The Milwaukee Admirals were on an upswing following big changes around the NHL Trade Deadline. And then they hit a snag offensively. The Admirals are on a three-game losing streak where they have only averaged a goal per game and their power-play has gone 0/12. Tonight they will play against a Rockford IceHogs team that has held the Admirals to 12 shots in regulation in the last two meetings. The Admirals need to reignite their offense is urgent if they are to keep their pursuit of playoff hockey alive.
The IceHogs enter tonight’s game with a record of 33-24-4-4 (74 points, 0.569 points percentage). They are in fifth place of the Central Division which seats them ahead of the Admirals (0.531). The IceHogs have gone 7-1-1-1 across their last ten-games and have an active point streak that spans seven-games (5-0-1-1). The lone regulation and shootout loss in that run come thanks to the Admirals.
It has been an impressive run for the IceHogs. What makes it even more so is that they are doing it as the Chicago Blackhawks have started cherry-picking players from their AHL affiliate to see who can stick in the NHL. The Blackhawks have been eliminated from post-season contention already. Now they’re looking at the likes of John Hayden, Matthew Highmore, and Andreas Martinsen.
That has meant the IceHogs have had to lean on first-year pros, Anthony Louis and Tyler Sikura. In March, Louis has had 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) in 8 games while Sikura has had 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists). They have also seen really good goaltending from the likes of Collin Delia who has been on a run of 6-2-2-1 in 11 games since the start of February where he has a 2.74 goals against average, 0.877 save percentage, and earned a 34-save shutout against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
In an entertaining turn of events. On Wednesday the news came out the Victor Ejdsell was assigned by the Blackhawks from HV71 in Sweden to the IceHogs. This is someone we covered extensively since he signed with the Nashville Predators up until he was traded as part of the Ryan Hartman deal. It is unclear whether or not he will in fact make his North American Pro Debut tonight against players he would have met at 2018 Nashville Predators Rookie Development Camp or not. Still, it is a sight you’ll need to get used to seeing. The Viking has arrived in Rockford. And does so after scoring 34 points (20 goals, 14 assists) in 50 games with HV71 a season after having been named the MVP of the Swedish second division.
Looking back once again at those Central Division standings. The IceHogs have played an equal number of games as the Admirals. If the Admirals were to win tonight they would still remain in sixth place but narrow the gap to the IceHogs by 3 points. Elsewhere, the fourth placed Grand Rapids Griffins will be playing tonight on the road against the third placed Iowa Wild. You should be rooting for one of those two to plummet at this point and allow for the fourth placed opening to be further within reach. The Manitoba Moose (0.652) and Chicago Wolves (0.623) have checked out up top. The Admirals will need fourth place to gravitate down for them all while they need to get on a run.
This is what the Admirals looked like during Thursday practice at the MSOE Kern Center. There are some adjustments that have been made – namely rotating Anthony Richard and Harry Zolnierczyk as well as Mark McNeill and Mark Zengerle. It was stated by head coach Dean Evason after Tuesday’s game that both Justin Kirkland and Fred Allard are “not even close” to a return from injury and would not be back this weekend. Allard did briefly skate on his own at yesterday’s practice but was fast to leave the ice.
What you hope for is that this change reignites the Admirals offense. The IceHogs in the month of March against the Admirals have been terrifying and equally mystifying.
The speed in which the IceHogs play, both offensively and defensively, is relentless and causes the Admirals major issues. The Admirals ability to hold the puck is weak because of the pressure mounted and their passing to avoid it gets swamped by quick sticks or looping waves of bodies in the neutral zone. The game needs to be won there. If the Admirals can’t cut through the neutral zone they will continue to struggle offensively against the IceHogs.
Where things stay intriguing though? For as few of shots on goal that the Admirals produced against the IceHogs in these last two outings – they won them both. The Admirals desperately need to find a way to move out of defense-only but doing so without creating structural problems in transition should the pace flip back in their face. The Admirals need to find a balance in offense and defense. With how the IceHogs play, and the current form that they are in, it could be a highly dangerous game for the Admirals to start cheating on defense to find their offense. But, hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. The Admirals are running out of time if they want to make the playoffs.
What are your expectations for tonight’s game? Are you concerned that the Milwaukee Admirals search for offense will require finding it against an opponent who, results aside, has had their number recently? Will the Admirals lineup shake-up prove beneficial tonight against the Rockford IceHogs?
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