The current state of the organization right now is being tested very hard. Injuries to the Nashville Predators for the past month or so has shown some of the strengths of the depth that exist with the Milwaukee Admirals but it has come and gone at different areas lately. In December, it seemed as though the defense was the area hardest hit. In January, the forward group is being put on a shelf and restocked with the prospects and hard workers available in Milwaukee.
There really is a give and a take aspect to this. On one hand, it is a fantastic sight to see players be rewarded and get their opportunity to play at the next level. That goes for the NHL as well as the NHL. Players such as Rick Pinkston, Derek Army, Shawn O’Donnell, and Garrett Meurs are all being afforded an opportunity to stake their claim to an AHL opportunity through the Admirals right now. The issue and the takeaway to all of this is that when top guys go down for the Predators and they get replayed by Admirals and they get replaced by PTO Contracted talent from the ECHL – things aren’t staying at a level to where they were and they really shouldn’t be expected to.
Last night, the Admirals had their defensive outfit that did so well for them back in November when they didn’t lose a single game in regulation. The problem is that the forward group was so dismantled that a spot was open at forward and, unlike recent games, the Admirals lacked a forward that could rotate that role as the team played seven defensemen. Vladislav Kamenev had been reassigned prior to the start of the game but wasn’t there in time to play. Something that baffles me considering Pontus Åberg was recalled earlier in the day. As far as organizational botches go, recalling someone up just to maybe think about sending someone down later but not getting him there in time to play, that’s a bad one. And it made Trevor Murphy, a left-side defenseman, play forward just to fill a gap in the lineup.
The Admirals then were not exactly playing with their proper full strength defense and were playing with a forward group that lacked serious two-way talent. The result was there on the wall before the game had started. And the opening few minutes of the game signaled as much. The Checkers saw a team that was depleted and skated them to pieces. They were checking hard and winning puck battles. They did everything that the Admirals when they are on their game – do.
What hurts so much about last night isn’t just that the Admirals lost 5-1 at home. It is that they lost 5-1 at home to the Charlotte Checkers. That team is atrocious. Even in the way they played last night – they were awful. And they still won by the scoreline that they did.
The Checkers entered with the second worst record in the entire league and the worst record in the Western Conference. They had the worst road power-play in the AHL and had only gone 8/91 (8.8%). After last night alone their power-play has increased to 10.4% and are now tied with the San Diego Gulls. It was the third time from 36 games this season that the Checkers scored 5 goals or more in a game and perhaps more profoundly just the sixth time this season they have held a team to a goal or less in a game.
If there is anything that I know about a Dean Evason coaches Admirals team it is that it does not matter who is in the lineup, who is called up, who is sent down, who is injured, or who is in net – you show up to play. The Admirals did not do that last night.
It would be easy to sit back and point at how the second period ended. Was it an elbowing call against Petter Granberg? Evason doesn’t think so. A lot of fans sitting around the South endzone said about as much, as well. Should Keegan Lowe have received a fighting instigator for racing down to start or fight or did Jimmy Oligny engage him first to prevent him getting to Granberg for the big hit? I don’t really know. What I do know is that all of that didn’t or shouldn’t have had an impact still forty-three seconds into the third period nor two minutes and thirty-eight seconds after that when the Admirals went from down 3-1 to 5-1.
Throughout the course of a regular season in hockey you are bound to get rough games such as last night. In a lot of ways it can be a positive as a learning device for the harder roads ahead. You hope that last night is simply a harsh reality check brought on by a group that has been stretched more than Silly Putty the last month and a half. If it isn’t, and it is the start of a rough trend due up, the opposition ahead for the Admirals down the line isn’t on the level of a Checkers – it is far better. A performance such as last night against the Chicago Wolves or Grand Rapids Griffins? And I would say losing 5-1 is a small victory. The Admirals, no matter who is in or out of the lineup, can’t afford to play like that ever again.
Following the game, I did catch up with coach Evason as well as Justin Florek, Jonas Gunnarsson, and Trevor Smith. These were their post-game comments.
Comments on the comments? Will last night’s result be a catalyst to an Admirals group looking to run through walls tonight in Chicago? Why is it that Gunnarsson always seems to be in net in games where the Admirals lay an egg in front of him?
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