Saturday, March 14, 2015

Gameday Preview: Stars v. Milwaukee Admirals

Texas Stars
26-18-13-1, 66 pts
#8 Western Conference
v.Milwaukee Admirals
31-20-5-4, 71 pts
#6 Western Conference
March 14th at 7:00 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

For something a little different this weekend, I've traded emails with Daniel Lavender, Editor-in-Chief of Admirals Roundtable. We've both posted our thoughts on our respective teams to each others' sites. You can read what I had to say about Texas over here. So, below, enjoy the gameday preview brought to you by a source much more knowledgeable than me on the Admirals...

HDH: What's been the story of the season overall? These teams haven't played, so Texas fans have no context.
DL: Our season has been hot and cold. When it's hot, it is really hot. We opened with a franchise record six-game winning streak to start a season. January was also fantastic for the Admirals as well. Then there are the cold stretches such as December, February, and right about now. The mantra for much of this season has been "play the right way" and a lot of the comes down to simplifying the game and minimizing mistakes. Our cold stretches tend to come from getting out of that philosophy. Simply put: When it is good - it has been very good. When it's bad - it is rough.
HDH: Milwaukee was hot hot hot in January and February, winning 13 of 15. Since then, they've been 3-7-2. What's changed?
DL: I feel that there are a few things that contributed to this current skid. The biggest change was probably the first real injury bug of the season which were almost all on the defensive end of things. The Nashville Predators had some bodies banged up and it led to Anthony Bitetto going up all while Joe Piskula, Jimmy Oligny, and Johan Alm were injured. The great news is that all those names have since returned but for that brief while we made due with Jaynen Rissling from the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL getting his first AHL action of the season, signed hired gun to the AHL this year Jared Nightingale to make it his fourth stop with a different team in the league this season, and even played left winger Mike Liambas in defense for a few games.
I also question how big of a loss to the Admirals Brendan Leipsic has been since the Predators traded him as part of their deal to acquire Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Leipsic was our leading scorer for the better part of this season and was a real spark plug for the offense. Since his absence Kevin Fiala, who pretty much just made the leap to North America, has been tasked with filling his wing role. Fiala is still adjusting and a guy like Colton SIssons has really been picking up the offensive slack where Leipsic left off. It's still a drop off for the Admirals since Leipsic left. The sooner they find some consistency in their forward make-up the quicker the results can stabilize.
HDH: Is it the same formula as always for these Ads: defense and goaltending?
DL: The goaltending has been phenomenal this season. Both Marek Mazanec and Magnus Hellberg have really played great all season long. While some of their numbers, especially recent, may suggest struggles I would say that's a bigger reflection of the team in front of them than solely their fault. Mazanec has looked much improved than he did last season. He's been very calm and confident in net. And Hellberg looks just as good as he did at the end of his stellar rookie season for the Admirals. Goaltending has been one of, if not the, biggest pluses on the season.
HDH: Who should we be watching?
DL: Viktor Arvidsson should be a man fans in Texas watch out for this weekend. He was the Predators fourth round selection in the 2014 NHL Draft and he currently leads the entire AHL in shots on goal with 224 for an average of 3.7 shots per game. He might not be the biggest bloke on the ice at standing at 5'9" but his slap shot is a nasty one. He generates some serious pop with his shot and is really skilled when it comes to his playmaking ability.
The other obvious name worth throwing out is the Predators first selection from that same draft class, Fiala. He's had a slow adjustment period since joining the Admirals in late-January from HV71 in Sweden. The North American game is something he is still getting used to: pace, defensive closing rate, etc. Still, he has shown more than enough times that even at 18-years old he is incredibly talented. He skates really well and his stickhandling abilities remind me a lot of a guy we had last season named Filip Forsberg. Crazy hand speed. The more comfortable Fiala gets the better and better the team around him is going to get.
HDH: Talk about the resurgence of goalie Magnus Hellberg. We saw him in the playoffs two years ago, and he was great. He had a weird year last year and now he's back in the AHL. What's up?
DL: Last season was about as rough as they get for him. He picked up an injury in pre-season camp in Nashville and he never truly got his motor going. Scott Darling was our ECHL guy last season and his play for the Admirals, during the system-wide goalie shuffle with Pekka Rinne's injury, had him leap Hellberg with the big Swede ending last season on the bench watching Rob Madore's MVP run for the Cyclones in the Kelly Cup Finals.
Since the start of this season it has been a different story. He's healthy. Not that it was a problem before but I think last season grounded him and kept him humble to keep things day-to-day and one game at a time. He never gets frazzled by who gets more starts, Mazanec or himself, and both goaltenders really support and feed off one-another to get going. It didn't take him long to eclipse his numbers from a year ago and it really is a matter of goalie "1-A and 1-B" than one over the other.
Thanks to Lavender and the Admirals Roundtable crew for reaching out.

Stars injury/call up report:
Oleksiak, McKenzie, Ritchie (call up)
Faksa, Honka (injury)

Admirals Web Resources:
Website: milwaukeeadmirals.com
Blog (Official): In The Crease
Blog (Unofficial): Admirals Roundtable (@adsroundtable)
Twitter: @mkeadmirals

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