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What’s Gone Wrong in Milwaukee?

At 13-17-2, the Admirals are nowhere near where they’d hoped they’d be.

AHL: DEC 03 Milwaukee Admirals at Cleveland Monsters Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week was another dreadful one for the Milwaukee Admirals: three games, a 1-2-0 record, and a minus-ten goal differential. The Admirals sit sixth in the Central Division by points percentage (0.438) and third to last league-wide; Despite being tied in points with Iowa and Rockford, all of Milwaukee’s divisional opponents have at least three games in hand.

Instead of a game-by-game breakdown this week, Rachel and I are delivering a mid-season autopsy of this club that was expected to contend for the Calder Cup, identifying four key trends that have plagued this team.

Quick Hits

  • Since last week, Milwaukee has returned Bobo Carpenter (F) and Jake McLaughlin (D) to the Florida Everblades of the ECHL
  • Forward Tommy Novak was assigned from Nashville to Milwaukee last Thursday and was recalled back to the NHL yesterday along with forward Cole Smith
  • Defender Matt Tennyson was reassigned to Milwaukee over the weekend
  • The Admirals are now the second-most penalized team in the AHL, behind Hersey (461), with 442 penalty minutes
  • Forward Cole Schneider sits ninth in league scoring with 28 points in 30 games

Talent Deficit + Forward Depth

Injuries and NHL call-ups are typical speedbumps for any AHL club, and year-to-year, some clubs handle it better than others. However, Milwaukee’s top-of-the-lineup talent has been hit particularly hard this year, including unexpectedly losing their presumed leading scorer—Rem Pitlick—just two weeks before the season started.

All told, the Admirals have lost 70 games this season from their two best defenders (Jeremy Davies and Matt Tennyson) and a championship-contending top six (Cole Schneider, Cody Glass, Matt Luff, Tommy Novak, Rocco Grimaldi, and Anthony Richard).

...

Player Games Missed 21 Pt. Shares/GP 21/22 Pt. Shares/GP
Player Games Missed 21 Pt. Shares/GP 21/22 Pt. Shares/GP
Cody Glass 6 0.0756 0.0772
Rocco Grimaldi 3 -- 0.1156
Matt Luff 12 0.136 0.0789
Tommy Novak 29 0.1212 --
Rem Pitlick 32 0.213 --
Anthony Richard 10 0.0737 -0.0072
Cole Schneider 2 0.0739 0.1253
Jeremy Davies 2 0.1897 0.0559
Matt Tennyson 6 0.0713 0.0623

Using Sean O’Brien’s point shares model, which measures individual player contributions through standings points, we can gather a rough estimate of how these lineup absences have impacted Milwaukee. It’s an imperfect method given Grimaldi, Pitlick, Novak, and Tennyson’s spotty AHL appearances over the past two seasons, but it helps paint a picture of what the Admirals are missing.

Using the 2021 season (and including Pitlick), Milwaukee has lost out on at least 14.11 points this year. Using the 2021-22 season, which omits Novak and Pitlick, the Admirals have lost out on at least 2.42 standings points.

Even with the return of Cole Schneider and the performance of a comfortable, invigorated Cody Glass—who has ten even-strength primary points and 22 total points in 26 games—Milwaukee’s forward lineup remains an uninspired, jumbled mess.

Forward depth that Milwaukee felt they could count on hasn’t delivered. Anthony Richard, who emerged for two goals and three points last weekend, has just seven points in 22 games this year. Outside of the forwards mentioned above, just two players have recorded 15 points—Cole Smith and Egor Afanasyev; Only three have a relative goals-for rate above zero—Graham Knott, Afanasyev, and Kole Sherwood; and just five have recorded a primary point on more than half of the even-strength goals they’ve been on the ice for—Knott, Joseph LaBate, Grant Mismash, Smith, and Zach Solow.

There are certainly adjustments the existing Admirals’ lineup can make, but their talent deficit has and will continue to be hard to overcome this season.

Lack of Discipline

Milwaukee’s penalty woes have been well-documented this season. There have been far too many penalties from being outskated, overly frustrated, and making futile attempts to provide a spark for the team. Per Sean O’Brien’s data, Milwaukee is averaging 4.8 penalty kills per game (second-worst in the AHL) and going on just 3.8 power plays per game.

AHL Penalty Differential
Sean O’Brien | @SeanOBrien81

Milwaukee’s penalty-killing units are league-average with an 81.9% success rate, and while that could be far worse given the volume of calls, it’s nearly a given each night that the Admirals will disrupt their own momentum with an unnecessary infraction. If they have any hope of establishing a more effective even-strength attack, Milwaukee has to cut down on the two-minute minors.

Breakouts + Transition

A common luxury for Milwaukee’s opponents this year has been sustained offensive zone time. On many nights, there’s been an obvious disconnect between the Admirals’ defense and forwards when it comes to breaking out of the zone and transitioning up ice, which has led to long, tiring shifts and plenty of allowed shot attempts.

Let’s start with Milwaukee’s defensive zone coverage (shown above). Their first attempt at a breakout is orchestrated by two players on the same sidewall, with little puck support, not moving their feet. When that inevitably fails, the Admirals start chasing the play and reacting a step slow to Grand Rapids’ puck movement. With one more shot to clear the zone, the Milwaukee defender defaults to a lazy puck flip/ giveaway, and again, the Admirals remain a step too slow. They’ve demonstrated a frequent inability to get the puck off the boards and out quickly and into open neutral space that the forwards are attacking.

On many occasions, when Milwaukee’s defense does well to mitigate an opponents’ chance, the wingers are parked flat-footed and staring at the play. By not controlling that space from the faceoff dots to the blue line, the Admirals are inviting opposing defenders to pinch and are often losing those battles.

Finally, even when Milwaukee can get a proper transition started with time and space, they can stickhandle themselves out of success. In the clip above, there’s no urgency from the puck-carrier to attack the neutral zone, which slows down the other two forwards, once again inviting opposing pressure, and makes any outlet passes or speedy attacks a moot point.

The Admirals don’t have the fastest forward group in the AHL, but they could do themselves tons of favors by being stingier at all five positions in the defensive zone and not letting opponents dictate their transition play.

Goaltending

Milwaukee’s breakout and transition woes aren’t just affecting their offense; The Admirals' goalies have been hung out to dry on so many nights. Among AHL goalies who have played at least 540 minutes, Connor Ingram and Devin Cooley have combined to face the most shots in the league (986), and it’s not particularly close.

Nashville Goalie Prospects | GSAA
@OnTheFutureOTF

While Ingram has had his bad nights, the issue lies mainly behind him. In 22 games, Ingram has saved 1.204 goals above average on 687 shots but has recorded just nine quality starts. Devin Cooley, on the other hand, has stumbled incredibly; In 12 appearances, he’s allowed 8.492 goals above average and has just two quality starts. Outside of one 38-save performance against Grand Rapids, Cooley’s confidence has looked awful, and it’s clearly affecting how Milwaukee’s coaching staff chooses their lineup. Since he returned from Nashville, Connor Ingram has started all but four games, including 17 games in a row in November and December.

With nowhere else for Scott Nichol to turn, Milwaukee will keep riding Ingram as Devin Cooley looks to refocus.


The Week Ahead

  • Wednesday, January 12 vs. Manitoba Moose
  • Friday, January 14 @ Colorado Eagles
  • Saturday, January 15 @ Colorado Eagles
  • Monday, January 17 @ Iowa Wild

All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com, theAHL.com, Sean O’Brien, or manually tracked.