1 June 2004, that was the start of the 2004 AHL Calder Cup Finals between the Milwaukee Admirals and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Admirals won the first two games in Milwaukee before completing the sweep on the road in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to earn the first and, to this point, only Calder Cup. Tonight will be the first time the Admirals journey back to face the Penguins in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton since that moment.
I generally start off by saying “since the last time these two met” but that would span well over a decade. Let’s keep things in there here and now where the Penguins have a record of 12-4-0-1 (25 points, 0.735 points percentage). That has them leading the Atlantic Division over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (0.619) and Providence Bruins (0.611). They only trail the Toronto Marlies (0.762) for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
For as powerful as the Baby Pens have been to start the season the Admirals will be facing them after they have lost consecutive games for the first time this season. The Penguins lost both games to the Syracuse Crunch which started on the road 5-2 and then at home last time out 4-3. The Crunch pounced on them by scoring 3 goals in the first period in the first meeting -but- the rest of those games were a grind.
Leading the charge for the Penguins in scoring is Dominik Simon who has 15 points (3 goals, 12 assists) in 17 games. He is followed closely by five others who are above double digits in scoring already. By contrast, the Admirals only have three players at or above 10 points scoring.
A player well worth keeping an eye out for tonight is Daniel Sprong. The 20-year old winger was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft out of Charlottetown (QMJHL). He would play 18 games in the NHL during the 2015-16 season and score 2 goals. He would then return to major juniors, played there all of last season, and is setting out on his first full pro season in 2017-18. He has been with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL all season so far and has produced 14 points (9 goals, 5 assists) in 17 games. That goal scoring mark is tied for the team lead with Ryan Haggerty.
It doesn’t take long to circle a possible area to exploit if you are the Admirals tonight: goaltending. Right now it is such that the main battery for the Baby Pens are all up to the NHL on recall. Tristan Jarry made 5 starts this season for the Baby Pens – he’s up. Casey DeSmith made 12 starts this season for the Baby Pens – he’s up. That makes the current goaltending tandem of choice Sean Maguire and Colin Stevens. Of the two the only one to have played a single game in the AHL is Maguire who made a relief appearance in 2015-16 and then a start last season that saw him stop 22/26 shots on goal in a winning effort, 5-4, at home.
What are your expectations for tonight’s match-up against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins? How do you feel Juuse Saros is going to handle tonight’s game against a high-powered team in the Baby Pens? And how important is it for the Milwaukee Admirals to get this road heavy schedule of December rolling the right way with a win to start this weekend?
Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along on Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.