If you haven’t taken a look at the AHL’s Conference standings lately you might have raised an eyebrow when coming across the Milwaukee Admirals name sitting on top of the Western Conference. That isn’t some botched numerology, either. That’s how it is. The Admirals, for all the injuries and roster turn-over, haven’t just grabbed the Central Division’s top spot but moved out in front of the entire Western Conference.
The Ontario Reign’s hot start and limited schedule made them and their points percentage something of a stalwart concrete item that seemed to not be changing anytime soon. They won the Calder Cup last season whilst titled the Manchester Monarchs before packing up and setting out Californee way. That success carried over into their new home and they have been leading the Western Conference for what feels like the majority, if not all, of this season.
As so happens, the Reign’s hot run has been cooling off in their last few weeks of hockey. In the Reign’s last seven games they’ve only managed to pick up 5 points out of a possible 14 points available to them while the Admirals have taken 13 points from a possible 16 points from that same span (dated, 12/19/15). The Reign have lost their last three-games straight. The Admirals keep finding ways to make it work. Despite losing their last game in Rockford the Admirals were still able to fetch a point out of a contest they probably had no right to do so. That results in padding the points percentage. It also results in the IceHogs win not exactly having the gravity it should have for how strong of a game they played. I believe the old Admirals term to use here is pesky – because it really has been like that lately.
~Monsters or Paper Tigers?~
The Lake Erie Monsters enter tonight’s game with a record of 17-12-2-2 (38 points). Their 0.576 points percentage has them sitting in fifth place of the Central Division and seventh in the Western Conference standings.
If the IceHogs were a team backed into a corner needing to play desperate and earn a result these Monsters should pose a similar threat. They have gone 3-6-1-0 in their last ten games and have lost three-straight games in regulation including a 3-1 loss in Milwaukee on Saturday.
In the Monsters last three games they’ve been outscored 11-5 despite outshooting their opponents 96-81. Their power-play has gone 14.3% (2/14) and penalty kill 76.5% (13/17). Bizarrely, in each individual game there has been a standout performer on offense when it comes to generating shots on goal… but there is a catch…they lead the team in shots but also ended the game without a goal: 12/31/15 @ Toronto, Kerby Rychel (team best 4 shots on goal – no goals, no assists)… 1/2/16 @ Milwaukee, T.J. Tynan (game high 6 shots on goal – no goals, 1 assist)… 1/3/16 @ Chicago, Oliver Bjorkstrand (game high 8 shots on goal – no goals, no assists).
I feel the biggest storyline heading into tonight’s game comes at the goaltending position for Lake Erie because, well, look who they have: Brad Thiessen and Mark Owuya. That’s not necessarily a knock against those two individuals ability. Those are just two goaltenders that weren’t on the Monsters roster at all until December.
Both names were PTO signings that needed to be brought on-board due to the injuries up top for the Monsters NHL affiliate the Columbus Blue Jackets. Sergei Bobrovski has a groin injury and is out until later this month. Curtis McElhinney is out indefinitely due to an ankle injury. This meant both goaltenders for the Monsters, Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo, were brought up. Thiessen was added as a PTO signing for the Monsters a little past a week into December, released back to the Admirals ECHL affiliate the Cincinnati Cyclones, recorded an 18-save shutout in a 4-0 win for the Cyclones over the Toledo Walleye, and then brought back into the fold this past weekend with Owuya’s PTO signing following shortly after him.
If that read hectic just imagine how the Monsters feel. The good news for them is that Thiessen is a polished professional. He has 203 games of AHL experience including 41 games of Calder Cup Playoffs experience. He has played 2 games for the Monsters this season and both occasions came as relief appearances of Forsberg in net. Thiessen has stopped 17/20 shots on goal for a 0.850 save percentage and 2.60 goals against average in 69:14 of ice time. I have to believe he’s the man getting the start tonight having been part of the Monsters setup longer than Owuya.
Expectations for tonight’s game? How do the Milwaukee Admirals bounce back from last game when they were really outworked for the majority of the contest?