When pulling back from a distance and reviewing this past weekend for the Milwaukee Admirals it’s hard to put a finger on where the team is right now. They traveled up North and played against one of the hottest teams in the AHL currently, the Manitoba Moose, and expectations following a lackluster 5-2 defeat on home ice against the not hottest team in the AHL, the San Diego Gulls, made things feel bleak. And then Saturday happens.
The Admirals started out with a poor opening period but they managed to rally back from down 3-1 and earn a victory over the Moose in a shootout. It was gritty. It was a gusty effort from numerous individuals. To accomplish that battle back on a team as good as the Moose and end their nine-game winning streak seemed like the sort of result that could change the tide. It appeared to follow into the opening period of the Sunday clash. It then sharply collapsed until the Moose had themselves a 6-1 win.
These were two games with two completely different outcomes and two entirely different impressions left once the game came to a crashing halt. It was as though we all received a microcosm of what the Admirals have been doing in the 2017-18 season. No one good result appears to be followed up by another and another. In fact, having one good period followed up by another tends to be a stretch. Is this bipolar stretch of hot and could simply an AHL standard of a young team getting on the same page all at once or is this really just a now expected norm from now until the season ends? The longer things drag on such as this the more it seems the Admirals are sort of stuck in this place.
The Admirals opened the season up winning four-straight games. That already feels like ages ago as does the amount of sheer class that game with the level of play within those victories. The Admirals outscored their opposition 19-10 and averaged 27.3 shots per game while holding opponents to 26.3 shots per game.
While it is difficult to necessarily pin point the best place for where things started to fall off a cliff for the Admirals I’d say the start of a lot of their road game work back on 11/12/17 against the Chicago Wolves is a decent starting point. The Admirals are 5-6-1-0 since that point and have only twice won in regulation. In that span the Admirals have averaged 27.3 shots per game (exactly the same as the opening win streak) while allowing 32.3 shots against per game (+6 increase from the opening win streak). In that same span the Admirals power-play has gone 17.3% (9/52) and the penalty kill is clocking in at 82.9% (39/47). But, for everything statistical, what pops out to me the most is the Admirals effort in the very first period in this span: they have been outshot in all but two games in the opening period and outshot 135-91 in those first periods. They haven’t been the statistical aggressors, wracking up the most shots out of the gate, since 11/24/17. They’ve been beaten up in that regard for seven consecutive games of which they have gone 2-4-1-0 with a single win in regulation, suffering two defeats via shutout, and claiming 3 points to their record after needing to fight back from a multi-goal deficit. The Admirals start flat. Their opposition pushes the pace. And only marginally do the Admirals adjust and find success out of a sloppy start.
Here is where this all can get annoying: it’s December. What that means is the Admirals season isn’t even a third of the way completed yet. The Admirals still have 52 games to be played. This feels rough now. It could feel worse later. But this period in the season can also act as a catalyst to bigger and better things given the amount of rough that has been on display. If it can all be learned from? If individuals take accountability and learn to grow off of these rough outings? The Admirals can polish up and be as strong as they started the season – for the rest of the season. It is an “if” scenario but you’d far rather the team go through a funk like this now than at season’s end while their playoff lives are at stake for added pressure.
Another gritting issue to take into account is that there really isn’t a singular problem that could fix everything. Would a veteran defenseman and another spark plug forward not named Harry Zolnierczyk be a boost? Sure, but those would be two individuals and the overall effort of the team would still need to be better than what it has been to make any addition be effective. You can’t wait around for the time where the Nashville Predators are healthy enough to send Frédérick Gaudreau back down. You can’t wait around and assume Anthony Bitetto or Matt Irwin will be going through waivers and joining the Admirals once Ryan Ellis gets back healthy. The team that is here now needs to act and learn to win games now regardless of injuries, recalls, or Stephen Perfetto tantrums. No other AHL team is going to slow down to help make these lull stretches of a season something easy to fight out of. If anything, most teams in this league feed off of seeing a team sputtering or down and out. The Admirals need to start collectively battling one shift at a time, one period at a time, one game at a time. The pieces are here. There is really good depth and talented depth at that. The focus needs to be kept in the here and now. The level of play needs to be less between the ears and much more based on feel and instinct. Defense-First. Less-is-More. When the Admirals knuckle down into that as a cohesive thought process? A lot of what is hurting the team now can be combed over rather than looked at as a minefield.
This road is a long one – literally. The Admirals are in an upper echelon with nine other teams in the AHL this season to have played 14 games or more on the road. That trend will be continuing in the not too distant future.
After the Admirals host the Iowa Wild this Friday at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena they will be starting up a four-game road trip. The Admirals don’t have a homestand of three-games or more until February 10-17. The Admirals need to start finding a way of being comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Being as taxed as they have been on the road could help push them into the right direction.
Lastly, despite having more 30-year olds on the roster than I can remember in a long time: this is a young group. The good feels incremental right now. The bad feels all too prevalent over the course of sixty-minutes. Yet I find all too often that the developmental process almost needs stretches on the downslide like this for individual and team growth to happen. This team right now is learning how to consistently achieve results. It has been sluggish, sure. And it could be sluggish as the weeks roll on. But come April this team will either have found it long ago and put themselves on the path they should be on. The Calder Cup isn’t won at Christmas. It’s won in June. For the Admirals to be there is to battle through the ups-and-downs of the here and now.
Where do you stand with the current state of the Milwaukee Admirals? Are you confident that the Admirals are going to right the ship and start finding wins on a more consistent basis? What changes -if any- would you make and why? Given the defensive personnel has remained in tact since the start of the season: what has really happened to its overall effectiveness and pace? Do you feel that Juuse Saros’ development would be best served with the Admirals full-time for the rest of the 2017-18 season?
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