the statistical trends taking major swings.
In October the Admirals: were outscored by opponents 27-15, outshot their opponents 231-216, went 6/36 (16.6%) on the power-play, went 23/32 (71.9%) on the penalty kill, and scored the game’s first goal two times.
In November the Admirals: have outscored by opponents 27-13, outshot their opponents 230-219, went 9/35 (25.7%) on the power-play, went 22/27 (81.5%) on the penalty kill, and scored the game’s first goal five times.
Those numbers are nice to see but I think the simplest answer to the turn-around is that this team is playing like a team. Those first few cringe-worthy games saw a lot of individualistic plays being done. While that hurts to see I found the biggest red flag being the inability to connect passes. It was simply awful and helped trigger many counter attacks or, worse, allowed for more sustained attacks that the Admirals had to weather through. That isn’t really happening anymore and I think it is part instruction and partly this team’s chemistry starting to really improve. The ability to learn from mistakes and get better is shining through but also there are a lot of players playing off of one-another that just wasn’t anywhere to be seen in October.
At the moment, it’s not about one player carrying the load or looking as if he has to be “the guy” to deliver the offense night in and night out. Right now it isn’t even about one line that needs to do all the work. Each line, offense and defense, is bringing it. The understanding of what needs to be done to have success is there and I think this team fights for just that.
~Juuse You See, I Say Juuse~
What can’t be lost in the current winning form of the Admirals is the foundation of it all which starts in net. You see those numbers up top where the Admirals almost perfectly flipped being outscored from October to being the ones outscoring their opponents in November? That’s what happens when there is a platform from which to launch offense from. That’s what happens when a defense gets better. But it’s also what happens when Juuse Saros just so happens to bail out his team when he’s tasked with doing so.
When looking back on last night’s game I feel the true standout moment came in the first period. The Wolves top line of Ty Rattie, Pat Cannone, and Danny Kristo were on the ice and the group put on a skill show that did everything but one thing: score. That shift felt like an eternity to watch as pass after pass connected, dekes were dangled, and shots poured to the net. Yet, nothing came of it. At the time of the shift shots on the scoreboard were quiet 2-2 for both teams. After the shift ended it was 9-2 Wolves. They had seven shots from one shift. All shots were high quality scoring opportunities. And, after everything ended, the score read 0-0.
When a moment such as that comes and goes it invokes a massive exhale. Not just for fans I suspect, either. Saros had all kinds of heat on him and shielded his team from getting burnt repeatedly. Should it have been the Wolves getting on the board early after a shift like that it could have been a different result on the night. Them bringing what was easily their best shift of the night and coming away without a goal did a lot for the landscape of the game.
When looking at the Nashville Predators you’ll come across great performances for the likes of Miikka Salomäki, Austin Watson, and Colton Sissons happening recently. It has been a great sight to see and a showcase for the level of hard work, style of play, and consistent effort required to be in the NHL.
Now, when looking at the type of game that Viktor Arvidsson has last night you can’t help but feel his time will come. He was absolutely phenomenal. I could list as many superlatives for his game and I don’t know if it would do it justice. He was playing at 110% speed shift after shift after shift. Then Stevie Moses picked up an unfortunate upper-body injury that sat him out for the rest of the game. Guess what that meant? Double-up shifts for Arvidsson. Did his performance drop by doing that? No. All the hours I hear that he spends in the gym working, time committed to be a pro, and all-around ability for both sides of the puck shined in his effort last night. His motor was running at enough revolutions to red-line and kill mine around the first period. He carried on like that, and more, until the game was decided.
Another thing that I love about Arvidsson’s style of play is how it really sets the table for the rest of the group. It’s part of the identity that I felt the Admirals took a dent from last season when they lost Salomäki’s relentless play. When you have one player working that hard it raises the bar for everyone to be earning their ice time by matching that level of effort. When a group gets on the same page and starts collectively firing on the sorts of cylinders Arvidsson or a Salomäki is it breeds success. It almost becomes an infectious competitive attitude where shift after shift needs to be at that high a level. If there was ever a better case for leading by example without being vocal about it – it was Arvidsson’s game last night. Ending a shift by non-verbally saying “follow that” and watching the entire team match it. To use another superlative. It was just incredible to watch.
