The Milwaukee Admirals won 2-1 in a shootout on the road against the Rockford IceHogs Saturday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
This wasn’t the run and gun style of hockey the Admirals have been caught up in as of late. Instead it was a defensive duel with both Marek Mazanec and Michael Leighton coming up big in net for their respective teams. This game would push all the way to a shootout where the Admirals would claim their fifth shootout victory from five attempts this season and third shootout win this month. No team in the AHL has more shootout wins than the Admirals.
It wasn’t quite the first period you might have been expecting for the IceHogs. Having lost on home ice to the Admirals 6-2 prior to the Christmas break you’d have thought a fired up IceHogs team would be looking to storm out of the blocks early and set the tempo. That didn’t happen at all and it took 11:40 of ice time before the hosts even registered a shot on goal.
As the first period was ending, Vinny Hinostroza was tagged with a double-minor for roughing after trying to get after Conor Allen only to have Joe Pendenza answer the bell. No punches were exchanged but it meant the Admirals would have an abbreviated power-play that overlapped into the second period with Kristian Näkyvä set to exit the box five-seconds into the sandwich stanza.
Within the first minute of the second period the Admirals would cash in from Hinostroza’s outburst with yet another power-play goal for Frédérick Gaudreau. As a puck battle ensued in the left wing pocket – Vinny Saponari was able to push free over to Gaudreau who was all alone in the high slot. His wrister was snapped on net faster than Michael Leighton appeared to know how to deal with it as the veteran goaltender stayed standing up as the puck flew past him. Gaudreau now has nine goals this season and has scored six of them from the power-play.
The IceHogs started to dictate the pace from that point forward in the second period. After winning an in-zone faceoff they would level the game up at 1-1. The Admirals were left puck watching when Marko Dano glided along the right wing. As Dano was puck carrying Chris DeSousa skated backwards from traffic and to the back post of Marek Mazanec. No one picked him up. Dano’s pass went clean to him. And DeSousa had his third goal of the season.
A late power-play from a Max Reinhart crosschecking minor gave the IceHogs a chance to steal the win with 2:04 remaining in regulation. Mazanec would come up huge during the Admirals penalty kill and the game went into overtime. Similarly, the Admirals would get a power-play chance of their own during the three-on-three overtime frame and would also see a chance to end the game go for naught. A shootout was required.
Kevin Fiala was the first man up for the shootout and his now trademark move of swinging out from the right wing, stickhanding the goaltender to sleep while skating in towards the slot, and snapping a forehand shot worked once more. Garret Ross followed up for the IceHogs by missing the net entirely on a wild backhander attempt. Gaudreau was next up and he took a straight forward approach, skating straight down the middle and firing, to score past Leighton and give the Admirals match point in the shootout. Up stepped Hinostroza who skated very wide to the right wing, slowed down, and attempted to check back with a shot low to the blocker side of Mazanec but the Czech netminder made the save with his left toe to provide the Admirals with their third straight win.
This season the Admirals have been dazzling when it comes to competing in the shootout. They’re a perfect five for five in the shootout this season and, in this current month of December, they have won more shootout games than all of last season with three wins. The Admirals went two wins from nine shootouts last season.
Another area of the shotout which has been remarkable has been the goaltending. Between Mazanec and Juuse Saros the Admirals goaltending duo have a 0.938 save percentage in the shootout. There has only been one shootout goal allowed by the Admirals from sixteen total attempts while its own shooters are coming in at a 0.500 clip scoring eight out of sixteen attempts: Fiala and Gaudreau are a combined 7/10 from shootout attempts this season.
Ramblings: Since the Milwaukee Admirals last played on Monday there were a pair of roster moves made. Petter Granberg’s two week (fourteen consecutive days) conditioning assignment was completed on Tuesday and he was returned to the Nashville Predators. Early this morning the Admirals recalled defenseman Garrett Noonan from the Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL). Tonight’s line combinations were: Fiala-Gaudreau-Görtz, Åberg-Reinhart-Payerl, Larraza-Girard-White, Devane-Pendenza-Saponari, Allen-Oligny, Näkyvä-Alm, Noonan-Bartley. Tonight’s scratches were: Cody Bass (upper-body), Trevor Murphy (upper-body), and Taylor Aronson (lower-body injury). Tonight marked the return of both Conor Allen and Johan Alm. Allen had missed the previous seven straight games due to an upper-body injury while Alm, who was out for eight straight games due to a lower-body injury, missed the last five-games as a healthy scratch. Aronson was injured late in Monday’s game and, according to Aaron Sims, will be out three-to-five weeks with a lower-body injury. Earlier today the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships kicked off in Finland. Vladislav Kamenev, team captain of Russia, earned a 2-1 shootout win of his own over the Czech Republic. The Grand Rapids Griffins won 7-3 tonight on the road against the Lake Erie Monsters to push their winning streak to fifteen-games.
Thoughts on tonight’s game? Once again, this depleted Admirals squad showed that it can not only play a different style of hockey but match up against one of the better teams in the AHL. Impressed by all that’s going on right now? Mazanec’s shootout numbers in the past have been rough. Is he starting to turn a corner for the better this season?