Moose: Scouting the Enemy

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

The Milwaukee Admirals have a record of 6-8-1-0 since the start of November. Looking across the border at this weekend’s opponents, the Manitoba Moose, and they have gone 13-2-0-0 since the start of November while enduring 11 road games. Oh, and here is a fun one, the Moose enter this weekend’s set against the Admirals on a 9 game winning streak. This should only go well. How could it possibly not? …let’s find out.

The Moose have an overall record of 17-5-1-1 (36 points, 0.750 points percentage). That has them well out in front in the Central Division ahead of the Rockford IceHogs (0.604). That also has them leading the Western Conference over the Tucson Roadrunners (0.711). In fact, the only team in the entire league that has a better record than the Moose are the Toronto Marlies (0.792).

How did the first meeting of the season between the Admirals and Moose go? Not well. It was the first time this season that the Admirals had been shutout and the Moose earned a 3-0 win inside the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. It wasn’t entirely that the Admirals were flat: they outshot the Moose 16-4 in the second period and skated off to that intermission having conceded goals at the start and end to the period.

That game, if anything, acted to highlight the current state of the Admirals right now. They were flat. When your top defensive pairing accounts for 30% of your shots in a game? When your power-play goes 0/7 while conceding a shorthanded goal? It’s kind of hard to get anywhere.

What the Admirals need to do this weekend is get back to work. They’re getting out-battled far too often. They’re often times shooting themselves in the foot by trying to do too much when they get the puck. It’s time to start slowing down in order to speed up. The more simplified the Admirals can play the better.

Earlier in the season the Admirals ability to clear pucks out of their own zone using pace, quick sticks, and -a particular Swede in net- allowed them to tilt the ice and force teams to time and time again go the length of the ice in order to generate offense against them. The Admirals need to make things far more tough on their opponents. Heck, even a fight at this point to show some bite wouldn’t hurt. The Admirals haven’t had a scrap in 9 games. If they come out flat and play a lifeless game as they did on Tuesday all over again? Seeing one person show a pulse would be refreshing.

All of that is clearly easier said than done. For example, the Admirals wouldn’t be the first team this season to struggle in slowing down Jack Roslovic who is second in the AHL in scoring this season with 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 24 games. He is currently on a 4 game point streak which started in Milwaukee and has seen him produce 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists) in the process.

Another element that should be a battle is making the Moose uncomfortable on their home ice. They currently hold the best home record in the AHL going 7-1-1-1 (16 points, 0.800 points percentage) at Bell MTS Place. They have the third best penalty kill (85.0%) on home ice in the Western Conference. And the best power-play (27.7%) on home ice in the entire league.

The goaltender of choice for the Moose this weekend seems rather clear cut. Michael Hutchinson is coming off of a month of November that earned him the title of CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month. The 27-year old was stunningly good as he won all 6 starts he was afforded and put together a 1.33 goals against average and 0.965 save percentage all while averaging 37.7 shots per game in November. How did he get the month of December started? With a 27-save shutout of the Cleveland Monsters to extend his win streak in net to 7 games.

Meanwhile: the Nashville Predators yesterday decided to switch goaltenders once again. Anders Lindbäck was recalled whilst Juuse Saros was reassigned. That means Saors for the third weekend of this 2017-18 season finds himself far away from Milwaukee on AHL duty. His first trip was in Cleveland. His second trip was out in Pennsylvania (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hershey). Now he should be the starter for both games in Manitoba. Saros might not quite be where he would like to be this season but he did start for the Predators on Tuesday night in a road game against the Dallas Stars and set a career best on the night by making 43-saves earning his second win of the season. Hopefully he isn’t going to be tested that hard -but- that’s a heck of a lead-in for this weekend against one of the hottest teams in the AHL.

What are your expectations for this weekend’s games against the Manitoba Moose? Could this be the best way for the Milwaukee Admirals to hit the reset button and get on a real roll by playing one of the hottest teams in the league in their own building and getting the chance to knock them down a peg?

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