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Milwaukee Musings: Ads Continue Climbing Up Standings

And the power play has been a big reason why.

If you still had concerns that the Admirals hadn’t completely turned a corner from their early-season woes—like me—they did their best to put those to rest this week.

They went down to Texas and wasted no time handling a lowly Stars team, winning two games by a combined score of 9-5 and outshooting their opponent 65-45. The Admirals’ second line (Novak, Luff, and Smith), in particular, took care of business on Saturday with a 60.0%, 59.1%, and 57.1% Corsi rating at even strength, respectively.

Then, in a matinee affair against division-leading Chicago yesterday, Milwaukee responded to a two-goal first-period deficit unlike anything we’ve seen this year; the Admirals exploded for four unanswered goals in the second, limiting the Wolves to just six shots that period, and notching their fourth-straight win.

Milwaukee sits third in the division with a 24-19-4 record and a 0.553 points percentage. Second-place Manitoba has one more win and a 0.631 points percentage.

Quick Hits

  • Due to a minor injury to goalie Connor Ingram, Tomas Vomacka was recalled to Milwaukee from the ECHL on Monday
  • Forward Cole Smith was recalled to Nashville on Monday as well
  • Forwards Mathieu Olivier (undisclosed) and Kole Sherwood (injury) have missed the last ten and 17 games, respectively
  • After a hiccup against Chicago earlier this month, the Admirals have now won four straight games, including a 4-2 and 5-3 win over Texas and a 4-3 win over Chicago this past week

Switching things up this week from the usual game-by-game breakdown, I spent last weekend focused on the Admirals’ power play and some strategic changes they implemented. Milwaukee’s power play sits fifth in the AHL with a 22.6% success rate, and they torched the Texas Stars, converting on five of 11 chances over two games.

The Admirals don’t put a ton of emphasis on their power play zone entries and typically bunch up two forwards on the side they enter the zone through. But once they’ve established possession, Milwaukee relies on four skaters pushing and pulling from a stagnant fifth; in this case, that’s Matt Donovan (#46) at the blue line. Donovan helps move play from laterally from up top, serving as an anchor for F1 (Novak - #17) and F2 (Grimaldi - #56). Those two forwards stretch the opposition north and south and cover the entire wall from blue line to goal line. At the front of the net, F3 (Schneider - #25) screens the goalie, cleans up rebounds and can shift to the side of the net to provide another passing option. But the key to this operation is Cole Smith (#22). As the puck moves up high or along the wall, he closes the gap to provide puck support for Donovan and Grimaldi; he’s then responsible for working the puck down low through F1 and then crashing the net to be set up by F3 who has shifted over to bail out F1. In this clip, the Texas goalie comes up with a couple of big saves, but you can see Milwaukee’s gears running.

Here’s another example from the second power-play unit: Davies (#76) replaces Donovan and Luff (#7) and Afanasyev (#70) flank Huntington (#15) and Glass (#19) in the slot. Huntington demonstrates that when F1 or F2 step up to shoot, that center point player should join F3 in crashing the net for a rebound. But ultimately, Milwaukee’s lateral movement—particularly from Huntington and Glass—allows the latter to step in and score on a high-danger chance as the Texas defense has vacated the front of the net.

Here’s another impressive but unsuccessful example from the first unit. After the Novak shot, take note of the rapid puck movement: Grimaldi to Donovan to Smith back to Grimaldi then to Donovan, Novak, and back to Smith for a slot shot. It gets the defense chasing the play and the goalie moving side-to-side.

Here’s the second unit, again, wasting no time in executing their will. Watch how much ice Cody Glass covers and how immediately he subtly contracts and expands space between him and the puck carrier to find an opening and bury his chance.

Here’s that unit scoring the Admirals’ opening goal in game number two. Notice how Texas has picked up on Milwaukee’s centerpiece—Jimmy Huntington in this case—with the two forwards trading off coverage as the puck moves. But that forces them to be a step behind Jeremy Davies and, subsequently, Matt Luff, who steps in and rips his shot home.

When it came to a four-on-three situation on Saturday, Milwaukee adapted their power-play strategy in a creative way. They initially operated without that fifth skater in the middle of the zone but involved the two flanks more, allowing Matt Donovan to crash the net all the way from the blue line. The idea here is to get the two opposing forwards to chase F1 and F2 to open up the low slot, letting Donovan and Schneider have at a rebound from a potential Luff or Grimaldi shot.

Here’s that strategy on display again. Matt Donovan gets a bit lucky with his shot deflecting out to Matt Luff, but the Admirals’ crossing of Donovan, Luff, and Grimaldi at once help give the latter more time and space to rifle home a one-time shot.

All in all, Milwaukee’s power play hasn’t been much of a problem this season. However, they were dominant last week and that could be extremely helpful down the stretch in games where they may be outmatched at even strength against teams like Chicago or Manitoba.


The Week Ahead

  • Wednesday, February 16 vs. Rockford IceHogs
  • Sunday, February 20 @ Manitoba Moose
  • Monday, February 21 @ Manitoba Moose

All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com, theAHL.com, or manually tracked.