After what has felt like a month’s worth of sleep inducing “wait a week, play two games, wait a week, play two games” cycle the Milwaukee Admirals schedule is about to pick up. In the next ten days the team will play six-games including five on home ice. That outta wake people, such as myself, up after a winter’s slumber of a slow last few weeks.
Yesterday I attended practice to get another look into what the Admirals were up to leading into this game. Good things that I did as well because Max Reinhart, who has been away from the team for nearly two solid weeks due to personal reasons, returned to the ice. His inclusion made for a quite stacked looking forward group as everyone right now is healthy.
The fourth line paring had Adam Payerl and Joe Pendenza rotating a bit but it would be a safe bet to assume Payerl gets the nod. What’s pretty incredible is that group that Reinhart now joins which has two other centers. I suppose that’s what you’re going to get when the depth down the middle is this healthy.
On defense the Admirals are probably keeping things as they have been lately which would mean: Oligny-Elliott, Näkyvä-Mullen, Alm-Aronson. Trevor Murphy was rotating in groups with Stefan Elliott and Patrick Mullen so it will be interesting to see who ends up being the odd-lefty out of the defensive group tonight. The pairing of Johan Alm and Taylor Aronson was the only one at yesterday’s practice that never changed.
The Rockford IceHogs enter tonight’s game with a record of 27-11-4-4 (62 points). Their 0.674 points percentage has them sitting on top of the Central Division and in second place of the Western Conference standings.
When comparing these two teams they are really well matched. The IceHogs have played a game more than the Admirals but their goal differential is nearly identical: Admirals, +14 (133 GF, 119 GA)… IceHogs, +13 (133 GF, 120 GA). Their penalty kills are closely matched: Admirals, 84.6%… IceHogs, 83.3%… and both have scored 8 goals while shorthanded.
Where things differ might be the difference in tonight’s game. The IceHogs have 146 more penalty minutes on the season than the Admirals. Should their inability to stay out of the box be a factor the Admirals fourth best home power-play in the AHL (22.8%) gets to match-up against the IceHogs twenty-second ranked AHL road penalty kill (78.5%).
The IceHogs leading scorer is first-year pro Vinnie Hinostroza who has produced 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) in 40 games. The bulk of Hinostroza’s points total came from the IceHogs month of January where he tallied 12 points (7 goals, 5 assists) in 12 games.
Hinostroza is followed in scoring by AHL All-Star Ryan Hartman who has 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 41 games. Hartman also appears to be inventing a really cool game called “penalty minutes versus shots on goal” and is currently up +21 shots on goal (114 SOG, 93 PIM).
Both Hinostroza and Hartman are part of a group on the IceHogs active roster in the 20+ points club which includes: Jake Dowell, 25 points (7 goals, 18 assists)… Ville Pokka, 24 points (6 goals, 18 assists)… Mark McNeill, 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists)… Pierre-Cédric Labrie, 21 points (13 goals, 8 assists)… Bryan Bickell, 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists)… Marko Dano, 20 points (4 goals, 16 assists).
Former Admiral Mike Liambas finally picked up his first point as a member of the IceHogs. He scored a shorthanded goal against the Grand Rapids Griffins… who then proceeded to score nine unanswered goals in a 9-1 throttling. IceHogs fans had about 3:31 of joy followed by 56:02 of sheer horror. [pause] How delightful!
~On The Brink Of History~
In net for the IceHogs should be Michael Leighton. That should also mean there is a chance that AHL history could be made if he happens to shutout the Admirals tonight. The veteran goaltender is currently sitting tied at 45 career AHL shutouts with Johnny Bower for the most ever in league history. Bower set and has held the record since 1957. The AHL already saw one record fall this week. Another could go down tonight (preferably not).
Leighton has shouldered darn near all of the load in net for the IceHogs this season – playing in 76.1% of their games played. That workload hasn’t fatigued the 34-year old quite yet as he has a record of 23-5-6-3, a 2.22 goals against average, 0.926 save percentage, and a total of four shutouts this season.
With Mark Visentin banged up once again, making Mac Carruth the back-up, it’s likely Leighton will get the start. Against the Admirals this season he has made five appearances, four starts, 3-0-0-1 record, a 1.99 goals against average, 0.925 save percentage, and has yet to record a shutout.
Expectations for tonight’s game? Will the Milwaukee Admirals and their 100% healthy lineup be able to run through the Rockford IceHogs?