The Milwaukee Admirals setting franchise history really was the icing on the cake to last night’s 6-3 win over the San Antonio Rampage. That game really summed up the points streak as a whole pretty well, too.
The game was played in a variety of ways on a period-to-period-to-period basis and the Admirals managed to come out ahead with each style change. It was quite a sight seeing the game shift from defensively stout to a scrappy fight fest to an end-to-end track meet. With each wrinkle in the game the Admirals found ways to adjust and get the job done. That’s precisely what this winning streak has been all about.
~One Period At A Time~
In the first period of last night’s game the Admirals were held without a shot until there were less than six-minutes left in the frame. That first shot on goal was a long range toss off of Calvin Pickard‘s pads by Kristian Näkyvä that was taken from the left wing blue line in front of the Rampage’s bench. Pickard saw it the entire way. And it felt like that might be one of those sorts of nights. The Admirals were being outmuscled and forced out on the perimeter to even have a hope of a shot such as Näkyvä’s reaching Pickard.
If anything, the first period was almost summed up by an Admirals team spinning somewhere between neutral and reverse. Five minutes into the game and Näkyvä is in the penalty box for a high sticking minor. The good? The Admirals penalty kill does their dirty work and minimize quality looks against Juuse Saros. The bad? Right as the Näkyvä penalty is expiring Conor Allen takes a boarding minor to extend the power-play’s chances of finding the back of the net. That wound up costing the Admirals a power-play goal against.
There were so many times last season when the team would fall into a trap of getting into penalty trouble and then never really recovering. What I mean by that is the extended penalty kill time would sit down certain lines, forwards, or defensemen that aren’t active on the penalty kill and they would get off-kilter and never really get back into the flow of the game. That’s an issue that looks to have been corrected this season. And you’ll find no better evidence of a response shown in the closing minutes of the first period.
Kevin Fiala had his wheels going and was making some gritty plays tight to Rampage defensemen last night. With his speed he was able to force a tripping penalty and get the Admirals a four-on-three power-play. Vladislav Kamenev wins the faceoff, Taylor Aronson receives the puck off the draw, waits, knows what he’s going to do but still waits, waits, passes to Viktor Arvidsson, and ker-blammo the game gets tied. Despite all the sloppy opening minutes, rough patch with discipline, and a power-play goal allowed the Admirals leveled the playing field. They regained their footing on the first sign that there was a chance to do so.
Before the Rampage can really take a moment they’re back on a penalty kill and allowing another power-play goal to Arvidsson. From behind held without a shot for the majority of the first period while trailing to holding a 2-1 lead. That’s this year’s Admirals team. It doesn’t matter what happened a shift or two ago. It doesn’t matter if they allowed a goal. Keep playing Admirals hockey and the ship will right itself in due time.
Then this game became took a different direction. The ice appeared to open up and, before you knew it, a 2-1 Admirals lead became a 4-2 Admirals lead. Pontus Åberg and Borna Rendulic score forty-six seconds apart from one-another. Play continues to be loosening up with chances at both ends and then Cody Bass tees up Colton Sissons right as he gets up off the Admirals bench and scores.
This is when things changed for the rest of the second period. Can the Admirals play a more defensive style game? Yes, they’ve shown that they can tighten up and lean on their goaltending lately. Can they win a fast moving skilled game? Yes, and I think the forwards love that big number on the scoreboard while the coaches hate it. But what about a dirty, in the trenches, muscle-bound slugfest? The Admirals of this season haven’t fully engaged in one of those yet.
Perhaps it was that line of thinking that inspired Daniel Maggio to challenge Jamie Devane to a fight all while Max Görtz was trucked into the Admirals attacking zone. Hey, Maggio’s fighting track record against the Admirals isn’t too bad: 2/21/13 vs. Mike Liambas… 1/3/14 vs. Liambas… 1/4/14 vs. Joonas Järvinen… 10/25/14 vs. Triston Grant… 2/3/15 vs. Liambas… 2/17/15 vs. Grant… 3/4/15 vs. Jonathan Diaby…
So, with history like this, Maggio hoping to provide energy to the Rampage bench all while turning the game into a more scrappy game made sense… at the time… in his head… I’m guessing… if he remembers.
