The Milwaukee Admirals started the season off with only a pair of home games in October. They get to match that Wednesday and Friday night by finally getting back into the swing of things at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. Their first opponent? Why, none other than -that- team which has swept them out of the opening round of the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs the past two seasons – the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The Griffins enter tonight’s game with a record of 3-5-0-1 (7 points, 0.389 points percentage). That has them just above the Iowa Wild (0.333) for last place in the Central Division. Only the Ontario Reign (0.143) are worse off in the entire Western Conference after the opening month of the season. In fact, you can throw in the Springfield Thunderbirds (0.150) when thinking about the entire AHL.
So, why are the reigning and defending Calder Cup Champions struggling so mightily out of the starting blocks this season? When you look at their roster – you can’t exactly say it is for a painful season-to-season turnover because there are plenty of returning and familiar faces. They have a strong forward group. Their defense, while it might finally lack the likes of Nathan Paetsch, is still rather strong. And they have the same goaltending duo, Jared Coreau and Tom McCollum, that put them to the 2017 Calder Cup Finals last season. …so why are they allowing 3.67 goals per game? How are they good enough to win 7-3 on the road against the San Jose one night and get shutout 4-0 the next night in Stockton? It’s all rather weird. And it isn’t the Griffins that we’re exactly used to.
It also isn’t purely a defensive problem, either. The Griffins have fired 286 shots on goal and produced 27 goals for a 0.09 shooting percentage. By contrast the Admirals -also- enter tonight’s game with 27 goals scored but they’ve done that in 2 games less work and 86 less shots on goal for a 0.14 shooting percentage.
In a nutshell, the Griffins are shooting like mad – they haven’t been accurate – that means giving the puck away that much more easily – and then conceding on the turnaround. They are literally shooting themselves in the foot by way of poor finishing and lackluster defending and not getting timely saves from between the pipes.
This, of course, isn’t to say the Griffins aren’t still capable of hurting the Admirals as they have done so very many times in recent memory. This is a team that has just received Tyler Bertuzzi. They also still have Ben Street, Matt Lorito, Matthew Ford, Evgeny Svechnikov, Robbie Russo, Brian Lashoff, and Eric Tangradi. Heck, there was even an early season trade that saw Matt Puempel join their ranks after the Detroit Red Wings traded defenseman Ryan Sproul to the New York Rangers organization. They are fully capable of getting out of this early season funk and becoming a dominant force within the Central Division. At the present moment, while they are out of sorts, it will be important for the Admirals to take advantage of the Griffins woes and get the momentum against them started here and now.
What are your expectations for tonight’s game? Aren’t you just giddy that Tyler Bertuzzi is back for the Grand Rapids Griffins? How important is it for the Milwaukee Admirals to set a precedent against the Grand Rapids Griffins immediately this season to show dominance and not be mentally broken as they appear to have been in this match-up for the past few seasons?
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