Chatterbox, Vol. 244

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

The Milwaukee Admirals have been on a rather good run of form lately. They even managed to go into the Van Andel Arena on Wednesday night and rally back to beat the Grand Rapids Griffins 4-3. An issue for the Admirals this season has been sustaining positive momentum swings such as that result. We all saw immediately last night that things weren’t going to carry over. The Griffins won 5-2 in front of a record crowd for the Admirals at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. The damage was done in the final five minutes of the first period.

Starts for the Admirals have been a touchy subject in 2017-18. We’re now 40 games into this season. The Admirals have been outshot by their opponent in the first period 25 times and 429-349 overall. The Admirals have also been outscored by opponents in the first period 15 times and 37-29 overall. The Admirals -time and time again- are placing themselves in a position of weakness out of the gates and needing to rally back from sluggish starts.

While I wouldn’t necessarily classify last night’s game as a sluggish start it was clear early that the Griffins had the edge in pace. The Admirals were beaten to the point of attack often and the Griffins started to play a direct game with bodies crowding the front of the net. Anders Lindbäck would probably want that shorthanded goal back. But there really isn’t much he could do with the other two goals against in the first period. That was all down to the Griffins generating traffic and out-muscling the Admirals atop the crease.

If that wasn’t enough the backbreaking manner of the Griffins crushing the Admirals momentum before they could get a breather and reset or drink in a good moment was the death-stroke on last night’s game. There are -painfully- too many examples.

The Admirals have a poor start, sure, but they were moments away from heading into the first intermission down 2-0. Jack Dougherty gets called for hooking. Griffins score a power-play goal with 11 seconds remaining in the period.

Justin Kirkland, who has been snakebitten all season long in an effort to score his first goal of the season, splits out wide on a two-on-one shorthanded attack with Mark Zengerle. The former Griffins forward sauces a pass to the tape of Kirkland out on the right wing and hammers a one-timer past Tom McCollum for a shorthanded goal and -finally- that first goal of the season after a drought of 40 regular season games in the AHL without a goal. The Admirals are still on the penalty kill. The Griffins score a power-play goal 49 seconds later.

Anthony Richard scores a gritty goal and gets the Griffins lead back down to a two-goal margin. The Admirals were able to get back from a two-goal deficit against the Griffins on Wednesday night. With the right momentum and energy exiting the second period and to start the final frame of regulation the Admirals could well have repeated their three-goal third period as they had on Wednesday. And then Eric Tangradi scores with 12.1 seconds remaining in the second period.

What most are going to point at here is that this is the same old story of the Admirals against the Griffins. While that story arc is my least favorite over the past handful of seasons? These sort of “shoot self in the foot” moments aren’t routine by the Admirals – not even this season with all its ups and downs. The problem remains to be that opening twenty-minutes. By having that sort of a start against a team as good as the Griffins? You’re asking for problems. In fact, it really doesn’t matter who you’d play if affording an opposition those kind of opportunities in attack. The Admirals need to clean up defensively, allow Lindbäck to see the puck clearly, and start better managing puck possession. What they get tonight is the chance to correct a lot of mistakes and swiftly rid themselves of last night’s result.

Somethings shouldn’t be swept under the rug from last night. There were a few real silver lining moments that should bode well for far beyond this weekend.

Kirkland finally getting that goal especially stands out. He was becoming this season’s Max Görtz where I was convinced someone had put a curse out on him. Kirkland was so close to getting goals throughout this season and kept missing. I’ve felt once he gets one that he can finally relax again and start finding the back of the net with better regularity. I know Vladislav Kamenev isn’t centering him this season alongside Adam Payerl – but Kirkland had 21 points (9 goals, 12 assists) in 56 games in 2016-17. To get him back and going would be a great boost.

I also don’t think it is coincidence that Kirkland getting going coincided with the return of Yakov Trenin. The recently turned 21-year old from Chelyabinsk, Russia had missed the last 24 games due to an injury sustained back in Cleveland on 11/18/17. That had to have been massively disappointing to effectively miss the first half of his first full pro season. Yet, the time to get back and going is now. He didn’t miss a beat in his return to game action. In his first shift he used his pace to negate an icing call. He then showed his great combination of strength and skill in attack. I’m sure there were timing issues after missing so much time out due to injury. That will be better today and as the games roll on.

Someone else that was very noticeable to me was Trevor Mingoia. As the game gets into its late stages you’d expect to see the veterans and high skill guys on the ice more. Often times the Admirals tend to stick towards the hot hands and the players or lines that are being effective. I couldn’t help but notice #24 on the ice often in that third period. He didn’t get on the scoresheet but I felt that was the best game he’s played with the Admirals. He was buzzing out on the ice and probably had three quality scoring chances all around the front of the net. Mingoia has now played in 7 games consecutively with the Admirals. That’s his longest run in the AHL. He is starting to show great strides. I’m hoping it starts showing up in offensive production next.

After last night’s game myself and Nicholas Hatch had the chance to speak with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason. We also spoke with Justin Kirkland, Trevor Mingoia, and Yakov Trenin. These were last night’s interviews following the defeat to the Griffins.

What were your thoughts on last night’s game? Despite their efforts on Wednesday night is this rivalry for the Milwaukee Admirals against the Grand Rapids always going to feel this grating? How important is it for the Admirals to quickly rebound later tonight in Iowa? Do you think Justin Kirkland scoring his first goal -and- the return of Yakov Trenin could start seeing the depth of the team start shining brighter?

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