When thinking about tonight’s game, and really the remaining games, it might well feel like there isn’t much to play for anymore. The Milwaukee Admirals clinched the Central Division on Sunday and have three games left in the regular season. There are a lot of new names being kicked into the system and playing time is there to be afforded to allow for the newbies to get a run out. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to play for.
When looking at the new names that the Admirals have seen introduced recently you’re seeing players that as seeking to seize an opportunity and test themselves. A.J. White, Jack Dougherty, Anthony Richard, and Aaron Irving all have the chance to make solid early impressions as newly christened professional hockey players. While the Admirals may have been fighting, as a team, for their placement in the standings the individual aspect of moving to the next level spills into exactly what these youngsters will be providing in the coming games.
Tonight’s game against the Chicago Wolves marks the last Amtrak Rivalry contest of the season. It’s also the final meeting between these two teams at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Regardless of how different these two teams’ 2015-16 seasons there is still much to play for. For the Admirals they’ll be looking to keep this incredible momentum storming forward as they return to the playoffs after a season removed for playoff hockey. For the Wolves there will be plenty of individuals looking to treat each game like a job interview. One of those aspects is eyes looking forward. Another of those aspects is on the here and now. This game shouldn’t be taken lightly.
The Wolves enter tonight’s game with a record of 31-34-5-3 (70 points). Their 0.479 points percentage has them in sixth place of the Central Division and thirteenth place in the Western Conference standings. The lone two teams separating the Wolves from the bottom of both categories are the Manitoba Moose (0.399) and Iowa Wild (0.397).
It’s been incredible following the Wolves this season but incredible for all the wrong reasons. Their 2015-16 season reminds me of the 2014-15 season of the Admirals. All the right pieces are there. They just can’t get the consistent results. The Wolves have gone from a team that had a goal differential of +12 a season ago to that of -35 this season with three-games remaining. It’s almost beyond belief that they’ve fallen backwards so hard.
This season the Wolves will not be featuring in the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season. At that time they were the AHL affiliate to the Vancouver Canucks but it’s worth noting their then iteration the Peoria Rivermen, as these Wolves are affiliates to the St. Louis Blues, also missed the playoffs. That Rivermen team of 2012-13 lost 35 games in regulation from 76 games. If the Wolves lose tonight in regulation they match that.
~Who What Now?~
The Wolves leading scorer this season is team captain Pat Cannone who has managed to enjoy a career season despite all the woes for the team. In 71 games he has produced 50 points (20 goals, 30 assists) and is one of the few players having logged more than half the Wolves game played this season to have a positive plus/minus rating.
It might be unfair to point fingers at anyone specific individual but, if there was any one player I feel sums up the Wolves struggles this season, it would be Ty Rattie. This is Rattie’s third season of AHL hockey. In that time he hasn’t improved he has actually regressed. Take a look:
Rattie, 2013-14: 48 points (31 goals, 17 assists) in 72 games while averaging 2.9 shots on goal per game… Rattie, 2014-15: 42 points (21 goals, 21 assists) in 59 games while averaging 3.3 shots on goal per game… Rattie, 2015-16: 43 points (15 goals, 28 assists) in 59 games while averaging 2.5 shots on goal per game…
For awhile it always felt like Rattie was the igniter to the Wolves offense. Now he takes less shots with less finishes to his shots on goal. Despite his drop in performance, and his lack of explosiveness, he is still third on the Wolves in scoring. A struggling and faltering sniper is still third on the Wolves in scoring. That just about sums up their offensive struggles to me.
The follow-up to a great first full season to the AHL for Binnington hasn’t been matched to say the least. In 2014-15 Binnington had 25 wins from 45 appearances with a 2.35 goals against average, 0.916 save percentage, and 3 shutouts. This season he has more losses than wins (16-17-5-3 record) in 39 appearances with a 2.89 goals against average, 0.905 save percentage, and a single shutout.
Copley’s play alongside Binnington on the Wolves has also seen a drastic drop off from last season to this season. As a member of the Hershey Bears in the Washington Capitals organization Copley posted a 17-4-3-1 record from 26 appearances in 2014-15 with a 2.17 goals against average, 0.925 save percentage, and 3 shutouts. He also had a strong playoff run for the Bears by winning 3 games from 5 appearances with a 1.83 goals against average and 0.946 save percentage. As part of the Wolves this season Copley’s numbers have fallen off largely: 14-16-3-0 record from 36 appearances, 2.82 goals against average, 0.907 save percentage, and 3 shutouts.
~Head To Head~
The Admirals secured the Amtrak Trophy earlier this season and lead the season series with a record of 8-3-0-0. This season the Amtrak Rivalry has only had two-games spill past regulation. In those games the Admirals won both times, once in overtime and another in a shootout. The Admirals have won the last four-games straight in the season series.
As far as the head-to-head scoring goes the top scorer in this year’s Amtrak Rivalry is none other than Mr. Rattie of the Wolves who has scored 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists) in 9 games. That’s quite impressive to consider he has scored one-third of his goals this season against the Admirals.
The other side of that coin sees two Admirals tied for the top slot on scoring against the Wolves. Max Reinhart has 9 points (7 goals, 2 assists) from 11 games. Kevin Fiala has 9 points (5 goals, 4 assists) from 10 games.
In net, Juuse Saros has won 6 games from 8 appearances against the Wolves but it has been Marek Mazanec with the better numbers in the Amtrak Rivalry this season. Mazanec has appeared in 3 games against the Wolves this season and has a 1.34 goals against average with a 0.951 save percentage.
This morning I raced in, braved all the nasty road construction around the ol’ barn, and got some pre-game interviews from morning skate. Hear from head coach Dean Evason as well as the two newbies on defense Jack Dougherty and Aaron Irving.
Some notes from morning skate: Taylor Aronson is not with the team as he is out due to personal reasons at the moment. Both Dougherty and Irving, as well as forward Anthony Richard, are not going to play in tonight’s game. Richard is nursing a leg injury right now and the hope is to see him get a game at some point. A.J. White will return to the Admirals lineup after having sat out as a healthy scratch the last three-games. He will be placed on the wing of former linemate at UMass-Lowell Joe Pendenza tonight.
Expectations for tonight’s game? Can the Admirals twelve-game point streak continue? There are a lot of names potentially making their debut to the Milwaukee ice. Who excites you the most?
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