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Milwaukee Musings: The Weekend of Seven Defenders

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Get us to the All Star break.

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week the Admirals finished up their two-game road swing to Manitoba with another loss to the last-place Moose. Milwaukee was blanked in Michigan on Saturday by the Griffins but responded with a shutout of their own on Sunday at Chicago and a dominant win over San Antonio on Wednesday.

This week the Admirals will welcome Iowa and Manitoba to Wisconsin for two more crucial divisional games as Milwaukee looks to move up from fifth place and extend their lead over San Antonio, Rockford, and Manitoba.

Headlines & Standings

Central Division Standings - 1/23
theAHL.com
  • Last Monday, Nashville made a trade sending Connor Brickley to the Rangers in exchange for AHL veteran Cole Schneider. Schneider has two assists in three games with the Admirals to date.
  • On Saturday, Milwaukee forward Colin Blackwell was recalled by Nashville to appear in two games over the long weekend while Ryan Johansen was suspended. Blackwell has seven goals in 14 games in an injury-plagued season with the Admirals.
  • On Friday, Admirals’ goaltender Troy Grosenick was added to the AHL Central All Star roster replacing Ice Hogs goalie Collin Delia. On Sunday, Grosenick earned his first shutout with Milwaukee and his 100th AHL victory.
  • In last week’s Musings, I noted that Eeli Tolvanen suffered an upper-body injury around his return from the WJC. It has now been clarified that he suffered the injury with several games to go at the tournament. Tolvanen returned to the lineup for Milwaukee’s past two contests and was held pointless.

Weekly Game Recap

January 16: Milwaukee Admirals @ Manitoba Moose

Box Score - 1/16
theAHL.com

Nicholas Baptiste opened the scoring for Milwaukee before the Moose responded with two textbook goals: one with space in the slot and the other with traffic in front. Manitoba added a marker on the power play for the only tally of the second.

The Moose added their fourth on a three-on-one in the third period, and Nicholas Baptiste added his second of the night.

January 19: Milwaukee Admirals @ Grand Rapids Griffins

Box Score - 1/19
theAHL.com

The Admirals had a dominant first period with a 11-shot margin, but the Griffins responded with two controlled periods of their own, blanking the Admirals 3-0.

January 20: Milwaukee Admirals @ Chicago Wolves

Box Score - 1/20
theAHL.com

This was quite the critical win for Milwaukee and they did it in dominant fashion. Nicholas Baptiste scored the only goal of the first period and his third of the week off a nice play from newcomer Cole Schneider. Anthony Richard added his 14th on a beautiful wrist shot in the second period; Vince Pedrie recorded his first goal as an Admiral to add insurance in the third; and Mathieu Olivier made it 4-0 with about four minutes to go.

January 22: Milwaukee Admirals vs. San Antonio Rampage

Box Score - 1/22
theAHL.com

Wednesday saw another offensive explosion for the Admirals and nearly everyone was involved. Cole Schneider stayed hot with the first goal of the game and added an assist later. The Admirals added two more goals in the first period, both courtesy of scoring ace Anthony Richard.

Yakov Trenin opened the second-period scoring with a nice wrist shot down the center of the slot, Eeli Tolvanen found the score sheet with the fifth goal of the game from a nice dish by Cole Schneider, and Anthony Richard capped off his hat trick closing out the second with a 6-1 score.

Trenin added his second in the third period in a dominant win where 12 Admirals recorded a point including four each from Trenin and Richard.

Trending Up

The Power Play: Positive news about a power play? Bizarre, I know. Over the past four outings, the Admirals power play has converted four times on 16 chances—good for a solid 25 percent rate.

So what is so effective about the Admirals’ man-advantage? I don’t think it’s anything special, but acquiring someone so effective at drawing plays side to side like Cole Schneider has been helps. One thing I have noticed is the use of a “bumper”. Nashville fans probably see Craig Smith most frequently in this position, but the Admirals treat one of their defenders as a forward here to either pass to either side of the Royal Road or take a shot themselves, and there is still traffic in front. This leaves one defender at the point as a “rover” to cover the entire blue line.

Here you see Alex Carrier in this position. Although he isn’t utilized on the goal, notice how he draws three defenders closer to him, opening up the net-front. If one of the forwards on the wing wants to cheat down in the circles, this unit can cause teams fits.

Here’s another example. Allard helps draw the penalty killers to the near dot and gives Blackwell plenty of space to operate and score.

Trending Down

The Bottom-Six: The Admirals went with an 11-forward, 7-defender lineup twice this week against Grand Rapids and Chicago. This was partially due to the recall of Colin Blackwell, but Coach Taylor stuck with that decision on Sunday against Chicago after Alex Overhardt was recalled from Atlanta.

Justin Kirkland moved up to Blackwell’s spot leaving Trenin, Pendenza, Olivier, Magwood, and Gregoire as the bottom-five forwards over the weekend. Phillip Di Giuseppe, Tanner Jeannot, and Tyler Gaudet have all missed the past three games.

Outside of Trenin—who should be getting much more ice time—those four players are averaging just over eight points each on the season. Pendenza has played well, with six points in 12 games.

I am actually very impressed the 11-forward experiment last two games, and am happy it did. It’s something that is worth experimenting more—especially with two defenders that can act as excellent rovers (Allard and Donovan)—but a healthy supporting cast of forwards will certainly benefit Milwaukee.

Final Thoughts

Milwaukee has two quick games before the All Star break where Matt Donovan and Troy Grosenick will head to Springfield, MA to represent the Admirals. Milwaukee has struggled without key players in the lineup and they are missing quite a few: Blackwell, Pyrochta, Allard, Gaudet, Jeannot and Di Giuseppe. The race to the playoffs will be brutal, but the Admirals will have some help. 19 of their final 32 games are at home without any major distant road trips.

The offensive production expected out of some players is finally coming to fruition. Cole Schneider has really brought out the best in Nicholas Baptiste, who is on fire, as Rachel astutely pointed out. This team is much more diverse offensively with Schneider in the lineup and with true scorers on at least three lines.

And there are players at the bottom of the lineup that have stepped up, especially Mathieu Olivier. He only has 10 points in 35 games, but has honed his skills as a penalty killer and an effective neutral zone disruption.

The All Star weekend is always a fun watch. Catch the Skills Competition on Sunday night, the 27th, at 6 p.m. CST on AHLTV and NHL Network, and the All Star Challenge on Monday night, the 28th, at 6 p.m. CST.

All statistics are courtesy of theAHL.com and eliteprospects.com.