What’s that old expression? When the going gets tough, the tough get going? Well I suppose some of that manifested itself for the Milwaukee Admirals in last night’s 6-4 loss to the Rockford IceHogs but they were casualties to another expression: too little, too late.
From the opening puck drop to the end of the first period the IceHogs had the Admirals number. They were tearing the Admirals apart in transitional play and the first two goals scored were perfect examples of the speed in which they counter attacked. The Admirals were left scrambling and, by the time Mark McNeill added a third, the damage was done.
Last night was the first game all season that the Admirals pulled a starting goaltender from net. That’s 51 games of hockey played where the starter was a rock and saw the game through. When looking back to last season when Marek Mazanec and Magnus Hellberg split the work load they had been pulled from a start four times through the Admirals opening 51 games. It’s been amazing what the two goaltenders have been able to accomplish this season and, with that, makes last night all the more rough to see.
Juuse Saros allowed three-goals on nine-shots in 13:09 of work. The first two IceHogs goals that were scored I would say Saros was given little to no chance to make a save. The initial goal for Ryan Haggerty was a brilliant individual effort. He beat Stefan Elliott with pace down the left wing, slashed through the goal mouth, and patiently out-waited Saros to get an opening on the net to score. Saros did all that he could do – Haggerty just delivered in spectacular fashion. The second goal was a defensive breakdown that effectively forced a two-on-one to occur with Saros needing to protect both posts. Saros guarded against the near post for Ville Pokka – who then passed across to the back post for Tanner Kero who had a trailing Pontus Åberg in defensive recovery mode chasing after him.
Was last night’s bad start to blame on Saros? No. Was Saros to blame for becoming the first Admirals goaltender to be pulled from a start this season? No. His defense was.
The way the Admirals defended to start last night’s game was a scramble. The IceHogs were able to play a confident opening twenty-minutes because the Admirals were getting burnt trying to do too much on both ends of the ice. The over-commitment by the Admirals exposed Saros badly and left head coach Dean Evason with the only two choices a coach has in a scenario when the team needs a wake up call: take a timeout or pull the goaltender. As far as eye-openers go, I’d say pulling a starting goaltender for the first time all season long would be enough to wake up the team – especially when they know the fault for that rests on their shoulders.
The response for the Admirals from the second period to the finish line wasn’t too bad. If you go from just that they won the last two periods 4-3. The problem all comes down to that start though and having that sort of a barrier laid down early for the IceHogs allows them to comfortably sit back and do what they were already doing well: counter attacking hockey, speed in transition, defense to offense.
It was a bad game for the Admirals but with bad games comes plenty of examples of things that need to be corrected or addressed moving forward. Perhaps the best news of all of this is that the Admirals aren’t going to get a chance to stew over last night’s outing for too long. They practice today before logging a two-in-two // home-and-home against the Chicago Wolves. The opportunity to immediately right the ship is there for the Admirals. The less time spent wondering “how are we going to do that” by instead actually getting on the ice to deliver quality play – the better.
During the second intermission in last night’s game I had the opportunity to speak with Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile about the Predators season, his thoughts on the Admirals, and the looming NHL Trade Deadline that is on Monday. After the game I chatted with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason as well as Cody Hodgson, Cody Bass, and Juuse Saros.
Comments on the comments? Are there any concerns, knowing how last year crumbled around this point in the season, that history might be repeating itself? What’s the cure to the Milwaukee Admirals current woes? Would two wins in two days over the Chicago Wolves suddenly make all these recent games something of a distant memory?
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