I wasn’t going to say it on Friday. I wasn’t about to say it on Saturday. And I certainly wasn’t going to say it on Sunday. That might have jinxed it. Yet, today is Monday. The Milwaukee Admirals played three-games in three-days and they didn’t make a game changing mistake in any single play of those hockey games against great teams. Friday, 4-1 win against the Rockford IceHogs. Saturday, 4-1 win on the road against the Grand Rapids Griffins. Sunday, 3-2 overtime win against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. 180 minutes of structured, smart, and defensively sound Admirals hockey in the face of immense pressure. This was talked up by the coaching staff and players as one of the most important weekends of this season. They came together as team and succeeded.
I think a lot of attention can be made a bit of the two home games this weekend, and the first period form for the Admirals in both, but both are explainable and shot differential isn’t that alarming when the score doesn’t reflect its impact. Friday, the Admirals scored on their first shot of the night but only had a single shot after that in the first period. Yet, the IceHogs were the ones trailing after all of that.
What happened last night with the start from the Penguins was relentless to the point of near detriment to themselves. The Penguins did get a goal from Ethan Prow out of that first period. And, you know what, they darn well better have for peppering Anders Lindbäck with twenty shots on goal. There wasn’t much setup or clear cut chances for them in that opening period with all of those shots. They were just tilting the ice and sustaining zone time. The Admirals defense stayed composed on both occasions and then took a big step forward out of that first period.
The Penguins had outshot the Admirals 20-5 in the first period last night. The Admirals would adjust and outshoot the Penguins 15-14 in the second and third period combined. The Admirals did a much better job from the second period forward managing the Penguins time and space. An approach of “fire at will” became more of a thinking game by the Penguins as pressure from the Admirals defense shoved them wide. The Admirals beat them with persistence along the wall and heads up stick work.
That certainly isn’t to say the Penguins couldn’t have won that game. In fact, between the way the first period could have gone and how many quality scoring chances there actually were in three-on-three overtime, the Penguins should have won that game. There is just one key difference in the Admirals winning and losing last night: Lindbäck.
It hasn’t been the best of times for the Admirals this season but time and time again Lindbäck has been the team’s best player. He weathered the first period storm on both Friday and Sunday and did it in a calm fashion. It could have been easy for bits and pieces of this newly formed Admirals team to scramble and make some mistakes. Heck, there probably were a few lapses here and there but ultimately few stood out or proved costly. But Lindbäck didn’t panic or look flustered in net. You can also say the same of Troy in his Admirals debut in Grand Rapids on Saturday. Having goaltenders so composed is something that can be infectious to the defense and then up top to the forwards. That was what I saw this weekend. It started in net and then the entire team played and won as a team. It was really impressive.
To continue on specific players who have been impressive. Frédérick Gaudreau has been on an amazing run of form. He was our Admiral of the Month in February and is starting off March with stellar all-around play. I think things started to turn in the right direction for him towards the end of January. Since 1/27/18 he has 16 points (11 goals, 5 assists) in 16 games. And I can’t help but feel his work and presence is also doing wonders for Anthony Richard in his sophomore season.
Richard’s work rate this weekend was phenomenal. I often think sometimes he works and skates so fast that it can almost cause him to play or attack in a frenzied state instead of a cold and calculated one. The slower he works the zone sometimes the better off he is. His goal last night was great and featured another nice assist by Mark Zengerle -but- it was the hard work along the boards from Richard that made that entire sequence come together. He never stopped battling and then glided into a soft spot on the ice with his speed to allow for the one-timed setup. Richard had 16 points (4 goals, 12 assists) in 55 games as a first-year pro in 2016-17. He now has 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in 57 games in 2017-18. From one season to the next his plus/minus has climbed from -7 to +3. He is becoming a good option on the penalty kill and his transition ability got the Admirals a shorthanded goal last night – Richard to Gaudreau. Those two are doing a lot right at the moment. It’s a great way to get Tyler Gaudet up to speed in the Admirals lineup.
What comes next is a game I had circled regardless of where the Admirals were going to be in the standings after the last time they played. The Manitoba Moose are back in town and there is a ton of animosity built up heading into this game. This being a 10:30 AM CST start time with thousands of schools and noisy kids in attendance will only make for an awesome game to watch. The dynamite is ready. The Admirals are coming into that game with three of the best team performances of the season stamped out. Now we are waiting for the ker-blammo that follows. That’s going to be a fun one and the measuring stick game the Admirals now need to match after a weekend as they just had.
After last night’s game Nicholas Hatch and myself had the chance to speak with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason. We also heard from Lindbäck, Gaudreau, and Richard after last night’s shootout win. Here were the post-game interviews from the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
What did you think about the Milwaukee Admirals performance this weekend? Did the new players perform their part or do you feel the message sent by making those drastic moves had as big of an impact? Where do the Admirals go from here in net with Anders Lindbäck and Troy Grosenick now pushing each other for starts?
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