If there is any opponent that has made me slightly cringe up heading into an Admirals game this season it would be the Grand Rapids Griffins. They are, and have been for numerous years, a well balanced and polished product of an AHL hockey team. The Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators organizations both scout, draft, and develop well. That’s kind of why these head-to-head battles over the years have always been so tight and playoff-like. That same mentality remains to be the case in 2015-16.
~The Grand Griffins~
It feels like ages ago but the Griffins start to the season might be one of the greatest oddities that has happened in the AHL to this point. In their opening eleven games of the season the Griffins only had two wins. Read that again: In their opening eleven games of the season the Griffins only had two wins. They started the season off losing four-straight games and losing four of six games at home.
But then, for whatever reason, reality must has set back in and in a massive way. When the Griffins finally clicked back into place they exploded for a franchise record fifteen-game winning streak. That streak was the third longest in the AHL since 1992.
“What has happened since that streak was snapped by the Lake Erie Monsters,” you asked. Good question! The Griffins have played a total of four-games and have split the deck with two wins and two regulation losses.
Their last game is something I’d refer to as a head-turner. The Moose took down the Griffins in Manitoba by a score of 2-1. I don’t know whether you simply tip the cap to Eric Comrie in net but the Griffins outshot the Moose 38-26 in that game. Just two days prior the Griffins blew the Moose away with a 4-1 win, Comrie in the net for Manitoba, and outshooting them by a very similar 37-26 total. So, for how that last game ended, I imagine a long trip back to Grand Rapids was to be had. They needed one goal to at least take a point from the lowly Moose. They had two power-plays chances late in the third period that could have sent them through to overtime, get that point, and possibly take one more with the win. That didn’t happen. And the Griffins are a modest 0.500 since their lengthy winning streak snapped.
Entering tonight’s game the Griffins hold a record of 19-11-0-1 (39 points). Their 0.629 points percentage sees them currently sitting in third place of the Central Division and fourth place within the Western Conference standings.
Of note, it’s fun to see how an AHL schedule breaks down differently for every team. The Admirals will be playing Game #37 tonight. The Griffins will be playing Game #32. Considering neither get the fancy California treatment from the league where they can laugh at others for playing eight extra games – this means the Griffins schedule is backloaded unlike the Admirals. Ignoring the bookmarker months of October and April you get this: the Admirals maximum for games played in a month this season was 14 games in December – which they get to do again in March. Their a low is what we see this month as the Admirals will only be playing 10 games in January. The Griffins max comes this month when they play 14 games in January. They played a season low of 10 games in November. The Griffins schedule is more routine, and more balanced in terms of numbers displacement, but now is the time for the Admirals to tack on some hurt to them. This is about to be as taxing of a stretch as the Griffins will face all season. The Admirals would be smart to make them feel it early.
It’s not often when I see something such as an All-Star roster and think, “Well, he shouldn’t be here. This guy should,” without thinking purely on my team or fandom’s perspective. When I saw that both Andy Miele and Eric Tangradi weren’t All-Stars yesterday but players such as Ryan Hartman and Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan were – I was stumped. It made no sense to me. And will continue to make no sense to me.
Miele has been an outstanding AHL level player ever since he arrived to the league. While I can’t speak much for his time with the Portland Pirates I’ve watched him up close as a member of the Griffins and I feel as if every game he is one of the best players on the ice. This season he is currently second on the team in scoring with 24 points (6 goals, 18 assists) and has featured in all 31 games played for the Griffins. Hoggan? He is the Griffins captain. I heard great things about him from Triston Grant last season. But, All-Star based on good guy status? It doesn’t make sense unless you’re the host team needing a fan spark. It’s not in Grand Rapids. It’s in Syracuse. And Hoggan has 4 points (4 goals, 0 assists) in 31 games with a -2 plus/minus. Miele has a +16 plus/minus rating. It doesn’t add up.
Which brings me to that one and only player with more points of offense on the Griffins this season, Tangradi. He has amassed 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in 27 games this season. He has been outstanding as a member of the Griffins in his first season under their banner. His numbers in the AHL have always been good but this year he has almost bettered his previous efforts at the halfway point of the season. Hartman of the IceHogs has more minor penalties taken this season, 24, than points of offense: 18 points (10 goals, 8 assists) in 29 games. If I’m not mistaken that has to be the most minor penalties taken in the AHL this season and could be an All-Star game first this side of John Scott for a guy going to a prestigious event like that with more harm than flash.
In my time covering Milwaukee Admirals hockey up close, since 2012-13, there have been a few goalies that have achieved what I like to refer to as “Admiral Killer” status. Jake Allen, Petr Mrázek, and Jordan Binnington come to mind right off the bat. The last time the Admirals and Griffins met it was officially time to add Jared Coreau to that list. Because he has owned the Admirals – pure and simple.
In his career against the Admirals Coreau has made eight appearances, seven starts, gone 6-1-0-0 stopping 172/179 shots for a 0.961 save percentage and 0.87 goals against average. In the last meeting he recorded his third career shutout of the Admirals – from seven career starts. The time before that when the Admirals went into Grand Rapids he should have picked up another shutout but made a bonehead play leaving his net trying to win a puck against Félix Girard‘s shorthanded rush for a loose puck.
What you get here is a combination of a Griffins defense that plays expertly well, forces a team like the Admirals to take long range shots from the perimeter that get blocked down, and a goaltender who answers the bell whenever he is required to step up. The Admirals absolutely have to find more ways to get pucks on Coreau and to test him. What’s happened in the past hasn’t been good enough and this game presents a hurdle the Admirals need to clear by season’s end.
Expectations for tonight’s game? What do the Milwaukee Admirals need to do in order to crack the Grand Rapids Griffins defense? Are the Griffins the top threat to the Admirals out of their own division this season?