I would sometimes casually throw out that a Watson type of guy was Mr. Reliable these last few seasons. He isn’t the flashiest player on the ice but finds himself up there in scoring while being a well-rounded player. I think it is still early to give any sort of awards out but consider a front runner for Mr. Reliable to Max Reinhart.
For those in need of reminding, Reinhart was acquired by the Predators from the Calgary Flames organization in exchange for a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. I assumed at the time this was meant to strengthen the center position and make for even stronger in-house competition down the middle. While that might not be happening on the NHL end of the spectrum I do think his ability his lending itself well to the AHL.
During the poor start to the season Reinhart, like most, wasn’t scoring but, unlike most, wasn’t shooting himself in the foot. During this current seven-game winning streak a lot of his work is starting to really show: 7 points (5 goals, 2 assists), 1 shorthanded goal, 1 game-winning goal, and has averaged 3.3 shots on goal per game. He might not stand out on the ice hustling at the speed of light like an Arvidsson but I’m hoping his work isn’t getting lost among the name talent on the Admirals because he’s been doing great.
Another player who could use a spotlight is Frédérick Gaudreau. It’s not fun thinking back to how last season ended but one of the more bright spots was the play of Gaudreau as the season grinded to the finish line. It’s been great to see that wasn’t a blip on the radar because he’s carried that into this season and then some.
Gaudreau was someone last season I would describe as a fringe player. He was either a healthy scratch or playing his trade with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL. In total, he produced 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in 43 games for the Admirals and 7 points (5 goals, 2 assists) in 14 games for the Cyclones last season. Jump ahead to this season where Gaudreau is being utilized as the Admirals first choice center on the power-play. This season he has 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) in 13 games with the Admirals. All of his goals have been scored on the power-play. Only howitzer boy himself, Arvidsson, has more on the Admirals power-play with 4 power-play goals. Gaudreau has been a really welcome sight to see for the Admirals and is yet another versatile threat that can be used down the middle, on the wing, on the power-play, or on the penalty kill.
~DANGER Eric Robinson DANGER~
The circumstances that have allowed for Eric Robinson‘s inclusion into the Admirals lineup this season is slightly unfortunate. First you have the team violation against Moses that allowed for Robinson to play against the Iowa Wild (11/5/15). Then Kevin Fiala was suspended by the AHL which meant Robinson would fill in for both games of the Charlotte road trip (11/13/15 – 11/14/15). And last night he was back in due to Fiala being sidelined due to an injury he sustained against the Lake Erie Monsters.
That’s all doom and gloom, sure, but with those circumstances is an opportunity for Robinson to show he has a case to stay in a talent packed Admirals forwards group. All he’s done in every game that he’s played in the AHL this season is score: 4 points (3 goals, 1 assist). This comes after scoring 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) in six-games for the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL. His scoring touch is translating at the AHL level.
I made mention of an upper-body injury to Mr. Moses that removed him from the rest of last night’s game. Sadly, he wasn’t the only Admirals player to exit stage left due to an injury. Johan Alm was crumpled up in a collision with Jacob Doty at the end-boards of the Admirals defensive zone during the first period. He didn’t return for the rest of the game due a lower-body injury.
After my follow-up questions after the game, I suspect that the Admirals will be looking for reinforcements from Cincinnati either today or tomorrow with Joe Pendenza and Garrett Noonan your likely candidates. It could be that Fiala suits back up and plays Friday night but the safe option is to have the numbers there in case he isn’t able to go. If that’s the case? Both kiddos from the state of Massachusetts should get recalled to the Admirals.
Prior to last night’s game I once again was able to do a pre-game interview with Admirals head coach Dean Evason. If you didn’t listen to that ahead of the game you can hear it right here. As always, I did speak with Evason once again in the post-game interview scrum (hi Dave). I then spoke with Arvidsson, Saros, Gaudreau, and Robinson.
Comments on the comments? Is this current run by the Admirals a small flash in the pan type of run or a sign of their performance level that can be sustained for the length of this season? Are the Admirals a different team when Fiala isn’t in the lineup?