First and foremost, I hope you all had a lovely Christmas yesterday with plenty of Milwaukee Admirals themed presents being handed out left and right. Today is Boxing Day and what better way to celebrate than with a hockey game that might well feature such an activity?
When we last left off the Admirals beat down the Rockford IceHogs on the road 6-2. That came on the heels of the Admirals losing by that same margin in Milwaukee to the IceHogs just over a week ago. Sandwiched between those games was the 7-5 roller coaster win by the Admirals over the Manitoba Moose.
If we go back to the previous meeting between the Admirals and IceHogs in Milwaukee I was left with the simple recapping of the following:
I was almost not even going to tap back into last night’s game. Why? Because I feel as if the scoreline says enough. It was bad. It was very much the not good. And more bad things that I could write about.
The positive to last night’s game comes in the form of today. There is a game today and a mission to be had. The Manitoba Moose have seemingly had the Admirals number this season and especially in Milwaukee. If the Admirals lose badly last night and win today? Whatever. It’s the ups and downs of a hockey season. The Admirals can shoot for payback Monday night in Rockford. If the Admirals lose again today? That’s when the real concerns start to creep in. That’s when the ugly head of doubt shows up and reminds the Admirals that they could be in-store for two-more hefty defeats at the hands of the IceHogs in the next two-games to go on a four-game skid. They can’t afford to do that. Not one bit.
So don’t stay stuck in the mud where last night’s game fell to pieces. Focus on what is directly in front of you. The Admirals need a bounce back performance. History has shown that this season, in games where they lost while allowing six or more goals, that they can and have come back strong: two wins from two opportunities. Today is chance number three to bounce back after allowing six or more goals in a losing effort. Time to bounce back.
While it wasn’t necessarily the cleanest bounce back? The Admirals stuck together as a group and won a track meet against the Moose. Losing to them yet again on home ice would have been a tougher pill to swallow than the previous loss to the IceHogs. Plus, it would have setup back-to-back defeats with two road games in Rockford. The Admirals took care of the Moose at home, tightened their game up much better, and then handed the IceHogs a 6-2 whooping on home ice of their own.
I’m sure the IceHogs mentality could be similar to that of the Admirals when they were rocked as they were. After all, I feel the last game could pretty much be summed up in one-play. The IceHogs are trailing 3-0 late in the second period, they catch a great break down the right wing with Daniel Paille whistling a shot past Marek Mazanec and off the crossbar, the puck ricocheted ahead to push the Admirals forward, and then Taylor Aronson scored a slap shot from the right point on the ensuing counter attack. That’s a nasty bit of bad luck and, for all the pressure the IceHogs poured on in the third period, the game was pushed way out of reach already. Their objective, even if they sat and stewed over it during the Christmas break, is to forget Monday’s game and get back to the same style of hockey that had the Admirals sputtering in place previously.
This objective for the IceHogs of course comes with news that players will be unavailable. The aforementioned Paille was loaned to Team Canada for use in the 2015 Spengler Cup. They will also be without Ryan Hartman after the league deemed fit to suspend him for three-games for his illegal check to the head of Trevor Murphy. You can watch the incident here. After the game, Hartman had the following to say of the hit:
“It’s tough putting your team down five-minutes to start the game. It’s not how you want to start the game. That’s my fault and I’ve got to take responsibility for that.” ~Ryan Hartman
My breakdown of the Hartman-Murphy incident is pretty short and sweet. Murphy had his back turned as he played a puck up the boards. Hartman saw him the entire way in with Murphy’s #8 visible plain a day. Hartman aimed his hit high. He finished his check to the head. And well, congratulations Hartman, you earned the game misconduct and three-game suspension you were apparently looking for.
Knowing that the AHL served justice on the matter makes me feel like that incident should be in the back mirror for tonight. If Hartman were in the lineup it might be a different story. Perhaps that game on January 3rd in Rockford will see raised aggression levels taken towards Hartman but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Admirals simply stuck to their game and looked for the win instead of an eye for an eye. Tonight? The Admirals want to push for a three-game winning streak. The IceHogs want to rebound.
~Bits and Bobs~
The IceHogs enter tonight’s game with a record of 18-7-2-2 (40 points). Their 0.690 points percentage currently sees them on top of the Central Division. An Admirals win in regulation would change the divisional standing tonight. The IceHogs have dropped their last two-games (0-1-1-0) while the Admirals have won two-straight games in regulation while outscoring their opponent 13-7.
A key player to watch out for in tonight’s game will be IceHogs forward Jeremy Morin. Not only is Morin leading the team in scoring, 20 points (9 goals, 11 assists), but he has scored a goal in four consecutive games. That means he has lit up the Admirals twice after starting the season series out by not recording a point of offense in three straight games.
While goaltending these last two games has been a mixed bag it’s worth looking at the IceHogs’ workhorse in net, Michael Leighton, and his numbers in December. He has made six starts and one relief appearance while recording a solid 0.914 save percentage yet a not so solid 3.22 goals against average. What that means is that this man has been facing a ton of shots on goal and the IceHogs defense isn’t doing enough to take the heat off of him. For comparison’s sake, Mazanec has made one less start in December but has faced a whopping 100 shots on goal less than Leighton. Even if Mazanec made two starts to compensate the difference you’d be hard pressed to see the Admirals allow that gap in two-games.
Expectations for tonight’s game? Would it be in the Admirals best interest to play really defensive knowing the IceHogs should be coming out of the blocks hard tonight?