Why did the second period escalate the way that it did? This. It’s one thing to challenge an opponent to a fight in the hopes of changing the flow of the game or re-energizing your bench. It’s another thing to do that and not only lose but to get knocked out. Make no mistake about it. Maggio was knocked out cold. His legs gave out and what snapped him back to our realm of consciousness was when he smacked the ice after getting tagged with a solid uppercut right on the point of the jaw as his head was ducking lower from the abuse Devane was giving him with the right hand.
From there the bench goes from a slight high, seeing Maggio looking to change the course of the game, to an immediate low knowing their bruiser’s attempt of altering the energy and style of the game was a failure. Tempers boil. And that’s when stupid things take place on the ice.
As a puck rimmed around the boards during an Admirals attack Adam Payerl was caught chasing a puck with his head down. The puck was flying away from the net, close to the Rampage bench, and potentially ending an Admirals offensive cycle. Duncan Siemens, fresh off the bench, attempted to take advantage of Payerl while he was more focused on the puck. He squared him up and Payerl dodged the brunt of the heavy hit attempt only getting sideswiped in the process. After the replay was shown it was very clear that Siemens was leading with his right knee all the way in as Payerl was approaching and tried extending his further out as Payerl tried avoiding the check. Fully aware of that, it caused Round II to break out and may have even been a small cause of why there was a Round III thirty-eight seconds later between Bass and Sam Henley. A game that was defensively minded went from being open-ended to a grinder in moments.
What came of all those penalty minutes for the Rampage? They did score a goal with forty-two seconds remaining in the period which made it a one-goal game. So, heading into the second intermission, if you’re the Rampage you might be feeling better knowing the style match-up just went further into your own comfort zone than that of the Admirals. That feeling and what actually happened of course are two completely different things.
The game once more opened up and the Admirals played fantastically well on all three levels of the game: goaltending, defense, and offense. The goals that were scored in the third period to cement the tenth successive win were done at such a high pace – both with the primary assists and goal scoring. Devane forces a turnover, sauces up high, and Félix Girard bats a puck out of mid-air to net his first goal of the year. Max Reinhart wins a footrace down the right wing, stops, and both Allen and Fiala were wide open as the Rampage froze with Reinhart. Allen jumped up on the play, as a Nashville Predators defenseman would typically do, and finished off his chance and Pickard’s night in net from his first career goal with the Admirals.
The game was done from then on. All that was left to do was kick back and remember that franchise history was just made. Through all the momentum swings, style changes, and battles the Admirals adapted and came out on top through each and every swerve that game had. This is not the Admirals that wilted from night’s like that a season ago. This team, for being the second youngest in the AHL this season, comes across battle tested.
There will no doubt come times down the line when bad losses come or perhaps an injury bug somewhere in the organization causes a temporary shuffle but keep last night’s game to memory because it says a lot about the Admirals character. Things can change in a blink and the Admirals will change with it and compete. For so early in the season to see such an attribute really excites me.
After the game I had the chance to speak with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason. I also chatted with Girard, Allen, Sissons, and Bass. Here is what they had to say post-game.
With one more win the Admirals won’t just be extending their own history they’ll be tying the bench mark set by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the AHL this season: an eleven-game winning streak. All that they’ll need to do is get past a resurgent Grand Rapids Griffins team to tie that mark and then follow it up with a repeat performance against an always tough Rockford IceHogs team to set the new gold standard for winning streaks in the AHL this season.
Through this run the Admirals haven’t had any cheap wins. All their opponents have matched up extremely well or better than the Admirals. Religious or not I simply advise you to read Proverbs 27:17. That’s the Admirals right now and it has been an exciting process to see going this well this early into a season.
Comments on the comments? What has impressed you the most about the Milwaukee Admirals as this winning streak has unfolded? Is this Admirals level of play sustainable throughout the course of this season? Are you regretting calling for Dean Evason and the rest of the coaching staff’s heads last season?