Unlike the previous game for the Milwaukee Admirals I don’t exactly want to sit and stew over what happened. Their back-and-forth contest against the San Antonio Rampage that ended in a 5-4 win is something that deserves to be written in the moment. It was a pretty smooth sailing game as far as the first two periods were concerned. Then that third period turned up and it turned into the hockey version of the upside-down from Stranger Things. That’s the short way to view it. Let’s really acknowledge that third period.
When the third period started the Admirals had a 3-1 lead. They were up in shots on goal by a comfortable 22-14 margin. And the Rampage didn’t seem to be finding many quality scoring chances. Annoyingly, that is still said with yet another saga in the Admirals penalty taking rodeo that occurred. The Admirals had four penalty kills in the second period. One of them they managed to get a delayed penalty called and work the puck around long enough with the extra attacker on that they created a shorthanded goal for Pontus Åberg. That play was pretty spectacular given Åberg pretty much started the play from behind the vacated net to start a rush that he’d finish after three passes up ice.
I suppose the true writing on the wall for just how insane the third period was about to be was when Jonathan Diaby scored his first career AHL goal. Diaby unloaded a cannon of a slap shot. He used all of that massive and wiry 6’6″ frame of his to unleash a shot Kent Simpson was never stopping. Diaby did that. No, really, Diaby did that. His first AHL goal in the seventieth game of his AHL career. That’s the same Diaby who in previous seasons was being outscored by goaltenders in points by season’s end. You could have started to buy a lottery ticket and it wouldn’t have shocked me in the slightest if that happened and the Cleveland Browns were on Monday Night Football last night and earned a win to boot. We -at that moment- had reached the upside-down.
All of that sounds brutal. I get it. But let me paint you a much better image for you of that special moment for Diaby last night and why it felt so surreal to see. Diaby since arriving from Victoriaville at the end of the 2013-14 season has really just been a big bodied defenseman and one that looked very unstable when skating backwards on defense. The Admirals in recent years has seen examples of this plenty of times with European defenseman that the Nashville Predators sign and you can quickly see the difference in North-South pace overwhelming them and turning them inside out at times. Diaby, with his big frame on the ice, isn’t agile or quick. He is clumsy with the puck and sometimes that can almost comedown to passes directed at him have a much wider area to pass to on him versus someone else and Diaby can handcuff himself receiving pucks to begin with. It was always going to be a lengthy learning curve and development process for him. But time at the ECHL level is something that could do him wonders in the fact that he could log far greater minutes to play and learn the pro game in game-speed. The problem was getting in games at all a season ago.
Diaby was the poster-boy for the Admirals rebranding a season ago. He was the man rocking the brand new uniform when they were unveiled for the first time. He was the one photographed next to the Admirals name as the eleventh greatest hockey jersey of all-time as tabbed by The Hockey News. Yet, for all that excitement ahead of the 2015-16 season, Diaby only actually wore that Admirals uniform in-game five times. He was mainly with the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL and ended up playing 43 games down there. He missed significant time due to injury. One of those injuries was receiving a skate cut that was less than a quarter of an inch from cutting his femoral artery. That required two surgeries to help with bleeding and it was that sort of bad luck that seemed to hang over his head all last season. Which is made all the more sad given he was the man I credit to with creating the “French Fries” nickname yet it was Frédérick Gaudreau, Jimmy Oligny, and Félix Girard getting all the buzz around them in the AHL a season ago. Diaby was part of that group. And he didn’t really get to enjoy any of that success or fun.
For Diaby he is still only 22-years old and has another year past this one under contract. You keep your fingers crossed for him, in moments such as right now when the roster is so stretched, that he sees these AHL opportunities and actually capitalizes off of it and finds something that sticks. Scoring a goal isn’t doing that. It isn’t. He is a defenseman. His job is to negate goals more than scoring them and, with that frame of his, that’s the approach he’s looking to go with. He followed up scoring his goal by turning a puck over right to Shawn Ouellette-St-Amant for a one-timer goal. Every shift with Diaby has a certain drama to it. And it isn’t always something that ends on the plus side but, for once, last night had far more right than wrong. Seeing him get that goal might not be the start of a trend by any means but it sure makes a person such as myself smile seeing a guy continually battling to work for more and more. Diaby was given an opportunity last night over Trevor Murphy. And he used it. Sometimes all it takes is one moment or one of those sorts of games to start pushing a player forward. I hope last night was Diaby’s moment.
