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Milwaukee Musings: Texas Road(trip)house

I’m just as surprised they won some of these games as you are.

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Admirals went down to Texas this week in what was a crucial—per usual—set of games for their playoff chances. Walking away with five of eight points is good, not great. There were some dominant moments in San Antonio and back home against Texas but still some lingering concerns throughout the four games.

Milwaukee now sits tied for a playoff spot with Texas and Rockford, with a game up on the latter. This weekend sees three games in three days against Chicago and Grand Rapids. A minimum of four out of six points seems needed.

Headlines & Standings

Central Division Standings - 3/7
theAHL.com
  • On Saturday, forward Zach Magwood was recalled from a brief stint in Atlanta, and Matt Lane was recalled on Monday, leaving Milwaukee with 18 total forwards.
  • Garret Ross returned to the lineup on Sunday for the first time since January 3rd. He added a goal on Tuesday against Texas. Troy Grosenick also returned to the lineup on Sunday.
  • Hugo Roy played his first three games as an Admiral, totaling one assist last Wednesday at Texas in the process.
  • This isn’t so much a headline, but I learned that Mathieu Olivier was born in Biloxi, Mississippi.
  • On Monday, Milwaukee acquired defender Adam Plant from the Laval Rocket in exchange for future considerations.

Weekly Game Recap

February 27: Milwaukee Admirals @ Texas Stars

Box Score - 2/27
theAHL.com

This contest seemed over almost as quickly as it started, with Texas scoring 30 seconds into the game and adding two more in the first period. Milwaukee failed to convert on four of their five power play chances, and Trenin and Helewka’s markers weren’t enough to overcome the early deficit.

March 1: Milwaukee Admirals @ San Antonio Rampage

Box Score - 3/1
theAHL.com

Milwaukee and San Antonio engaged in a scoreless first period before the Admirals jumped out to a two-goal lead in the second thanks to Garret Ross and Laurent Dauphin.

The Admirals then blew that lead in the third as Trevor Smith tied the game with just under two minutes to play, but Jarred Tinordi, who went on to have an absurd week, ended things with a minute to go in overtime.

March 3: Milwaukee Admirals @ San Antonio Rampage

Box Score - 3/3
theAHL.com

This contest was a fairly balanced one with the Admirals and Rampage trading first period goals before Jordan Kyrou put San Antonio on top with 15 seconds to go. The Rampage added two more in the second, including one on the power play, to go up 4-1 heading into the third.

Milwaukee scored three straight, including two within 46 seconds, courtesy of Trenin, Blackwell and Allard, to tie the game.

But, as has become custom for this Admirals team, the Rampage ended things merely 30 seconds into overtime.

March 5: Milwaukee Admirals v. Texas Stars

Box Score - 3/5
theAHL.com

Milwaukee got out to a rocky start in this one in what looked like would be a usual performance for them. But, after ending period one down a goal, the Admirals exploded for their first five-goal period since January of 2016. Scoring came from all over the lineup including two goals by defenders (Tinordi and Pedrie).

Trending Up

Jarred Tinordi & the Defense: The Admirals’ regular defensive unit is back, for the most part. Aside from Filip Pyrochta filling in for Matt Donovan, defensive pairs are back to how they started at the beginning of the season.

Rachel took notice of how the team can finally rely on three decent pairs for the first time in a couple months—and did it ever help on this Texas swing.

Milwaukee’s defense accounted for over 30% of Milwaukee’s offense on this four-game run with 14 total points. Who led the way? Frédéric Allard had a big return to the lineup, but the captain, Tinordi, showed up with goals in three straight games and four points total.

Trending Down

Depth: This was probably the best four-game stretch this team has had since October, so there is little to choose from here. But the depth of the forward lineup has taken a hit with a variety of injuries to key players like Cole Schneider, Tanner Jeannot, and Mathieu Olivier.

All in all, we’ve seen action from new entries to the lineup like Emerson Clark (four games and more time in the box than on the ice, probably. Thanks, Rachel), Zach Magwood (two games, one assist), Garret Ross (three games, three points and maybe a new contract for next season; Rachel certainly thinks so), and Hugo Roy (three games, one assist).

Despite the encouraging results lately, the healthier this lineup is with critical pivots like Schneider and Gaudet back, the better.

Final Thoughts

Milwaukee has 16 games left. All of a sudden, the playoffs are in reach—maybe unlikely, but in reach. Of those 16 games, 10 of them are at home in Wisconsin and six of them are against opponents fighting for the final playoff spot in the Central division—including five (!!!) games against Rockford.

Rachel pointed out some keys from this stretch of games that can propel Milwaukee to some important wins if they stay consistent in these regards:

Controlled Offensive Zone Entries with Puck Support

This goal was on the power play, but it’s a good example of creating good chances with puck support. Blackwell gains the zone with control and fails to convert on a high-danger chance. But, since he had two forwards supporting the play and a fourth skater pinching down on the wall, Milwaukee regained position, forced the defense into a primary shooting lane, and Anthony Richard used his newfound open space to bury a beautiful wrist shot.

Layered Forechecking

The Admirals have played a lot of a 1-2-2 forechecking system this season. It can be effective but can also lead to lazy habits on zone entries. On the play above, Yakov Trenin is able to control a contested puck off a zone entry. His pass to Pedrie is great, but the forecheck is already deep enough to provide two layers of traffic for Pedrie’s shot.

Net-Front Play

I know this topic gets beat to death, but it is so critical in the AHL. There is an old anecdote that it’s harder to play goal in the AHL than the NHL because of all the ridiculous bounces that just don’t happen at the top. File this one under that category. Establishing position in front of the net should not be exclusive to the power play and doesn’t require a big body. At the least it occupies an opposing player and frees up space; at the most it gives you a good screen or deflection. On the play above, it did both. And, frankly, Milwaukee could afford two players in the slot instead of one below the goal line in the corner.

Neutral Zone Lanes

The Admirals have this interesting tendency to bunch up when exiting the defensive zone. I think this can be an effective strategy with slower skaters on the ice as long as they are able to establish clear passing lanes. When defending odd or even-man rushes, it’s the defense’s job to force a decision in the neutral zone. So, in theory, bunching up doesn’t help because it takes away offensive flexibility. But, if you can stretch the neutral zone by moving the puck north to south rather than east to west, it allows a goal like the one above to happen. Tinordi, not the fastest skater on the ice, is able to pull away because the defender hesitates to commit to the clear passing lane. Three-on-three isn’t the best example, but I hope you see my point.

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