The latest buzz phrase to come out of Milwaukee Admirals-land is, “play the right way.” Sounds simplistic doesn’t it? Yet, it is this motto and playing style that is showing up on the ice in recent games and has paid off massively. The Admirals are currently on a four game winning streak and owe much of that success to a streamlined approach to the game.
When Pontus Åberg was sat out of the lineup in the Admirals final road game of 2014, when Triston Grant was a healthy scratch for two games, and when Brendan Leipsic missed the Ads last two games it was because they weren’t making the right plays. It would seem that too much skill at the forward spot had gotten into the minds of players who were being caught out for doing individualistic plays and turning over the puck. As a consequence, head coach Dean Evason was forced to use his last resort method of taking away ice time to have his players, even a veteran such as Grant, sit and watch the game from the stands.
“It’s part of the process,” said Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason. “We sat out Pontus Åberg, healthy. We sat out Triston Grant, healthy. Part of the learning process. Even for an old dog like [Grant]. He had to have a couple of games to play the right way. [Leipsic] is the same way. He needed a couple of games to hopefully sink in how he needs to play.Back to playing the right way. Not playing one-on-one. Not being too cute, too pretty. Do the right things. Play the right way. Sometimes it is a real positive thing to sit up there. The game is slow from sitting up in the stands and you realize some things that you’re doing on the ice you shouldn’t be doing. You can talk. You can teach with video. And ultimately, if it doesn’t sink in, coaches have one real strong tool they can use and that’s taking ice time away. Nobody wants to sit out. Nobody wants to sit on the bench.”
After returning to the lineup following their sit downs both Åberg and Grant have responded. Åberg scored two goals in his first game back and Grant has produced 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists). More importantly, they are a combined +7 on the ice since their returns.
The case and point for the Admirals simplified game making a big impact was their back-to-back victories over the Midwest Division leading Rockford IceHogs. After falling down 2-0 on home ice, the Admirals stormed back with four unanswered goals to win 4-2 over the IceHogs and outshot them 28-12 from the second period to the end of the game. The following night was a goaltending dynamo performance between Michael Leighton and Marek Mazanec. The fact remained, though. The Admirals outworked, outdefended, and outshot the IceHogs 35-27 before Austin Watson scored the game’s only goal in overtime.
Playing smarter with the puck all-around by the team has been a benefit to the team’s defense being able to make plays up to their forwards who are being instructed to put pucks on net and crash for rebounds. Simple but effective. This has eased some of the torturous pressure that was dumped on the Admirals goaltenders in December to hold the fort during a frenzied effort out in front of them. The result? Two shutouts in two nights with two different goaltenders in net.
Magnus Hellberg, who was selected to represent the Admirals for the 2015 AHL All Star Classic, recorded his ninth career shutout with the Ads in a 5-0 thrashing of the Charlotte Checkers. He stopped all thirty-one shots he faced and the Admirals now have a shutout streak that stands at 129:59 of ice time and counting.
“I had to try to keep [Mazanec’s] pace,” laughed Magnus Hellberg. “We’re in a good streak right now and we played great as a team. We’ve played some really good hockey.
Viktor Arvidsson was a human highlight reel against the Checkers. He scored twice to make it twelve goals for him in the AHL this season and both of his goals on the night were brilliant. His first goal saw him skate in from the right wing on the backhand, spin counter clock-wise, and toss a wrister in off the spin. His second goal was the final dagger on a rough night for Charlotte’s John Muse in net. Arvidsson made a huge swooping power move on the right wing in towards the net, dodged a poke check, and maintained puck control to roof a backhander over the down and out netminder.
Things are trending upwards right now for the Admirals. They suffered four straight losses and responded with four straight wins. The results being what they’ve been around their division has seen the leap from fourth place to second place with games in hand over the division leading IceHogs. The next set of games for the Admirals will see them take a three game road trip: Jan. 14 @ Hamilton Bulldogs… Jan. 16 @ Utica Comets… Jan. 17 @ Adirondack Flames.