December hasn’t been too kind for the Milwaukee Admirals. They had twelve games slated for the month and finished the 2014 portion of their schedule last night. Their record on the month was 3-6-2-1 (9 points) and they’ve fallen to fourth place in the Midwest Division. Would the season end today the Admirals would be holding onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
When we last left off on the New Brew the Admirals were on the upswing having finished off a four game road trip that saw them pick up three wins. Despite the solid results gained on the road it was a deflating return to reality when the Chicago Wolves showed up in Milwaukee last Friday. The Amtrak Rivals thumped the Admirals 6-2 in a night of horrors for Magnus Hellberg.
The Admirals Swedish goaltender entered that contest with the best goals against average and save percentage in the AHL. After he allowed five goals from seventeen shots he was yanked from the net during the second intermission and saw him fall to third in GAA and fourth in SV%.
If there was to be any silver lining from that contest it was defenseman Jimmy Oligny burying his first career goal as a professional hockey player. It was a great individual play by him as he prevented a clear attempt by Jeremy Welsh from escaping the blue line. Oligny turned and threw a strong wrister past Jordan Binnington to collect his first pro goal.
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After that performance the Admirals put in a seven hour day of watching video and working out. It got the players attention. And the roster shake up that would occur on Monday night’s road game against the Iowa Wild would also serve as a wake up call. Pontus Åberg, one of the top scorers for the Admirals, would be healthy scratched as a means to send him a message that he needs to improve his work rate.
“He’s got such gifts to score goals,” said Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason of Åberg. “He’s just learning how to play the pro game. That was just an opportunity for us to give him a wake up call. As coaches you go through a process. You show video. You ask him to play the right way. You watch a few games and, if he does it, great. You allow that to happen. If he doesn’t then the only other step a coach has is to not play him. That means either not play him within a game or to actually sit him out – which is harsher.”
The road game on Monday was also the return of Viktor Stålberg in an Admirals uniform. The Swede spent four games with the Admirals on a conditioning assignment from Nashville earlier in the season and registered 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists) during that stint. He sadly was on the receipt of a knee-on-knee hit by Grand Rapids Griffins defenseman Brennan Evans which sidelined him from game action for well over a month.
Going against all that was changed ahead of the game. The Admirals ended up losing 3-2 in overtime to the Iowa Wild. Odd stat, the Wild have the worst record in the AHL: 11-19-1-1 (24 points). Of their eleven wins on the season four have come at the chagrin of the Admirals.
Viktor Arvidsson was the feature man on the night for the Admirals in Iowa. He scored two goals and now has nine goals this season – five of which were scored against the Wild.
The unfortunate story of the road loss to Iowa was the Admirals taking costly penalties that burned them late. The Ads had a 2-1 lead late in the game but Oligny was caught for a holding the stick penalty. That lead to an equalizing power-play goal for Jordan Schroeder. Stålberg gets called for holding in the overtime period. And Schroeder gives the Wild the win. It was the first lead the Wild had the entire game.
Luckily the Admirals had the opportunity to rebound the very next night thanks to a very rare Monday-Tuesday two-in-two on the AHL schedule. They squared up with the Lake Erie Monsters – a team that brought out the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Admirals on the previous four game road trip. The result alluded the Admirals again. As they fell 5-4 in overtime.
A back breaking first period was the story of the contest. The Admirals came out sloppy and allowed the Monsters to take an early 3-0 lead through two power-play goals from only six shots. A finger can also be wagged at the Ads struggling home power-play which saw their run hit thirty-two straight chances without a goal on the man-advantage.
If there was such a thing as a moral victory though it came from what the Admirals were able to accomplish from the second period forward. The Ads clawed all the way back from a three-goal hole to tie things up before allowing a late goal, needing to bring the extra attacker on, and scoring in the final minute to force overtime.
The Swedish connection of Stålberg and Åberg were the catalysts needed to fight back into the game. Stålberg scored his exact stat-line from his previous conditioning assignment in one night. Meanwhile, Åberg returned to the lineup and delivered a perfect response to being held out the night prior. He scored two goals and played heads up defense to score both of his goals.
“I haven’t worked hard enough the last couple of games,” said Pontus Åberg in regards to being scratched on Monday night. “I wanted to work hard and it worked out.”
In typical fashion at this point, the game-winning overtime goal scored by the Monsters’ Mitchell Heard was just a matter of the puck bouncing against the Admirals. Paul Carey‘s primary assist to Heard wasn’t even meant for him. It was heading to the backdoor of Marek Mazanec and the Czech goaltender bought that pass as did the Admirals defense. Yet, Heard intercepted his own teammate and had an open net to pop in a backhander to close out the game.
“What do you do,” Evason asked, “It’s the bounces in the game. I mean, they created it. We could have picked up the guy that stole the puck but it happens like bang-bang and you don’t realize the speed at which they’re going. We slowed it down on the videotape and it’s like, how didn’t we pick him up? Well, it wasn’t going to him. That’s why we didn’t pick it up.”
December can stay in the past as far as the Admirals are concerned. There were some positive performances here and there but the entirety of the month has been cast in the shadows of defeat. Perhaps the fight, discovered in the second period Tuesday night to comeback from a 3-0 deficit, is just what the Admirals can take and carry into the new year.