With today’s off-day I figure it would be good to really plunge back into what happened in last night’s shutout by the Milwaukee Admirals over the Cleveland Monsters. You would perhaps think there isn’t a whole heck of a lot to pull out of a 1-0 contest but there honestly was. While it wasn’t a track meet offensively that game delivered one of the better sixty minute performances that this year’s Admirals squad put together and they did it by playing a brand of playoff style hockey against a group that did it better than anyone in last season’s Calder Cup Playoffs.
Plenty will be quick to leap at the effort in net by the returning Juuse Saros. So, let’s get that topic out of the way. On paper you would see that Saros stopped all 35 shots on goal that he faced last night to earn the shutout in a game decided by a single goal. And in itself that is impressive. What stands out more to me is that this was really the first time since making the North American leap that Saros really had a long layoff between game action and that was how he responded. He was tested early, all be it shots that were rather straight forward, but enough to the point he really fell back in-line with the pace of the game and rode out the rhythm of it until the final horn.
Now, as quickly as everyone might feel the need to therefore urge a Saros recall and a short-term Marek Mazanec reassignment, I implore you to consider the following. As bad of a team performance as it was when Mazanec was in net for the Nashville Predators 6-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs was – last night was just as good of a team performance when Saros was in net for the Milwaukee Admirals 1-0 shutout on the road in Cleveland.
The most impressive element to last night’s game for the Admirals was the grounded and intelligent defensive play from the group. There were really many glaring mistakes and when there were individual misplays it felt like someone not far behind was there to account for it. The Admirals became the first team in the AHL’s Western Conference last night to reach the 20 points plateau and they were the second team in the league to get there just behind the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins who have played one-game more than the Admirals have. I still don’t even feel the Admirals have truthfully played up to their true potential yet. Last night just so happened to be the first sort of a “hello” as to what that can look like.
I suspect this year’s Admirals at their maximum potential are a team that can control a game with pace, skill, and precision at all three areas on the ice. While the scoreboard last night wouldn’t wow anyone those attributes all pretty much stayed true to the result that was earned. The Admirals simply did it in the art of defending. It made the night in net for Saros that little bit more relaxed. And, with the talent they have on offense, eventually the battling down ice earned a goal – and a power-play goal at that. The Monsters were a perfect 29/29 on the penalty kill on home ice up until that power-play goal from Matt White that proved to be the game-winner. So, as sloppy as 1/5 on the power-play might look for the Admirals it still looks a whole lot better than the Monsters 0/6 on the power-play did last night. Some nights all you need is one-goal. Last night was that kind of night.
Going back to Mr. White for a moment. How crazy is it to think that the Admirals at forward were so jam packed to start the season that White was a healthy scratch up until the food poisoning circumstances opened the door back up for him to be inserted into the lineup? He didn’t dress for the first three-games of the season and is currently the team’s leading scorer with 12 points (7 goals, 5 assists) in 10 games. It’s incredible to think that this time last year he still had never played a game in the AHL. It wasn’t until the Admirals brought him in on a PTO Contract from the Manchester Monarchs (ECHL) that he had a run out the next tier up. He scored 3 points (2 goals, 1 assist) in his second career game at the AHL level, ended up finishing off last season for the Admirals with 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) in 54 games, and last night’s game-winning goal was his first career AHL power-play goal. It’s rather remarkable to see what he’s done since hitting the AHL scene.
Another element to note from last night’s lone tally was one of the players on the assists to White’s goal was Alex Carrier. I’ve made the comments towards Admirals head coach Dean Evason, Carrier’s defensive linemate Adam Pardy, and Carrier himself that he just doesn’t look or play like someone who is a first-year pro. Carrier turned up late in the Admirals season once the Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL) season came to an end. He lightly practiced and got a look at the AHL lifestyle but didn’t get to log any game action such as current first-year pro defenseman for the Admirals Jack Dougherty or even Carrier’s teammate in Gatineau Yakov Trenin who made his pro debut in the Calder Cup Playoffs with the Admirals. Instead, Carrier just waited, observed, worked hard over the off-season, had a solid Development Camp in Nashville, and arrived to Milwaukee like he already had been through the process many times over. Carrier is now second on the team in scoring and is the top scoring rookie defenseman in the AHL with 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists) in 13 games. His scoring total ranks seventh among all AHL defenseman and, of the names ahead of him, only T.J. Brennan has a better plus/minus rating. Carrier has arrived as a first-year pro looking incredibly polished at all avenues of the game. It’s really been awhile in Milwaukee when there has been a defenseman such as him that makes you sit back and watch what he does on a shift-to-shift basis.
FYI. There will be no Scouting the Enemy ahead of tomorrow’s game. If there were several key talking points or moments from the game worth dissecting to shreds I would have done that as a game preview. Being that the game turned out as it did – this kind of was that. The only thing I’d say is that the game tomorrow does have the unusual start time for a Saturday contest of 4:00 PM CST. I’m not sure why that is the case but keep it in mind and tune in early. Until then, “I’M ON A DEADLINE.”
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