Griffins: Scouting the Enemy

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

At this point numbers are unnecessary. Milwaukee Admirals fandom kind of understands when they see the Grand Rapids Griffins on the schedule that things are either going to be tight of not downright rough. That’s true at any venue. It’s especially true at the Van Andel Arena. These two are set to play in Grand Rapids tonight and then on a Concert Night in Milwaukee this Friday. Buckle up.

The Griffins enter tonight’s game with a record of 19-17-1-4 (43 points, 0.524 points percentage). If you want to really understand just how competitive the Central Division is this season you can look at these Griffins. Why? They’re in sixth place in the division right now with that record. The difference between them and the Admirals, currently sitting in second place, is a matter of 0.055 in points percentage. It’s always been one of the best top to bottom divisions in the AHL. This season, save for the woeful Cleveland Monsters, it is impossible to argue for a different division that is this darn good.

What’s fascinating about a lot of the teams in this mid-pack race within the Central Division is a lot are playing at their best right now. The Chicago Wolves have been solid. The Admirals are really starting to find and carry momentum from one game into the next. And the Griffins are 8-2-0-0 in their last 10 games. It feels on any given week the placement of who is where in the Central Division standings can change all over the place. While the Griffins might be in sixth place right now it wouldn’t be the strangest thing to see them around top come the AHL All-Star break. They’re playing great.

Matt Puempel continues to produce at a high rate since being acquired by the Detroit Red Wings earlier this season from the New York Rangers organization. He is the Griffins leading scorer with 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) in 33 games. For someone that picked up 9 points (6 goals, 3 assists) in 27 games with the Rangers in the NHL a season ago it feels overdue for him to get a look up top with the Red Wings. At least, I think it would a good Birthday gift for the guy who turns 25-years old this time next week.

In addition to Puempel’s efforts across the board in the AHL this season – he is the leading scorer of this head-to-head series. Puempel has tallied 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) in 4 games. On the flip side, the Admirals leading scorer Bobby Butler is also leading the charge for his team in this match-up. Butler has 29 points (17 goals, 12 assists) in 38 games this season. Butler has 4 points (3 goals, 1 assist) in 5 games against the Griffins this season – a feat actually matched by Harry Zolnierczyk as well.

Jared Coreau‘s recent success in net for the Griffins has been making a big difference. Since 12/23/17, Coreau has a record of 7-1-0-1 in 9 starts while displaying a 1.97 goals against average and 0.929 save percentage. In his career against the Admirals, during both regular season and in the playoffs, the 26-year old goaltender has gone 17-6-0-0 in 23 starts (1 relief appearance) with a 1.74 goals against average, 0.936 goals against average, and 3 shutouts. He has defeated the Admirals in all 3 starts he has had against them this season.

A storyline to follow for the Admirals will be the state of their roster. Anders Lindbäck will be back in net. That’s always a welcome sight. Yet, Frédérick Gaudreau was recalled by the Nashville Predators yesterday. He played in last night’s 1-0 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights which featured a 43-save shutout from Juuse Saros and also a hit to the head of Ryan Johansen delivered by William Carrier. At the moment Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson are both on injured and on the comeback trail. This string of injuries is stretching the Predators very thin at forward and it would be likely that Gaudreau remains with the Predators and -depending on the status of Arvidsson and severity of Johansen’s injury- it could mean another recall could follow. Keep your eyes peeled for roster activity both today ahead of the Admirals game and tomorrow ahead of the Predators contest the Arizona Coyotes at the Bridgestone Arena.

What are your expectations in this two-game set between the Milwaukee Admirals and Grand Rapids Griffins? What is it about that Griffins that always seems to get the edge in this match-up? Are the Griffins under the Admirals skin and is this at all almost a mental matter as much as a match-up problem? Will a slightly weakened Admirals forward group mean less “attack” and more “defense” which could make this an ugly game that the Admirals could use to grind out a win?

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