When you look at the organization right now the entire system finds themselves with their backs up against the walls and in must win situations. Last night the Nashville Predators won Game 6 against the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 to force Game 7 on Wednesday night in Anaheim. Also happening last night the Cincinnati Cyclones lost in Game 6 to the Fort Wayne Komets 2-1 (OT) having had a chance to close out the series and now finding themselves in a Game 7.
The Milwaukee Admirals aren’t in a Game 7. They can’t be. It’s a best-of-five series in the opening round of the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs. That doesn’t mean that isn’t their mentality tonight. The Admirals lost both games on home ice to open the series against the Grand Rapids Griffins and now need to win out to see themselves through to the second round.
The Admirals haven’t won in Grand Rapids all season. The Admirals haven’t won in Grand Rapids in their last seven-games at the Van Andel Arena. The last time the Admirals won in the Van Andel Arena they had a 26-save shutout from Magnus Hellberg in net during a 4-0 win on 1/31/15. In fact, there are so many “haven’t done this since” or “the last time the Admirals did this” that I compiled a ton of them last Chatterbox. It all paints a bad picture with the lasting image of the Admirals, in the entirety as a franchise, have never overcome a 2-0 playoff series deficit and last won consecutive games in Grand Rapids in the same season back in 2012-13.
I’m not here to give the usual Scouting the Enemy blurb on players or goalies. You can get as much basically from the initial playoff edition here with the exception being the Grand Rapids curveball of Tom McCollum in net over Jared Coreau. Instead of doing that I’m going to focus in on two specific games that these two teams have played and I want you all to focus in on the video highlights from them.
Admirals 7, Griffins 3
Admirals 4, Griffins 1
The first thing I want you to do is ignore who was on the ice. I don’t want you to wag a finger and say, “Well we don’t have Cody Hodgson or Taylor Aronson right now so it doesn’t matter.” Ignore the names and numbers and simply look at the two teams. What did you notice of those games relative to Game 1 and Game 2 of this playoff series between the Admirals and Griffins?
There is a lot different from the Admirals and Griffins that played those games that are playing these playoff games. The biggest difference is speed. The Admirals ability to get through the neutral zone to have space opened up in the offensive zone was blindingly obvious from those videos as opposed to these playoff games, right? That’s because the Griffins have been putting on a master class at the second half of neutral ice to really interfere with the Admirals on zone entry to either force dump ins, which the Admirals may or may not get, or physically stop them in their tracks by brute force. In the photo above you see just that. Frédérick Gaudreau, a great skater, being zeroed in on as he’s attempting to start the Admirals offense from blueline. He’s being physically slowed and the puck side defenseman is cutting his angle down so that he can either be the first to retrieve the puck or camp the front of the net should a trailing forward be tracking Gaudreau. The Admirals, throughout the two-games at home, died time and time again right there with an attack that could never truly generate the speed that the Admirals want to play with. The Griffins force them into small gaps that they can control and are constantly pressuring the Admirals out from the center of the ice into these board battles where the Griffins are finding tremendous amounts of success.
So, how do the Admirals look to counter that? They need to less pressurized into being sucked into the Griffins numbers and looking to get the puck side-to-side more often because the Admirals focus of North-South is getting blocked off hard by the Griffins. Playoff hockey is a marathon. It isn’t a sprint. So just because you have puck control doesn’t mean you have to go for a home run pass or some blitzkrieg rush down the boards. Rather, the Admirals should be getting these Griffins to start thinking laterally and getting them to be the ones freezing in place. It worked for the Admirals in those games above. It can work for the Admirals tonight. The Admirals asset of speed can be welcomed back into this series if they’re able to connect intelligent passes to the wings on their races down the ice. You can still get North with smarter angles of attack East-West. It will get the Griffins out of their sheep herding mode on defense and more into a panic over blindside attacks.
Another huge element that the Admirals shouldn’t shy away from is the willingness to throw pucks to the net for the sake of throwing pucks to the net. McCollum has looked alright in this series, sure, but he’s looked at his best when the defense in front of him is making the shots coming his way more predictable. Even when that has been the case he hasn’t been perfect at allowing a rebound or two that could be sitting right on a plate for those fighting for ground in front of the goal mouth. If the Admirals find themselves winning a neutral zone battle, cycling the puck into the attacking zone, or are on the power-play – the shot is always there and it should be taken. The Griffins have been masterful at making the Admirals passing and shooting lanes dirty so why not dirty up the shots? How many highlight reel pristine goals do you usually see come playoff time? The better majority are rebounds or bad angle shots getting in thanks to traffic. Don’t hesitate. Don’t allow yourself to be pasted to the boards or pass into traffic and sticks. Rather pass a puck to the net and see if you get a stick, get a skate, or get a rebound.
A last major talking point, something that Admirals head coach Dean Evason has brought up, is battling through the Griffins “in the regular season this was called interference but we’re not calling it now” obstruction plays throughout the ice. Evason brought up terms like needing more “will” or “desire” in the “battle areas” of the ice. That to me translates to fight through it anyways. The Admirals will either wear down the Griffins by pushing back or earn penalties by keeping their wheels turning. If there was ever a time to truly fight for your space it is in moments like tonight when the Admirals are the ones with nothing to lose. They’re the ones on the brink of elimination. Run through those walls that the Griffins are building. If they’re not calling interference consistently throughout this series than playing into that isn’t going to stop them from doing that. Run through them and make them pay for blocking off space.
I know that tonight could well be the last Admirals game of the 2015-16 season. The team knows it – coaches and players. There is a lot to fight for tonight but it is done with memories erased. The “No Goal” call didn’t happen. There are no “what if” scenarios to question. The only thing that matters is tonight. Win tonight and play for tomorrow.
What are your expectations for tonight’s game? Will the Milwaukee Admirals be able to survive tonight? Will a fast start for the Admirals be key to shutting up the crowd in Grand Rapids or would it be in their best interest to ride out the storm?
Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.