Now that we’re all over our food comas from yesterday we can get back to hockey! The last time the Milwaukee Admirals and Rockford IceHogs met it saw the best offensive output that the Ads have had all season, 7-3. For completion’s sake that is also where the Ads current nine-game point streak started back on 10/30/16.
Unlike the Admirals start to the season the IceHogs have had a tough go of things. They enter this game with a record of 7-9-1-0 (15 points, 0.441 points percentage) and are in seventh place in the Central Division. In fact, the only team worse than them by way of points percentage in the division are last year’s Calder Cup Champions – the Cleveland Monsters.
The way the Central Division stacks up right now is actually an odd sight to behold, really. Who would have though as we near December that the Charlotte Checkers, Manitoba Moose, Chicago Wolves, and Iowa Wild would all be better off than the IceHogs and Monsters? Perhaps we can add the Admirals consistency out the gate as one of the things we can all be thankful for. Not all have been able to say as much to start the season.
Where is the IceHogs weakness then this season? I’d have to say that belongs to a poor start on defense. The IceHogs have a goal differential on the season of -11 (39 goals forced, 50 goals allowed) from 17 games played. I also wonder just how much not having Michael Leighton back between the pipes has hurt the IceHogs. He’s started well for the Checkers this season: 6-2-1-0 record from 10 appearances, 1.66 goals against average, 0.937 save percentage, and 2 shutouts.
That of course isn’t to say the IceHogs main man in net, Lars Johansson, has been bad. He really hasn’t been. Numbers-wise you’re looking a guy who has a 2.48 goals against average and 0.916 save percentage. That’s not that bad. The group in front of him just isn’t taking pressure off of him. He has faced the fourth most shots of any goaltender in the AHL this season at 391.
For the IceHogs to start trending upward they need to display better composure in defending and not switch out of a simple and structured approach to the game. When you consider who the IceHogs possess on defense alone (Ville Pokka, Cameron Schilling, Viktor Svedberg, and Nolan Valleau) there is really no excuse for how the team can’t lead from the defense side of the puck and transition towards offense.
Speaking of that offense. That becomes an issue when the defending is spotty. You can’t do much offensively when you don’t have the puck. The Admirals have played 2 games less than the IceHogs yet have twice as many players scoring in the double digits. The IceHogs leading scorers right now are: Spencer Abbott, 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists)… and Mark McNeill, 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists). Meanwhile, the Admirals currently have the current four above the double-digit mark in points: Matt White, 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists)… Alex Carrier, 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists)… Trevor Smith, 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists)… and Vladislav Kamenev, 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists).
The mystery elemenet of tonight’s game will ultimately come down to how Marek Mazanec performs in net for the Admirals. It’s been awhile since he last made a start but his last two starts, both for the Admirals and Predators, weren’t anything to write home about. For the Admirals to have success tonight they are going to want to play smart in front of Mazanec, make scoring chances as difficult to come by as they did in their performance over the Griffins on Wednesday, and let the Czech settle down into the flow of the game. If they do that, tilt the ice against the IceHogs, they should manage a good result on the night.
Expectations for tonight’s game? Are you nervous at all having Marek Mazanec start in net for the Milwaukee Admirals right now or is the team’s performance ultimately going to make more of a difference in his effort? With Cody Bass returning to the Admirals where do you think he best fits in and who ultimately is the odd-man out for the forwards?
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