On Saturday night, the Milwaukee Admirals returned to Panther Arena and hosted the Grand Rapids Griffins to open their 2021-22 season. But before the puck was dropped, the Admirals were busy, sending Connor Ingram to the Nashville Predators (as Dave Rittich was added to the COVID-19 Protocol List) and naming Cole Schneider, Matt Donovan, Michael McCarron, and Matt Tennyson as the team’s leadership group.
With Devin Cooley starting in the net, Milwaukee opted to ice 11 forwards and seven defenders, scratching Bobo Carpenter, Grant Mismash, Avery Peterson, Dylan Blujus, and Jake McLaughlin.
The Griffins got out to an early lead via a Joe Veleno power-play goal in the game’s first three minutes, but Cole Schneider—and his linemates in Tommy Novak and Egor Afanasyev—responded with two of their own goals just 18 seconds apart. Schneider led the team in shots (6), and Novak notched a team-best three points. Milwaukee closed out period one with a power-play goal from newcomer Matt Luff, who was buzzing all over the ice in all situations on Saturday.
The Admirals struck twice again early in the second period with goals from Zach Solow and Joseph LaBate, and David Farrance recorded his first professional point on the former goal.
In period three, Devin Cooley faced his only serious test of the night, stopping nine of 11 shots in the final frame. Despite an 0.870 save percentage, Cooley impressed with quick footwork and good puck-tracking skills. In front of him, the Admirals put away a 7-3 win with goals from Mitch McLain and Anthony Richard.
Up front, the Admirals have seemed to establish a new top line of Schneider, Novak, and Afanasyev. The latter, who skated in just over 12 minutes of even-strength ice time, recorded a 44.0% Corsi, a 57.1% successful zone-exit rate, a 50.0% successful zone-entry rate, and four shot attempts. The 2019 second-round pick didn’t look out of place, however, and even earned minutes as the rotating 12th forward in the third period when the Griffins were putting on the pressure. Since Saturday, however, Tommy Novak has been swapped with Cody Glass, with the former Vegas forward likely to fill that top-line center spot for the Admirals.
On defense, head coach Karl Taylor opted for a similar strategy with all three pairs, sticking a younger blue-liner with one of the team’s veterans. I was curious as to how the defense would be utilized on the power play with so many weapons, and the coaching staff stuck mostly with 3F-2D units. However, Matt Donovan was playing extremely deep in the zone, acting even more as a fourth forward than he did last time out in Milwaukee.
Up next, the Admirals will play a home-and-home with the Chicago Wolves this weekend in what will certainly be an interesting matchup after last year’s dual-affiliate squad.
All statistics are courtesy of theAHL.com.