If there were ever a team that truly resonated with the title for our pre-game story feature it would be the Grand Rapids Griffins. They are, and have been, the enemy for years upon years now. It isn’t red mist level hatred with a history of bad blood or brawls. It is simply a rivalry bred of competitive superiority.
That’s what is ahead for the Milwaukee Admirals today. They are currently back in second place in the Central Division standings thanks in part to a win last night paired with a regulation loss from the Chicago Wolves. Who beat the Wolves? The Griffins did and did so 5-2 on the road in Chicago last night.
For the Admirals to really start to knuckle down en route for a strong playoff push they need to start making headway on the Griffins and get this awful mentality of “we can’t win in the Van Andel Arena” out of the system. The Admirals last win in Grand Rapids came over two years ago back on January 31st in a 4-0 shutout with Magnus Hellberg between the pipes. If you include last season’s playoffs the Admirals have lost ten straight games in the Van Andel Arena. It’s about time that skid stops.
The Griffins enter this game with a record of 29-12-1-2 (61 points, 0.693 points percentage). That has them not only atop the Central Division but the entire Western Conference. Only the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (0.750) and Lehigh Valley Phantoms (0.705) have better records in the entire league.
While it would be nice to see the Admirals break this run of misery playing inside the Van Andel Arena -if it is done- it won’t come easy. The Griffins have a home record of 16-6-0-2 (0.708 points percentage) which is fourth best in the AHL this season. At home the Griffins average 3.42 goals per game while allowing 2.33 goals against per game as well as only taking 6.79 penalty minutes per game. Their power-play at home is the third best in the AHL (26.7%). Their penalty kill at home ranks eighth best in the AHL (86.2%). They are a highly detailed, composed, and explosive team in their own barn.
A major storyline coming into tonight could come in the form of the Griffins goaltender of choice. Tonight’s projected starter appears set to be Jimmy Howard who is in on a conditioning assignment from the Detroit Red Wings. Howard last played on 12/20/16 on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning and has been out due to a lower-body injury. Should Howard get the start it would be his first taste of AHL hockey since the 2008-09 season. His last AHL game was in the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs on 5/9/09 against the Manitoba Moose. His last game against the Admirals was on 2/10/09 and saw him stop 24/28 shots on goal in a road loss.
Comparing these Griffins and Admirals offensively you will quickly find some distance separating the two. The Griffins have three players with 30 points or more (Ben Street, Matt Lorito, and Tomas Nosek). The Admirals have… none. The Griffins have seven players who have scored double digit goals so far this season. The Admirals have… Pontus Åberg and Trevor Smith.
I do take solace in this tidbit of news that happened on Thursday. Louis-Marc Aubrey was released of his AHL contract with the Griffins and signed with Eisbären Berlin. Aubrey was a really well-rounded forward who always appeared to play his best hockey against the Admirals. Last season he scored a head-to-head best 7 points (6 goals, 1 assist) from 8 games. Auf Wiedersehen, Aubrey.
Expectations for tonight’s game against the Grand Rapids Griffins? What do the Milwaukee Admirals need to do in order to buck the trend of bad games and results inside the Van Andel Arena? And, serious question, would tonight of all night’s be a good time to finally rotate Jonas Gunnarsson between the pipes?
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