The Milwaukee Admirals started off their West Coast road trip doing what they have done so well all season: win in a shootout. The 2017-18 Admirals are the first team in the AHL to have gathered 10 wins or more in the shootout over the course of the season since 2013-14 when five teams hit the mark. What followed the was a shutout loss and an effort that pitter-pattered out for a consecutive defeat.
There are twelve games remaining in the Admirals regular season schedule. They are in sixth place of the Central Division and are starting off a huge week with three-games set against the three teams directly ahead of them in the standings. It starts tonight with the team currently resting in the fourth and final playoff spot, the Grand Rapids Griffins. There can be no more lull stretches. The Admirals need to get back to a playoff mindset if they are to have playoff hockey at all this season. If they falter this week it could be the final dagger to the heart for this season.
The Griffins have a record of 33-24-1-6 (73 points, 0.570 points percentage). When looking around the Central Division and the hottest teams going right now: the Griffins aren’t quite one of them. It’s more so the second placed Chicago Wolves or the fifth placed Rockford IceHogs who are on a roll.
The Griffins are 5-6-0-0 in their last 11 games. The path ahead for them doesn’t get easier, either. The Griffins will be finishing their last 12 games of the season with 9 road games. Mind you, the Griffins have the second best road record (0.621) in the Western Conference.
It hasn’t exactly been a typical season that we’ve become accustomed to seeing for the Griffins. I’m curious how big of a factor the Detroit Red Wings are in all of this given the talented prospect depth from within has started to go up but struggle along the way. The Red Wings are towards the bottom of the NHL’s Eastern Conference and are currently on a run of 0-9-1 in their last 10 games. It’s been a harsh year for all involved with the Red Wings but there is some learning going on for younger talent. Not to mention, if the Griffins manage to keep a playoff spot, they will get a decent set of reinforcements for a defense of their Calder Cup – much like last season – as the Red Wings will not be involved in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
When these two last met it was at the Van Andel Arena and might have been one of the most complete performances of the season by the Admirals. Troy Grosenick was making his Admiral debut but the effort in front of him was mistake-free, confident, fast, and -above all- a team playing as a team. The Admirals won 4-1 and scored first in all three periods along the way. What is now most notable though is that the Admirals went 2/2 on the power-play in that game. They have gone 1/28 on the power-play ever since.
In that contest the talk at the time was the Red Wings trade of Petr Mrázek and subsequent recall of Jared Coreau. That meant the goaltending duo for the Griffins became Tom McCollum and Matej Machovsky. It has been predominantly McCollum ever since that trade and recall happened. Machovsky has played in just 3 games since being recalled to the Griffins from the Toledo Walleye in the ECHL. His last start came in the last meeting against the Admirals: he stopped 26/30 shots in the Griffins loss.
So, how has McCollum played with that extra bit of freedom to perform with no more Coreau and not much confidence in Machovsky? Since Coreau’s recall McCollum has made 9 starts, been pulled from net once, has a record of 4-5-0-0, a 2.68 goals against average and 0.920 save percentage, and earned a 21-save shutout on the road against the Hershey Bears. He’s doing his part really well.
Evgeny Svechnikov was recalled to the Red Wings shortly after the last meeting between the Admirals and Griffins. There is still a ton of attacking talent for Grand Rapids to lean on. Matt Puempel has been money all season long in the AHL and has 52 points (21 goals, 31 assists) in 50 games. Ben Street is directly on point with him: 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) in 61 games.
Puempel leads the head-to-head scoring for the Griffins against the Admirals by tallying 9 points (4 goals, 5 assists) in 7 games. Across the line there is Bobby Butler who has 9 points (5 goals, 4 assists) in 8 games against the Griffins. Butler has yet to score a goal with the Admirals since returning from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. This 9 game goalless drought for Butler is the longest in his AHL career within a seasonal campaign. Should he go without a goal today he would match a career low from the end of 2010-11 to the start of the 2012-13 season. He played all of 2011-12 with the Ottawa Senators in the NHL between that gap.
What are your expectations for tonight’s game? Is this week the pivot point between the Milwaukee Admirals being a playoff team this season or not? How crucial is it that the Admirals are finishing this season with more home games in-hand than most of the teams they’ll be hunting down in the Central Division?
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