Tonight’s game might be one of the more important moments in the Milwaukee Admirals 2016-17 season. They are coming off of two losses that were largely of their own fault and had a punishment driven practice on Wednesday that pushed them until the message got through. The Admirals need to start playing as a team again. They need to start simplifying their game and being far more defensively responsible. And all that stands in their way is a Stockton Heat team that are quite possibly looking to do the exact same thing for the exact same reasons.
The Heat enter this game with a record of 19-14-3-1 (42 points, 0.568 points percentage) which has them fifth in the Pacific Division and eighth in Western Conference standings. They have gone on a run of 3-8-2-0 in their last 13 games and have conceded 4 goals or more in 9 of those games. That included being outscored 11-3 in their last 2 games – both which were played on home ice.
For the Heat, much like the Admirals, that last game played is the one that stings the most. They were beaten 5-0 against the Barracuda in Stockton and composure went out the window early. For a game that ended with such a lopsided scoreline it could have been far worse if the Heat’s penalty kill didn’t go 5/6 on the night. The team had 67 penalty minutes in that game. And, like the Admirals again, they swapped out goaltenders in search of a spark that didn’t really turn into a fire.
They very much need a high level response from their group, as well. And they did match up well enough against the Admirals when the two met in Stockton earlier this month by earning a 4-0 shutout. David Rittich was the goaltender picking up the 35-save shutout that evening but he also happened to be the man yanked after the first period in the Heat’s last game after allowing 3 goals from 10 shots. Even that area of the last meeting has a dark cloud above it.
Rittich is still the better performing of the three goaltenders that the Heat have on offer. He has a 7-6-1-0 record from 15 appearances with a 2.21 goals against average and 0.923 save percentage. He is also second in the AHL this season with 4 shutouts trailing only the Barracuda’s Troy Grosenick with 6 shutouts. Rittich’s fellow goaltenders with the Heat are Jon Gillies and Tom McCollum. Gillies has made the most appearances for the Heat this season with 24 while McCollum has only logged a single start that saw him exit after two periods of work.
The leading scorer for the Heat this season is rookie Mark Jankowski who has 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in 34 games. The Heat have one less player than the Admirals do with 20 points or more in scoring this season.
That said, because they are a Californian AHL team and therefore play less games because of reasons, that also means their top scorers are raking in points at a better “per game” clip than the Admirals. The likes of Hunter Shinkaruk (0.81 points per game), Linden Vey (0.81 points per game), and Morgan Klimchuk (0.72 points per game) have all done real well in their AHL time provided this season.
I’m walking into tonight’s game with no idea what to expect. I just know that the Admirals group that was pushed so hard in practice on Wednesday are likely going to need a first period that reflects the point that should have been learned. Should things stay sloppy, yes there is tomorrow and the San Jose Barracuda, but the idea is that the bad habits end now. This game and the opening period is a real key stage of this Admirals’ season.
How do you see tonight’s game unfolding? How crucial is it for the Milwaukee Admirals to have a strong start and to get the opening goal?
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