The Milwaukee Admirals currently have the best record in the Central Division and the second best record in the Western Conference. It doesn’t exactly feel right saying or reading that though, does it? I feel as if all the flash, speed, and skill that was expected of this year’s team has still yet to really turn up and stick around. That’s what makes wins such as last night’s 3-2 shootout win over the Chicago Wolves all the more impressive and important. The character of the Admirals is getting them through a lull and getting them through it will still hauling in points.
The biggest problem areas for the Admirals right now is staying out of the penalty box and doing something when the opposition is in it. The Admirals have taken 60 minor penalties in the opening 8 games of the season. Last year’s group took 41 minor penalties in the team’s opening 8 games of the season. The Admirals record this season through 8 games is 5-2-0-1 (11 points, 0.688 points percentage). The Admirals record through 8 games last season was 3-4-1-0 (7 points, 0.438 points percentage. …something about that doesn’t feel right.
All these constant penalties, as great as that Admirals penalty kill has been this season, add up. They come at a cost. The ebb and flow of the game gets stopped dead in its tracks and breaks the rhythm for the forwards getting shift after shift of work in. The penalty killers do feature some great forwards but those forwards are getting sapped by high pressure defensive situations while other contributors are sitting cold on the bench until the PK completes before they can get their next shift. Lines start to get jumbled up. And before you know it the Admirals find themselves right back where they started on the penalty kill.
It is an issue. One that needs to be resolved quickly. Regardless of how well the Admirals penalty kill is. Constant penalty killing begs for games such as last night when the team is forced to come from behind. That isn’t what the team should be. So, it is very fortunate that the group has been able to lean on its high character players to find ways to win in less than ideal circumstance games. The opening two games on the road against the San Antonio Rampage were character wins. The win in Chicago was a character win. Being able to come back from down 2-0 on the road against the Rockford IceHogs when the Nashville Predators food poisoning situation took place and the Milwaukee Admirals briefly became the Milwaukee Cyclones – was a display of the high level of character the team has to so much as earn a point out of that situation.
The talent of this year’s Admirals roster is outstanding. It is. What makes it more impressive is to see them getting grunt work done such as last night. The offense seems limited to scoring on the rush. The power-play, while netting two last night, really has looked disjointed and confused to start the season. Things have been sloppy. The hope is that they’ll be learned from and corrected. If it all comes together paired with the ability to dig deep and find results when it still isn’t going the greatest? This group might find itself in a better position than it did a season ago.
A true test to get that all figured out comes in the form of a bit of revenge for last weekend. The Iowa Wild enter the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena tonight where they won 3-2 against the Admirals in the home opener. The night prior to that they blasted the Admirals 6-1 in Iowa. That all came before the Wild were able to place noted Admiral Killer Teemu Pulkkinen to their AHL lineup. As a member of the Grand Rapids Griffins the “Holy Slapper” Pulkkinen recorded 15 points (10 goals, 5 assists) in 15 games against the Admirals. Again, that damage is now part of the Iowa Wild lineup. Stopping him now becomes a major point of emphasis.
There was plenty that didn’t go right in the two games last weekend against the Wild. They’re essentially the same things that have been nagging the Admirals to start the season. With more game time and experience the errors bugging the Admirals should start getting minimized. What better way to start than by correcting the two blips on the radar last weekend when the Wild gave the Admirals their only two defeats in regulation this season?
In the interview department last night I spoke with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason as well as Pontus Åberg and Juuse Saros. Here were their comments from last night’s shootout victory at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
Expectations for tonight’s game? Are the penalty woes going to be a common theme this season or are the Admirals being caught out for overaggressive play? How will the Pulkkinen factor play into tonight’s game and can the Wild be a thorn in the side of the Admirals once again? Should the Admirals attempt to get Jonas Gunnarsson back in net or would he be better served kicking back until, oh I don’t know, the end of November’s two-game weekend?
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