In the Mid-Season Review I had said that the Milwaukee Admirals of 2017-18 are really hard to gauge. I’m not sure you can sum up the season better right now that how January is playing out before our very eyes. The Admirals went on their longest winning streak of the season, lasting four-games, and after a two-game tilt of up and down they are now on a three-game losing streak with all defeats coming inside of regulation. Last night’s 5-0 shutout loss to the Cleveland Monsters went beyond being “just one of those games” and was deflating to watch. It’s one thing to have bad bounces. It’s another thing to mentally switch off.
This season it has been difficult for the Admirals to get going out of the blocks in the first period. That often leads to them chasing from behind, needing to attack, and exposing their defense to transition play. What makes last night annoying from the beginning is that the Admirals had a really good first twenty minutes of hockey. The difference between the Admirals going into the first intermission with their chins up versus down boils down to two bounces. The Admirals only allowed two scoring chances in that first period and both came off of fluky bounces.
Miles Koules was driving to the net and had the puck swatted clean off of his tape. Where does the puck fall? Right in line with Terry Broadhurst as he followed the rush. Justin Scott dumps a puck into the Admirals zone. Anders Lindbäck heads back behind his net to negate the forecheck and get the Admirals breaking forward as he often does extremely well. The puck bucks hard off the end board’s kickplate and right back in front of a now vacant net where Brett Gallant gets a tap in.
In reality, the Monsters really only forced one scoring chance in that first period when Broadhurst scored. Also in reality, the Admirals went from a period in which they were working really well in a scoreless start to down 2-0 in a forty-four second span halfway through the frame. The Admirals were doing so many things right. The passing was crisp. The direct play and generating shots on target was showing good intent. That all takes a giant backstep between the ears when two bad bounces happen.
As soon as that second period started up the Admirals looked like they could continue to their game and creep back into the contest. They have overcome multi-goal deficits before in far less amount of time than two full-periods of hockey, right? That’s what they should have held to but then the first real blunder happens.
The Admirals are on the power-play and a puck back to Alex Carrier gets fumbled on a keep in attempt at the blueline. Justin Scott snaps the puck off Carrier and has a breakaway all the way from the Admirals blueline to Lindbäck. That is around the point in the game when the Admirals went from down 2-0 from bad bounces to being down 3-0 and not being able to generate any threatening offense of their own to claw back into the game.
Time rattles off. Admirals continued to run in place and never find traction. And the reflection of their frustration can best be summed up by Trevor Murphy taking a penalty for holding the stick while the Admirals were on a power-play and then mouthing off to the officials enough to get an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. What would follow is a power-play goal for Broadhurst with less than two minutes remaining in the second period where the Admirals walked off into the intermission trailing 4-0 at home to a team that had arrived with the second worst record in the AHL and had also produced the least amount of goals in the entire league.
When the third period was starting up and Jake Paterson was the man leading the Admirals out of the tunnel and to the ice? You knew the coaching staff wasn’t happy. Lindbäck has been the Admirals best player from the start of the season. At times he has been forced to play up to that level and the difference between the Admirals being remotely close to competing for a win in a contest came down to the answer of whether or not he was on that level. Last night? Lindbäck never really had a chance.
The first goal was tough. The second goal was a bad bounce off the end boards. The third goal was a clean breakaway. The fourth goal not only came on the power-play but as three Admirals penalty killers were running into each other and scrambling to recover to fend off a Broadhurst Bros. wing-to-wing, post-to-post setup. The Admirals hung Lindbäck out to dry. He didn’t deserve twenty more minutes of abuse. A fact that would turn its ugly head Paterson’s way four minutes into the third period.
This is where attention turns to post-game. It was a very long wait to get to the post-game interviews. Once permitted to get going I can safely say I haven’t been in a more somber Admirals locker room since they were swept out of the playoffs by the Grand Rapids Griffins last season on home ice. It was silent. It was rough. That team knows that they are better than that performance and how they have been playing. It is something you can very clearly hear in the voices of Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason, defenseman Jimmy Oligny, and forward Frédérick Gaudreau. They were beat badly -but- they beat themselves repeatedly in the loss. It’s becoming a bad theme of late.
It seems the last handful of years that the Admirals have these kind of stretches. What you hope for is for an eventual “rock bottom” moment where the only place to go from it is up. I can’t see that game against that opponent on home ice as anything other than rock bottom for the Admirals. That was bad.
What happens in the games ahead should say a lot about the mental approach of this team. I feel Gaudreau said it in his post-game interview best, “For sure, it is not the way we wanted to play tonight but now we have choices. It’s either we keep going the way we did tonight or we just bounce back, we figure stuff out, come to next practice, we work hard, same thing next game, then we just keep going like that – working hard.”
I hope that all happens to be the case. Gaudreau has always been a positive person and that attitude is what the team needs right now. That is especially true at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. A season ago that talk late heading towards the playoffs was making coming into Milwaukee a thing that intimidated teams. That just isn’t happening at all this season. The Admirals are now 8-8-2-0 (18 points, 0.500 points percentage) on home ice. They have a home goal differential of -15 (41 goals forced, 56 goals against) while having been shutout twice. And they have won three games at home from their past ten home games.
For the Admirals to use this as “rock bottom” and take the next step forward they can look no further than the next practice and the next game. The Admirals practice Thursday morning. The work starts there. The work continues onward until the Saturday tilt against the Ontario Reign. My hope is that the Admirals first home game since the 1999 that will be broadcast on live TV will show change. The focus right now is far less to do with the opponents. This is about the Admirals finally trying to turn a corner and stick to it. Saturday will be a night where the true character of the team needs to shine brightest.
What were your thoughts on last night’s game? Are we deep enough into the season to accept that the Milwaukee Admirals are going to be this turbulent until the finish line? What changes must be made to stop this constant sputtering of results?
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