My friends, it has happened. The Milwaukee Admirals won a hockey game. Yes, it was by a narrow margin and required a shootout to do it. What stands out -by far- was that the Admirals stamped down one of their more complete defensive efforts of the season and did it against a Manitoba Moose team that has mauled teams. The Admirals 3-2 shootout win over the Moose snapped the six-game losing streak but importantly established a launch pad that the Admirals have needed to shoot back up into the right direction.
The first period and third period were brilliantly played by the Admirals. In fact, I feel that was as solid as the Admirals defense has played in a long time. Those pucks were out of their zone very fast and often forced Manitoba to play the full length of the ice in order to attempt reestablishment of their attacking zone. The Admirals made it hard on them. I feel as though that had an impact come overtime when the Moose looked a bit fatigued in transitional play.
Your lone negative, if any, would be the Jimmy Oligny slashing call that he worked up to becoming an unsportsmanlike conduct and a ten-minute misconduct by relentlessly arguing with the officials over. I’ve never seen anyone ever successfully disagree with an call on the ice and get it overturned once they’re a leg into the penalty box. Oligny’s penalty trickled into the second period and resulted in -just enough time- for the Moose to make a well calculated rush play that beat the Admirals for an equalizing goal.
That said, Oligny and friends were good. This was a game were the defensive group had minimal mistakes. That was one of the smoother games Joonas Lyytinen played. Alex Carrier played really well and, alongside him, Fred Allard also looked sharp. The same can also be said defensively for the forwards. This was a game where you can help but appreciate all that Pierre-Cédric Labrie brings to the table. He brought a lot of pressure to the defensive zone with an active stick and finishing checks. Yet, all forwards did well in creating quick outlets up and out of their zone.
When this game did lag it happened to be the second period where six penalty infractions were called. I like to believe I tip-toe away from the human element that is officiating on most occasions but the way these two games against the Moose were called was a trainwreck.
Saturday night, you had an officiating crew that didn’t know the rules. Last night, you had Mark Zengerle called for tripping one Cameron Schilling that was already falling over of his own volition. I now forget the exact player of record -but- the Moose had someone playing a puck while they were exiting the penalty box – while still in the penalty box. The Admirals bench erupted after that yet no call was to be had. What call was had? Yakov Trenin for goaltender interference despite being cross-checked full force by the Moose backcheck right into Eric Comrie. It was little moments such as that, the shorthanded goal, where it felt as though the game could sour into heartbreak as so many recently have. Thankfully, the Admirals penalty kill went 6/6 against the best power-play group in the Central Division and mitigated what could have been game altering bad officiating.
The Milwaukee Admirals in the shootout this season is becoming more and more fun to kick back and watch happen. They are now unbeaten in six shootout contests. That is the most amount of shootout wins in the AHL this season and only two other teams (San Diego Gulls and San Antonio Rampage) are unbeaten to this point in the season come shootout time. Justin Kirkland is a perfect 5/5 in the shootout this season – and leads the AHL in shootout goals. Anders Lindbäck has faced 13 shots in the shootout and only allowed 3 shootout goals against. Of goaltenders in the AHL who have faced 13 shootout attempts or more this season only Connor Ingram of the Syracuse Crunch has a better shootout save percentage (0.778) than Lindbäck (0.769).
This was the last outing for Bobby Butler before departing to PyeongChang. Boy, did he make it count. I’m sure it wouldn’t have felt the best to join Team USA on the back of such a deflating run of team and individual form. Butler was stuck at 199 points in his AHL career for four-games as the Admirals were on a six-game losing streak. He gets a goal at even strength for the Admirals and put them out in front in the first period. The milestone moment is accomplished. And then followed the team accomplishment of seeing a big progression take place before he had to pack up gear and take his flight a few hours after the completion of the shootout win.
There are now two questions that come to mind. Can the Milwaukee Admirals sustain a performance such as this into the three-in-three weekend? Who will step up and fill the production of Butler for the next several weeks while he competes in the Winter Olympics? Mark McNeill might have made his Admirals debut last night but he isn’t really playing the same type of game that Butler does.
The team itself will need to adjust and play games similarly to last night’s, being smart defensively and striking with a simple and direct offense, if it is to move forward and be in a better place for when Butler returns. McNeill can prove to be a really solid two-way forward for the Admirals this season once he settles in. Though the entire team is going to have to rise to the challenge ahead. It worked last night against one of the best teams in the league. It can work against anybody. All the Admirals haven’t shown yet this season is a consistent approach to winning games. That’s the next step. And it needs to be solved without Butler in the mix.
After last night’s game Nicholas Hatch and myself had the chance to speak with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason. We then heard from Frédérick Gaudreau, Mark McNeill, and Bobby Butler. These were last night’s post-game interviews from the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
What were your thoughts on last night’s game? Does last night’s team performance by the Milwaukee Admirals matched up against the Manitoba Moose give you reason to believe the upswing is finally coming after all the ups and downs? Which Admirals will be key to filling in the void now left by Bobby Butler as he departs to join Team USA in South Korea?
Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along on Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.