Saturday, February 17, 2018

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars at Milwaukee Admirals

           Texas Stars                        Milwaukee Admirals
    25-18-5-2, 56 pts, .570      at      25-20-4-1, 55 pts, .550
  #3 Pacific Division                       #5 Central Division

February 18th at 1:00 PM
UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, Milwaukee, WI

(Credit: Milwaukee Admirals)
The Texas Stars are looking to get their act together after losing a pair of games to the Tucson Roadrunners last weekend. They will have to do so in a matinee game against a Milwaukee Admirals team that only trails them by one point, and yet is a couple of spots down in the standings in their division.

The Admirals have been anchored in net this year by former Star Anders Lindback (.906 SP). The Stars will also get reacquainted with forward Mark McNeill, who was sent to Milwaukee in a transaction that netted them Andrew O'Brien and Tyler Kelleher. Going 4-5-0-1 in their last 10 games, the Admirals possess solid special teams and sit just outside the top 10 with an 18.7 power play percentage. Milwaukee will be without their leading scorer Bobby Butler as he is on the U.S. men's Olympic roster.

The acquisition of O'Brien and Kelleher from the Admirals has yet to yield anything of note, but it will be interesting to see how they play against their former team. Dillon Heatherington will be back in the mix on the blue line, but Jason Dickinson had to re-join the parent club with Antoine Roussel on the mend. As Stars fans have seen without both Dickinson and Curtis McKenzie in the lineup, scoring will be difficult to come by. It would greatly behoove the Stars for Landon Bow to have a stronger showing in net than he did in his last game against the Roadrunners when he was chased from the game.

We've also partnered with Daniel Lavender at Admiral's Roundtable once again to get some super in-depth answers to our questions about the Ads. Here are his responses to some burning questions.

Q. What’s been the story of the season so far?

A. The Milwaukee Admirals of 2017-18 have been a story of continuous ups-and-downs. Even in recent memory they went from a four-game winning streak to a six-game losing streak to a four-game winning streak and a shootout loss. It's an unstable feeling for the most part but I think a reflection of a really young defense that has been made to sink or swim without a true veteran anchor back there. What's good though is that Anders Lindbäck has been nearly lights out all season long and that this is an Admirals group that has yet to really play to its full potential. I believe they are starting to inch closer to that and they are learning to do so while Bobby Butler, their top scorer, competes in the Olympics.

Q. How has Mark McNeill fit in so far for the team?

A. He has quickly been put into the mix on the right wing alongside Mark Zengerle and Harry Zolnierczyk. He's the same big, versatile, and skilled forward that I remember when seeing him routinely with the Rockford IceHogs in the Chicago Blackhawks pipeline. I think him not having played that much prior to getting shipped our way might have had its slight rust knocking off period but he's getting better with more playing time.

Q. Milwaukee was on a losing streak but now has points in the last five. What changed?

A. I would say that when you're on the sort of losing streak that the Admirals were on you either eventually admit defeat and stay that course or see so many of the problems and "shoot self in foot" moments that you learn from them and grow. The Admirals young defense and often times scrambly nature with transition hockey can lend itself to trouble. The Admirals are tied for the league lead with 11 shorthanded goals conceded... but bizarrely also lead the Western Conference by having scored 9 shorthanded goals. It's a slight run and gun style that I think is starting to get beaten out and replaced by a far more simplified and direct game that is all about going hard to the net. I often feel less is more. That's the style that the Admirals need to stick to in order to play their best hockey.

Q. For the first time in a long time, Milwaukee looks to be relying on veteran goaltending without a new hot prospect taking a huge chunk of games. How has (former Texas Star) Anders Lindback handled the load?

A. Lindbäck has been the MVP of this year's team and second place in that discussion isn't even remotely close. He has been such a workhorse all season. He's played the most games (37), logged the most minutes (2220:47), has faced the most shots (1174), and made the most saves (1064) of any goaltender in the AHL this season and is second to only Alex Nedeljkovic of the Charlotte Checkers in wins - and that can very well change soon enough with a single win separating them. It is almost surreal that Lindbäck started last season without even an AHL guarantee and ended up seeing a professional try-out contract with the Ontario Reign cut after four-games followed by a trip back to Sweden with Rögle BK. Lindbäck has been brilliant all season and I think has done himself a world of good in getting back in the good graces of an NHL radar. I think he might have matured late and revived his NHL aspirations this season through the Admirals.

Q. Love to hear a little bit about the season that Bobby Butler has had and his selection to the US Men’s Olympic roster.

A. It's been awesome to see Bobby Butler get the chance to represent Team USA. He told former University of New Hampshire teammate and current Admirals captain Trevor Smith this off-season at a golf event that this was his goal. He signed specifically to an AHL contract with the Admirals. There were no guarantees that a guy like Butler was making Team USA based on any kind of past reputation alone. And he has gone about his work day in and day out to be one of the Admirals most consistent players. It's so great for him and his family that he made it. No one can ever take these moments from him.

Q. Texas isn’t getting much exposure to the Central Division this season, but more will be coming next year. What’s been going on in the Central this year? The numbers show Milwaukee is doing alright by percentages, but clubs like Manitoba are just blowing it away.

A. This is the tightest playoff race that I can remember across the entire Western Conference. In the Central Division you certainly have one team that is rocketing off to the moon (Manitoba Moose) and one that is boring its way to the depths of hell (Cleveland Monsters) but the race from second to sixth place is something that can vary through points percentage dramatically in a week's worth of games. It's that why I think the Admirals are really playing in catch-up mode after such rough goes of form across December and January. They'll be fortunate to make the most out of all the home games they have in-hand as opposed to the rest of the division. This year's Central Division has been a woodchipper. It really has. And I think the Admirals will be fortunate to fight their way into this year's 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs but I worry for the Pacific Division team that awaits the Central Division's top draw come the Western Conference Finals. I won't be shocked one bit if the Calder Cup stays within the Central Division for another season.

Stars injury/call up report:
Dickinson (call-up)
McKenzie (injured)

Admirals Web Resources:
Website: milwaukeeadmirals.com
Online Media: Admirals Roundtable (@adsroundtable)
Twitter: @mkeadmirals

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