Gameday Preview: Texas Stars v. Milwaukee Admirals

Texas Stars
35-22-6-3, 79 pts, 0.598
#3 Pacific Division
v.Milwaukee Admirals
40-21-3-1, 84 pts, 0.646
#2 Central Division
March 23rd at 7:30 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

Milwaukee is lucky to be served by an extremely dedicated and talented site, Admirals Roundtable. Daniel Lavender, their editor-in-chief, and I exchanged questions and answers on our respective teams for today's game. You can read my thoughts on the Roundtable here. Here's the result for Milwaukee:

HDH: What's been the big storyline this season for the Admirals?

DL: Consistency. I think that to me has been the biggest story for the Milwaukee Admirals this season because they've found ways to succeed during stretches and circumstances that all failed terribly a season ago. Despite an onslaught of injuries around the time the Admirals last played the Stars they were still finding ways to haul in points. It's been a huge credit to the coaching staff and especially the depth of the roster that the Admirals have this season because it's lessened the sting of seeing players like Viktor Arvidsson or Colton Sissons earning significant NHL time.

Kevin Fiala tracked by Derek Hulak (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
HDH: What is up with Kevin Fiala's numbers? He's scoring a bunch but somehow has a team-worst minus-17 rating. What??

DL: It's funny to think that for a guy, me we're talking about here, who often likes to throw out plus/minus as a stat is about to crap on it. The truth is, Fiala's defensive work rate is in no way a reflection of that plus/minus of his. His maturity level as a whole this season has been huge ever since the suspension he received in mid-November for flipping off the Lake Erie Monsters bench. The more he let go of his build up to "make the Predators opening day roster" and subsequent mental dump that took on him the more he has focused on the here and now and is looking the part of a nineteen year old prospect. He's enjoying his game. He is taking a serious interest in doing more than attacking. I feel as if him viewing Arvidsson as competition, seeing what that Swede is doing in all three zones at the NHL level, is something he is looking to match but keep to his own strengths Lately, his line combination with Vladislav Kamenev and Adam Payerl have been rolling together. I think part of being tasked with top line minutes means being on the ice for more punishment - hence the plus/minus. I just don't feel it is a fair reflection of how he does perform tracking back on defense, though.

Marek Mazanec (Credit Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
HDH: Rookie goalies are an interesting lot, but it looks like Juuse Saros has really claimed his share of the net. Is it a 1/1a situation with the vet Mazanec? Does one have the edge when it comes time for the playoffs?

DL: I actually feel the longer this season has gone on for the Admirals the less 1-A, 1-B the goalie situation has become. I feel that Marek Mazanec is clearly the first choice goalie at this point and would be tipped as "the man" should the playoffs start, well, today. Is that to say Juuse Saros is playing poorly? Not at all. In fact, the Admirals for having played 65 games this season have only pulled their starting goaltender once. That came on 2/24/16 against the Rockford IceHogs and was done more as a wake-up call to the team in front of Saros and not really Saros' fault. In truth, for as good as Saros has been Mazanec has been doing great. This has been his best season and it really has to have been when you consider (1) the Predators top goaltending prospect is paired with him this season (2) Mazanec is a free agent after this season (3) Carter Hutton also becomes a free agent this season so, as the more affordable option, Mazanec could snag the back-up role to Pekka Rinne with a stellar season. To this point he's doing the work and been so reliable in net. Mazanec is the first choice for this season. As for the road ahead for Saros? I'm really excited about it because he has shown no signs of a North American rink learning curve coming over from Europe. His reactions and instincts are lightning - absolutely lightning.

HDH: Speaking of rookies, Max Görtz has to be a bit of a nice surprise. 6th round pick that is tied for the team lead in points and won Rookie of the Month in December. What have you seen out of him and what is making him successful?

DL: What I like out of Max Görtz the most is that he always seems to have this knack for being in the right place at the right time on both sides of the puck. Above all though, Admirals head coach Dean Evason said it best - he has a world class shot. If Görtz has the space to unload, slapper or wrister, he's able to pick corners. He has 15 goals this season with the majority of them coming on the power-play. Once Arvidsson went up to Nashville it was Görtz, ever so slightly more than Pontus Åberg, who took over that hammer shot role on the left wing circle for the Admirals power-play. He just packs that little more of a punch with that shot of his.

HDH: Which teams have the Ads struggled most against this season? What is it in their game (Ads or the other team) that leads to this struggle?

DL: Gosh, I don't know what it is or why but it always seems in recent years and this season that the Admirals pests are some of the bottom feeder teams. The Manitoba Moose have already been eliminated from playoff competition in their return to existence this season. The Moose are 4-1-0-1 against the Admirals. Why? I just don't know why. I sometimes feel as if the Admirals play up to their competition level. The Iowa Wild were the worst team in the AHL last season by a solid 14 point margin. That team beat the Admirals five out of eight games. When it isn't teams like that I simply throw over to a team like the Grand Rapids Griffins who are 5-2-0-0 against the Admirals this season and really should have shut the Admirals out in the first four meetings of the season (you can thank a bonehead play by Jared Coreau to give Félix Girard a shorthanded goal for it not being the case). What the Griffins do that punishes the Admirals so badly is clogging the neutral zone up to take away the Admirals speed and then forcing them wide in the offensive zone to dictate perimeter shots that either get blocked down or saved easily. The more East-West the Admirals play the sloppier their game seems to get and that's what the Griffins seem to throttle into the Admirals every meeting.

Jimmy Oligny (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
HDH: Anything else of relevance or note the readers should know about?

DL: I feel a player worth keeping an eye on for Stars fans on the Admirals side of things will be veteran defenseman Corey Potter. It wasn't the largest move made on the NHL's Trade Deadline Day but it's always made huge impacts for the Admirals to have someone as solid on defense as Potter. He's far more quick than I expected him to be and his game has been seamless into the Admirals offense. He doesn't have the goal to show for it just yet but he has eight shots on goal in the Admirals last five-games. He, alongside shutdown defenseman Jimmy Oligny, have been brilliant together.

Stars injury/call up report:
Faksa, Ritchie, Johns (call up)
Shore, Morin (injury)
Rallo (questionable)

Admirals Web Resources:
Team blog: In The Crease
Online media: Admirals Roundtable (@adsroundtable)
Twitter: @mkeadmirals