E-Mail Subscriptions to the Blog

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Amerks welcome Pekka Rinne back with 4-1 spanking

Two teams that the Wolves are likely to face in the playoffs squared-off against each other Friday night. The Milwaukee Admirals hosted the North Division leaders the Rochester, New York Americans. The Admirals need to “solve” the puzzle of how to defeat the Amerks due to a quirk in the playoff rules this year: If the fifth place team in the West Division has more points than the fourth place team in the North Division, it enters the North Division playoffs. At the moment that appears to be a good bet for the Admirals to enter the post-season.

The Admirals game marked the return of Finnish goalie Pekka Rinne. He last played in the Calder Cup finals in June of last year. A summer-time mugging at a Helsinki nightclub has kept him out of the game for the first part of the season. It was expected the Amerks would light him up like a Christmas tree. And for the first period they did, scoring four unanswered goals.

Rinne’s five-hole just couldn’t close fast enough to stop the pucks from sliding in whenever the Amerks approached the net. After just one period, there were ten shots and four goals for the Amerks.

Rinne needs to get back up to speed and the Mads are in for a tough few weeks as they get him back in condition. Playing seven games in the next nine days, the Admirals will have plenty of opportunities to warm Rinne up. (The next time the Wolves face the Admirals is March 10).

The Admirals play in the last few years has been anchored by a scoring line that is similar to the scoring line that currently anchors the Wolves: Darren Haydar with Simon Gamache, versus the Wolves Darren Haydar and Brent Sterling. With both Haydar and Gamache gone, the Admirals team play is noticeably more physical and is scoring less.

Blueliners Sheldon Brookbank, Kevin Klein, Alex Henry and Nolan Yonkman are carrying through on checks in the defensive zone. What I’ve always noted about the Admirals check style, however, is it tends to come late, and seems pointless. Last night, with nothing personal at stake in the game, that style was evident again.

Checking serves several purposes. A heavy check on an opposing player can hearten a team, lifting its hopes and warning the opposition that there is a physical price to be paid for playing. Milwaukee does an effective job of using the check for this purpose. And although the checks are hard, they are clean, that is, they don’t generally deserve penalties.

A second purpose of checking is to force a turnover of the puck. The checks I’m seeing are not accomplishing this: they are occurring after the puck has left the player. They seem to come a bit late and a bit behind the man, when the player isn’t looking. I think they are on the envelope of being too hard and too much for the circumstances. However, Milwaukee generally doesn’t get called for its checks.

Further, they don’t accomplish the next goal: They don’t take the man out of the play. The man is already out of the play. It seems that a fast moving player, instead of checking, can begin to play the next man or the puck, instead of a check on someone who is generally not moving.

It is a style of play that seems pointless. It seems that one of its unanticipated consequences is to increase the opposition’s anger, which can be good, possibly leading to fights and penalties. But the league shows the Mads as having only 824 penalty minutes so far this season, placing the team behind the Wolves and the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights in the division, and 15th overall. So, the tactic is not leading to a lot of penalties against the Admirals.

In the power play, the Admirals are a lackluster 16.2 percent, among the bottom half of the league. So why do it?

The Amerks, like the Wolves in the Western Division, are cleaning up in the North Division. Their style of play is markedly more defensive than that of the Wolves. Only 121 goals have been scored against the Americans this season, a mark that is beaten only by the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, the Omaha Knights, the Hartford Wolfpack and the Portland Pirates.

The team effectively closes down any passing lanes, defends against shots on goal and is able to disrupt the offense with poke checks and turnovers. Once on the offense, the team is not scoring a lot of goals, just enough, it seems, to end the chances of the opposition. The Amerks offense is marked by excellent passing into the center of the offensive zone. There don’t seem to be any defenders there! They all seem hung up on the boards. What is the defense doing? This isn’t just a critique of the Admirals but of the Wolves too.

Then they play trap. They don’t leave the defensive zone, they gang up on the puck. The shooting lanes are shut down. It is boring. It is terribly, terribly boring to watch. In the game on Friday, the Amerks put three shots on goal in the second period and seven shots on goal in the third period. Ten shots, total in 40 minutes of hockey. And, it wasn’t as if they ever lost control of the game. They played with the Admirals and the Admirals couldn’t break out of the rut.

Why would a team play like this? Why not take the Admirals, a likely play-off opponent, and shake them till their brains rattled. The Amerks could have done it.

Rinne. Why give him any real practice? The Amerks decided not to play against Rinne. He is still as cold as he was at 6.59 PM Friday, and probably more discouraged. This is one deadly team. And, they seem to have the number of every Western Division team this season, only dropping one game to any Western team: Milwaukee on November 22.

Across the Illinois State Line, the Wolves, once again, shattered the Peoria Rivermen, winning 6-1 in Peoria. Marek Schwarz defended the Rivermen nets, stopping 29 of 35 Wolves shots. Michael Garnett played a good game, stopping 42 of 43 Rivermen shots. Wolves goals were scored by Haydar, two goals including a short-handed goal by Kevin Doell, two goals by Cory Larose and a goal by Brian Sipotz. The win keeps the Wolves ahead of the Omaha Knights, two points up in the standings.

The Wolves have only dropped one game to the Rivermen this season, a 2-1 loss January 9. The Wolves take on the San Antonio Rampage at the Allstate Arena on Saturday, and the Toronto Marlies at the Allstate on Sunday. Sunday’s game is being rescheduled to 6 PM due to a conflict with a minor sporting event across town. The Wolves then start their “Ice Capades” road trip, with only one game scheduled at home till February 24.

Wrist shots:

The Gwinnett Daily Post published an article quoting Gladiator coach Jeff Pyle as saying the heart of a champion did not beat in the Glad's locker room. Pyle was reacting to the slow slide of the Glads from the top of their division and then back to first place again. Meanwhile in Chicago, reports that their was a players only meeting prior to the loss earlier in the week against the Marlies.

No comments: