After a week’s rest, some key roster additions or returns from injury, and two solid days of practice I had raised my expectations for what the Milwaukee Admirals were going to look like on home ice against the Iowa Wild. They were getting sharper. They looked faster. And the opening ten-minutes played last night backed up those expectations. It was a fast, crisp, and energetic start. Then the Wild scored a controversial goal and the rest went as flat as it has been the last month or more.
What’s really important to remember here is that the Admirals did earn a point in that 3-2 overtime loss to the Wild. That’s something. They were the ones that fought back -again- in order to knot a game up. But this is becoming such a similar feeling: the Admirals are chasing teams and they are mostly chasing teams because if their own mistakes.
It shouldn’t feel rewarding to only earn a point on home ice but it does given that if any other goaltender was thrown in net last night: I feel like the Admirals could have lost by about four or more goals. That game is one where the Wild could almost be more upset with themselves than the Admirals because it was a game that never needed overtime from their perspective. The Wild get the win. The Admirals take a point – and they probably shouldn’t have.
Let’s get the obvious talking point of last night’s game out of the way: Goaltender Interference. You could watch that play over again and again. You can come up with the case that Jack Dougherty actually pushed Colton Beck into Anders Lindbäck and that renders goaltender interference out the window. I can understand that point. You can also say that -regardless of who initiated contact- Beck is on Lindbäck’s doorstep, stuck in the crease, he isn’t attempting to remove himself from the crease, and he is impeding Lindbäck from making an attempt of a save. I completely understand that point as well. What I do not understand in any way shape or form is the complete denial of the AHL from allowing teams to have the choice to review a play to see whether or not that is or isn’t goaltender interference. These are plays that directly impact the results of games. Not reviewable. For the AHL to say it has anything else to do with cost effectiveness is a gutless lie and moments such as last night, negating any team’s right or ability to challenge a play that has a direct impact in the result of a game, makes the league look like a joke. Do all teams and their respective arenas need similar-like video equipment and angles to fairly allow for contentious moments to be reviewed? Yes. Do some already have that capability? Yes. So why the league can’t tighten up and be reflective and reactive to the way it’s parent league can behave is beyond me.
What can then be said of the Admirals after that moment is pretty much what has already been said for a month or so now: they were flat. The second period against the Wild looked like some stretch or period of any game since November that the Admirals have been battling through. The Wild ran them ragged, hemmed them into their own half of the ice, kept the ice tilted on the long change – which felt like a short change for the way the Wild were playing approximate to their bench, and the Admirals were outshot 13-5. The late power-play goal from Sam Anas hurt considering there was only 1:22 left to play in the frame -but- it also felt long overdue.
Similar to the first period though I did like the immediate intent by the Admirals in the third period. It almost started off disastrous: Lindbäck stopped a two-on-one in the opening seconds of the period to keep things a one goal game. But the Admirals appeared to get their legs back under them and their heads firmly screwed back on. The puck movement and control was a lot better and more urgent. It’s what helped see them finally earn an equalizer and from a duo that in particular looked terrific last night: Trevor Murphy with the point shot and Emil Pettersson with the redirect. That team missed having scoring and playmaking depth down the middle. Pettersson looked really good in his return and it feels like we could see far bigger and better things if that line he centers with Frédérick Gaudreau and Anthony Richard sticks together for a long stretch. As for Murphy – I’d say he is the best defenseman on the roster right now given his consistency. Last night’s game it felt like he had the spark plug qualities going and really elevated the Admirals game in some of the lesser stretches and he’s doing that on both sides of the puck. It felt right that both Murphy and Pettersson linked up to make that game tied at 2-2.
Lastly regarding the overtime loss: what would this team’s record be without Lindbäck in net this season? He has been the best player on the ice in pretty much every single game played this season. Too many times now he has needed to be. And a further too many times he has been the best player on the ice and it still didn’t matter in the result. Alex Carrier completely whiffed on a puck at the blueline while operating a power-play and Luke Kunin had a breakaway instantly. It was a borderline penalty shot based on setup. Lindbäck stopped him cold with a glove save – ice, ice, ice cold. The Admirals should have lost in regulation last night. Lindbäck helped see them take a point and provide a platform to have taken more than that.
~Scouting the Enemy~
All that is left for the Admirals to do is rebound, right? And what better way to do that than play against the Grand Rapids Griffins at the Van Andel Arena where they are 8-17-2-0 since 2012 in the regular season and playoffs. That shouldn’t be too hard, eh?
The Griffins are currently holding a record of 10-14-0-3 (23 points, 0.426 points percentage). That’s shockingly poor for the Griffins and has them in last place in the Central Division as well as the Western Conference. In fact, if you feel the Admirals recent run of form has been spotty, the Griffins are on a run of 2-7-0-2 in their last 11 games which includes going 0-4-0-1 at home.
Perhaps this is the perfect time for the Admirals to finally get one over the Griffins at the Van Andel Arena. While the Admirals earned a point in an overtime defeat last night the Griffins were beaten 6-3 on home ice against the Chicago Wolves. I think the storyline kind of writes itself. These are two teams not playing the way that they want to, or know that they are capable of, trying to get back on track. The Admirals aren’t suffering as badly as the Griffins but that should take away the challenge that the Griffins always present to the Admirals in every meeting.
Jared Coreau was the man in net for the Griffins last night. He stopped 19/25 shots on goal in the loss. He is really battling this season and I mean that in the worst sense: 7-8-0-1 record from 18 appearances, 3.06 goals against average, and 0.897 save percentage. Fun Fact. His battery-mate Tom McCollum is doing worse: 3-6-0-2 record from 11 appearances, 3.57 goals against average, and 0.889 save percentage. Both Coreau and McMollum have been yanked from a start and replaced by the other on two separate occasions.
It is baffling still to look at the rest of the Griffins roster and see such familiar names as the Calder Cup winning team a season ago but have so many underwhelming performers. Evgeny Svechnikov had 51 points (20 goals, 31 assists) in 74 games for the Griffins last season – he only has 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists) in 22 games this season. Robbie Russo had 32 points (7 goals, 25 assists) in 58 games last season with a plus/minus rating of +15. Russo this season is at 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) in 27 games while displaying a plus/minus rating of -10.
Perhaps the best and most dynamic player for the Griffins along this bumpy road has been Matt Puempel. And he was only acquired by the Detroit Red Wings organization at the end of October. In Puempel’s time with the Griffins he has produced at a point-per-game clip of 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists) in 18 games. That includes scoring 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists) in 2 games against the Admirals this season.
In case you missed it across our social media platforms: After last night’s game I did catch up with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason as well as Pettersson and Lindbäck. These were last night’s post-game comments following the overtime defeat to the Wild at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
What are your expectations for tonight’s road game against the Grand Rapids Griffins and did last night’s performance by the Milwaukee Admirals lessen those expectations? Could the challenge such as overcoming an opponent and venue that the Admirals have been so poor against actually serve as an appropriate catalyst for an improved game for the Admirals?
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