The Milwaukee Admirals are on the road for the next four games and they start with a Friday-Saturday tilt against the Cleveland Monsters. The last time the Admirals traveled into The Q they also had a two-game set and were able to come away with two wins. Yet, those wins were of the white knuckle variety to sit back and watch. It was playoff style hockey in the month of November. And I would honestly expect much of the same this weekend.
What the Admirals were planning on doing last time out was playing a very measured defensive style game. They wanted to be as mistake free as possible and not get caught up into a track meet with the defending Calder Cup champs. The Admirals ended up playing a playoff style hockey game both times and out played the team who worked that playoff style better than anyone last season. It wasn’t pretty, flashy, or scoreboard popping but the Admirals had a very calm and controlled approach that won both times out.
Juuse Saros, who yesterday was named the CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month, was a fortress for the Admirals during those two games in Cleveland. He earned a 35-save shutout in a game that only saw a third period goal scored by Matt White. Saros then followed that up stopping 30/31 in a 2-1 overtime win.
If there were any serious changes from those two games to these two it comes in the lineup that the Admirals are bringing in. Saros is currently up with Nashville as are Kevin Fiala, Frédérick Gaudreau, Petter Granberg, and Mike Liambas. In the second game of the season against the Monsters the Admirals ended up dressing seven-defensemen with Anthony Bitetto playing his first game on conditioning assignment.
In a similar breath to Bitetto’s introduction the Admirals will be doing something similar tonight. Miikka Salomäki is with the Admirals on conditioning assignment and is expected to play his first game since 10/15/16 when he injured his hand while blocking a shot in a 5-3 loss for the Predators on the road against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Admirals will also have Cody Bass this time around and should see Jonathan Diaby and Justin Kirkland chip in as well.
The biggest focal point will come in that last personnel change, Marek Mazanec. He looked far better in his last start which ended in a 3-2 shootout win on the road against the Rockford IceHogs. He still had less than a 0.900 save percentage on the night but he looked more square to shots, played great around his net in getting pucks back up out of the zone to disrupt forechecks, and held his own in a crazy overtime frame to eventually earn the win in a shootout.
For the Admirals to succeed this weekend against the Monsters the exact same strategy that played out on their last Cleveland trip should hold up regardless of who is in net. They defended very well and -doing that- should allow for Mazanec to settle into the game nicely. Mazanec made three starts against the Monsters last season. He had a 1.31 goals against average, 0.943 save percentage, and earned a 19-save shutout on the road. In fact, he took part in a two-in-two in Cleveland last season where he started both games and stopped 40/42 which did include that shutout performance which, like Saros this season, came in a 1-0 win.
A final factor that could creep in on the Admirals side of things is the battle between rest and rust. The Admirals last played on Saturday night when they lost 4-3 in a shootout to the Manitoba Moose in Milwaukee. The Monsters played that night as well, where they were thrashed at home 6-2 by the Grand Rapids Griffins, but they did respond well to win a 3-2 shootout on the road against the Griffins on Wednesday. Will the Admirals play with some extra energy thanks to all that down time or will a small sloppiness at game speed be a factor against a team that earned a tough result just two nights ago?
Monsters notes: Despite having such a solid team back this season the Monsters they have the worst record in the Central Division, 7-10-1-1 (16 points, 0.421 points percentage). Anton Forsberg has been their best goaltender this season sporting 6 wins from 14 games with a 2.43 goals against average and 0.926 save percentage. His battery-mate Joonas Korpisalo on the other hand has been simply atrocious – allowing 20 goals in less than 5 games of ice-time (252:49). The lone roster absentee for the Monsters from the previous meeting would be Markus Hännikäinen who is currently up top with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Monsters leading scorers, both whom have played all games for the team this season, are Daniel Zaar and Alex Broadhurst who have a combined 25 points (7 goals, 18 assists).
Expectations for tonight’s game? Will the Milwaukee Admirals current roster make-up be able to produce grind-it-out results such as the last Cleveland trip? How big of a difference will Mazanec in and Saros out be for this series? How big of an impact would you expect Salomäki to make in his return from injury?
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