This past weekend in the AHL featured the first team from the Western Conference clinch a playoff spot. The Ontario Reign, who are part of the Californian contingent set to play eight-less games than the rest of the league, locked up their spot in the playoffs and have a 0.692 points percentage. Right behind them are the two sides locking horns tonight in Milwaukee.
~Central Division Showdown~
The Grand Rapids Griffins enter tonight’s game with a record of 41-23-1-1 (84 points). Their 0.636 points percentage is 0.013 less than the Central Division leading Milwaukee Admirals. If you’re wondering about how things can play out tonight they go as follows:
A Griffins regulation win tonight would push them into first place via points percentage over the Admirals by 0.002. A Griffins win in overtime would keep the Admirals in first place via points percentage by 0.005. An Admirals win in overtime stretches their lead over the Griffins via points percentage by 0.020. And an Admirals regulation win pushes their lead up via points percentage by 0.030.
In any version of this narrative these two teams can’t fall further than second place as the stationary Rockford IceHogs hold a points percentage of 0.621 at the moment and the lowest possible scenario would be the Griffins losing in regulation and falling to a 0.627 points percentage. …once again, I wish this year’s AHL standings could have been sponsored by Texas Instruments.
Effectively, this game marks a quality chance for the Admirals to get some legitimate breathing space for themselves by taking down the second placed Griffins in their last meeting of the regular season. After this game the Admirals have eight-games left in the 2015-16 season and three-games at home. The Griffins will have nine-games remaining following this game and also have three-games left at home.
Let’s look at the, as I’ll casually call it, strength of schedule using the combined points percentage of the opponents both will be facing en route to the finish line (points percentage based on this morning’s totals). The Admirals opponents in their final eight-games have a combined points percentage of 0.509. The Griffins opponents in their final nine-games have a combined points percentage of 0.555, If the added road games for the Griffins won’t be tricky enough, where they have a far lesser record of 17-13-0-1 on road games this season, the opponents they get along that path are going to make things even harder. Which, again, is something that makes tonight’s game for the Admirals all the more important to get further breathing space for themselves against the Griffins.
If there is anything to best describe the Griffins 2015-16 season it would simply be to call them streakers. You kids in the back of the classroom can giggle all you want but it’s just how they’ve been.
Their season started with a four-game losing streak. In fact, the start to their season in general was a misery. In their first eleven-games they went 2-8-0-1 before exploding for a franchise record fifteen-game winning streak. After that things seemed to be balanced until stumbling for a spell of seven straight losses to end the month of January. That balanced back out and then the Griffins went back on a massive tear from February 20th up until March 19th where they won thirteen straight games to become the second AHL team in the last twenty-five years to record two winning streaks of ten-games or more. The other team to accomplish that feat was the 2009-10 Hershey Bears. During the Griffins most recent thirteen-game winning streak they outscored opponents 55-17 and posted a total of four shutouts.
What have the Griffins done since that streak came to an end? Well, amusingly and perhaps ironically, they ran into the San Antonio Rampage buzz-saw (that was sarcasm) and then lost to the Lake Erie Monsters. That’s right. The Griffins are now on a three-game losing streak. They lost all three-games in regulation. And, going back to the sarcasm, were clean swept by the Rampage in the season series having lost all four-games to them in regulation and had a shutout streak held against them in that series that lasted 171:56 of ice time over the course of three-games.
So what went wrong in those last three-games for the Griffins? Well, I think it’s a simple one. The opposition was able to actually match the Griffins offensive push while the Griffins were simply unable to finish more of their shots to the net. The Griffins posted 33.3 shots on goal per game while allowing 33.7 shots on goal per game. Compare that to their season series against the Admirals where they have averaged 31.0 shots on goal per game, allowed 27.7 shots on goal per game, and have a record of 5-2-0-0 as a result. When the Griffins are at their best they are forcing teams wide on offense, blocking long range perimeter shots, and keeping the ice tilted. That’s not been happening out of their latest massive winning streak which has them on a bit of a lull.
~Who What Now?~
When these two teams last met Anthony Mantha was the main man in the spotlight. The Griffins won 4-1 with Mantha recording the first hat trick of his professional playing career and added an assist for good measure. Good news? He’s currently playing at the NHL level with the Detroit Red Wings so that hammer shot won’t be available for the Griffins tonight. Bad news? They have plenty of other options.
The Griffins goal differential this season is +51 (211 goals forced, 160 goals allowed). That is the second best in the AHL this season behind the Toronto Marlies +89 (262 goals forced, 173 goals allowed).
The Admirals top two scorers this season are: Kevin Fiala, 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists… and Max Görtz, 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists). Those are the only two Admirals at the 40 point plateau. The Griffins, with Mantha included, have five players at or above the 40 point plateau.
The Grffins leading scorer right now is Andy Miele who has 52 points (14 goals, 38 assists) in 66 games. He is followed closely by Eric Tangradi who has 50 points (25 goals, 25 assists) in 60 games. Tangradi’s play within the Red Wings organization this season recently earned him a two-year contract extension. Behind them is the team’s leading goal scorer Martin Frk – who has 40 points (26 goals, 14 assists) in 57 games – and the Griffins second best assist getter on the team Mark Zengerle – who has 40 points (6 goals, 34 assists) in 63 games.
In net the Griffins main man has been Jared Coreau who has had an incredible season: 43 appearances, 29-11-2-1 record, 2.23 goals against average, 0.929 save percentage, and 6 shutouts. Coreau is tied with Yann Danis of the Albany Devils for the second most shutouts in the AHL this season. Both trail Peter Budaj of the Ontario Reign by a pair of shutouts. Coreau also stacks up very high across the league leaders in the AHL this season in other categories: second most wins, the third best goals against average and save percentage, and the fifth most saves made and minutes logged in net.
~Ending with Reflection and Perspective~
This season’s head-to-head between the Admirals and Griffins happened to have featured one of the more frightening moments of the hockey season. On 1/8/16 in Grand Rapids, forward Alden Hirschfeld suffered a seizure on the Griffins bench. The game was delayed for a good while as medics attended to him and the 28-year old was stretchered off the ice.
For those wondering what has happened to Hirschfeld since that incident he has opted for and underwent brain surgery on 3/14/16 to correct a malformation. He has since tweeted out a message, along with a particularly gruesome photo of the surgery, in which he stated he was finally feeling a little better.
With this being the final game against the Griffins this season I feel the need to extend my best well wishes to Hirschfeld. I hope that this surgery was a success and that he is able to continue on participating in the game that he loves. I encourage you all to send him a lovely “Get Well Soon” tweet to him on Twitter: @AldenHirschfeld.
Expectations for tonight’s game? How will this game play out? How crucial do you feel tonight’s game is for the Milwaukee Admirals to win if they are to claim their first division title since the 2010-11 season?
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