Chatterbox, Vol. 167

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)
(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

I do this every so often but I waited many hours before jumping to Chatterbox just to really process how the Milwaukee Admirals had just played. Some moments call for it being written in the moment. Others can be neither here nor there and get right to the post-game interviews. Last night’s game, given the layers it really has, called for it. And I’m glad I did give this one time.

The Admirals were shutout 3-0 last night against the Grand Rapids Griffins in front of a solid and vocal crowd at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. They have now lost four straight games in regulation for the first time since the 2011-12 season. They have been shutout in two of their last four games and have scored two goals in their last 249:43 of ice time while their power-play is on a drought of nineteen consecutive chances without a power-play goal.

That sounds really bad. It does. There is no going against what the results state. But these last two games for the Admirals haven’t actually been that bad. In fact, they have actually been doing an impressive job in the face of some serious adversity.

When the Admirals lost a 2-1 decision to the Chicago Wolves on the road on Wednesday night they displayed tremendous effort. The defense and group performance of the Admirals took the AHL’s most lethal offenses and reduced it to seven shots on goal for the final forty-minutes of play. That is an incredible team achievement. All that it lacked? The offense getting the breakthroughs that they were working for.

Last night the Admirals played the equivalent to their arch nemesis of recent years, the Griffins. That is the best team in the Western Conference and is floating around for the title of best team in the entire league right now. The Admirals didn’t allow a single goal against during five-on-five play last night. They held them tight and really played a heavy, physical, and tough performance. All that it lacked? Seeing some of those chances on offense find the back of the net.

It would be so easy to finger point and say that the way the Admirals are playing lately is simply down to a roster that keeps changing on a nightly basis or that, in last night’s case, Félix Girard being traded away earlier in the day broke the group’s spirit before a puck was ever even dropped on the night. But those are excuses.

The Admirals have always -always- been a team that puts an emphasis to “if you’re here, you play” and the team’s attention to detail and effort is all that mattered. These last few games they’ve had some dips in that regard. The last two games I’m not sure it is right to say that was the case given how the Admirals actually played against the opposition they were playing. They’ve been competing like mad. They have been generating scoring chances. They just aren’t burying goals when it comes to that crucial final touch.

Things like this happen. It’s more of a shock value thing to see that the Admirals haven’t lost four straight games in regulation since the 2011-12 season but that was a team that still made the playoffs. And the current Admirals are a long way better than the group that had played that season.

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)
(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

What I see of this current bad run of results for the Admirals is something that can serve as a real benefit down the line for the entire group. It often takes losing games to really expose key weaknesses in teams as well as the individuals playing in the lineup. Knowing areas that stick out that can be adjusted or sharpened – that creates a strength out of a trying time. The Admirals are going through this process now and doing it with bodies here and there but also against stiff competition. They aren’t being throttled by the Griffins or Wolves. They’re a chance or two from being buried that could see momentum in these games change. It hasn’t been anywhere close to as rough as the 5-1 loss to the Charlotte Checkers on home ice. And don’t think for a second the Admirals don’t know that and who they have ahead of him next week on the road.

This team has a solid foundation of leaders on the room. It is firmly started with team captain Trevor Smith but the entire locker room has voices as well as role players that can lead simply by example. Losing Girard, as you’ll hear his former teammates state in last night’s post-game interviews, it hurts. It does. That’s simply reality of having a guy as hard working on the ice and as likable off of it leave your team. But with a loss comes opportunity. Vladislav Kamenev can really open up and expand even more to the penalty kill and be more versatile in his development process. Justin Kirkland, who is always such a solid guy when you watch a team practice, can be afforded more chance at the center position to become what Girard was – if not more because of his offensive skill set.

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)
(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

It wasn’t that long ago when the term “rock bottom” was used to describe where the Admirals hoped they were so they could vault back up. That wasn’t the case. This current phase of the season feels an awful lot like rock bottom and it is simply time to learn, as a team – as individuals, what it takes to be better than these last few games. The chances to score are right there. Whether it be another body crashing for second or third chance opportunities or odd-man rushes, several of which went begging last night, actually getting converted. The team is the right team. The way in which they play has been real good the last two outings. They just need to stay within themselves, play their game, focus on what they’re doing, and they can get back to the level of hockey that was rolling and rolling all throughout November.

These past few weeks have rough. They have. But it is a long season and it has been a test. The Calder Cup isn’t being crowned in the next few games. The ideology on how to achieve it can be crafted in the next few games.The Admirals have not been anywhere close to at full-strength for what feels like weeks on end now. They are still the seventh ranked team in the Western Conference. All teams go through stretches such as this. The Admirals are going through it now and the process of correcting it began yesterday – actually, more than likely all the way back on Wednesday morning. They’re getting there. Through all the various finger pointy problems – they’re getting there. It might just take getting out on the road for a moment to mentally check out a touch and then go and earn that first goal in Charlotte Tuesday night. The shoulders can drop a bit. And then the Admirals can start being the Admirals, again.

After last night’s game I caught up with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason. also spoke with the French Fries: Jimmy Oligny, Anthony Richard, and Frédérick Gaudreau. These were their post-game comments.

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)
(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

And, as added perspective to fans that were grinding their teeth last night, I offer you this story. While I was waiting to conduct player interviews last night in the Admirals locker room their happened to be a family with lots of kids in the locker room getting a small tour and getting to see the players. It’s a hard game. It has been a hard recent run. For some, as you heard above, it hasn’t been an easy last twenty-four hours. But that all goes out the window when you see the players disappear into the people that they really are. The Admirals are a giant family filled with better people than they are players. That is something that cannot be taught. It is also something that can lift teams through rough spells such as this current losing streak. Chin up. Eyes to the future. And learn along with the team. If the process were easy – we wouldn’t enjoy this game near as much.

Comments on the comments? Do you feel as though the Nashville Predators trade yesterday is a precursor to further activity in the trade market in the next few weeks prior to the deadline? Who are the players that you see really stepping up in Girard’s absence?

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