But, what from there? The Admirals were leading 4-1 with 15:29 remaining in regulation. What could possibly go wrong? Well, seeing as we’re in the present talking about the past now, a lot.
The Admirals started the season having issues with continual trips to the penalty box. Especially last month it seemed as if the cure was found for that reoccurring hiccup that they had. These recent games though, specifically the last two home games, have been brutal. It isn’t that they are boneheaded penalties, not all of them anyways, but they are penalties. The game by the second or third period should already have a sense of right and wrong with the on-ice law and order. What can and can’t be done with aggressive play with sticks and small grappling along the boards or at the neutral zone, etc. The Admirals seem to keep putting themselves in areas where a penalty can be called – and it is being called. They are hustle style penalties but they are overly aggressive penalties to take and they are being taken when they just can’t or shouldn’t be afforded to be done.
With a 4-1 lead the Admirals could have and should have been able to coast home with that sort of a score. They didn’t. Adam Payerl took a roughing penalty and then Rampage captain Joe Whitney scored a power-play goal. That’s a spark. That’s the start of something. And 1:33 of ice-time after that it was 4-3. And 4:47 after that it was tied – tied by a power-play goal scored by Rocco Grimaldi after a slashing call against Cody Bass. The Rampage went from down 4-1 to tied 4-4 in 9:06 of ice-time in the middle of the third period. A time that should have seen the Admirals closing the door – they opened it wide and welcomed the Rampage right on in.
The real reason for the drama that took place in that third period last night comes down to the Admirals getting too aggressive in the way they were trying to finish that game. To continue with the theme of doors, as was one around the Master Lock rink last night, it was as if the Admirals were trying to slam the door so hard that it smacked back open. Remember a few years ago when the buzz quote was to “play the right way” and “to do the right things” after games? We didn’t hear it in any media scrums last night but that’s the message that should soak back in after two games where a more simplified approach could have helped see a lesser bite in the way the Admirals defend and end up going to the penalty kill endlessly. It’s an exhausting way to play. And one that darn near cost them two games on home ice.
At the very least the upside-down that was last night’s kept on with yet another Admirals defenseman, who is not commonly known for his goal scoring named Jimmy Oligny, netting a shot to earn his first goal of the season. It just seemed to catch Simpson unexpectedly. The shot was from along the left wing wall and found its way home. It was Admirals back out in front with a 5-4 lead just 1:19 after Grimaldi had tied it with a power-play goal. The game stayed there for the final 5:04 of regulation. And the Admirals earned a much harder than it had any right to be two points.
There is all great news to that game as well as this past three-games, really. The obvious would be winning last night. That’s nice no matter how ugly it gets. But the lessons to learn from everything happening around the last three-games are really important to be learned from. The Admirals had a very taxing four-game road trip that depleted them by the fourth game. They are about to take another four-game road trip. They should learn from the last one and manage their energy appropriately. The Admirals in the last two-games, both at home, were marred by continuous penalty troubles leading to a penalty killing vortex that also exhausts a bench and goaltender. They -need- to learn from that and start finding a way to play with an edge without that edge cutting their own heads off. Today, the Admirals have an off-day. That is two off-days in three days surrounding last night’s game. They need the rest. But from Wednesday to the first game against the Texas Stars this season a lot of troubleshooting should get done to minimize what’s sending so many to the penalty box. It can’t happen so often and be expected to not impact the loss column.
After last night’s game I spoke with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason as well as Jonathan Diaby, Jimmy Oligny, and Mike Liambas. The chat with Liambas was a fun one to get to know more of his NHL spell, how he found out he was recalled, the game itself, and what it was like to look around and see so many he already played with in Milwaukee. Here were last night’s interviews.
Comments on the comments? How do you feel the Milwaukee Admirals will hold up with all of the upcoming road games? Is this little bit of down time at home in Milwaukee before heading to Texas just what the Admirals need?
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