Road Swing Begins in Milwaukee

Following a game in which the Lake Erie Monsters (16-16-1-1) turned the tables on the league-leading Oklahoma City Barons in the third period and just narrowly missed erasing a three-goal deficit before eventually falling 3-2, the Monsters take to the road for what should be another tall task: the first meeting of the season with the Milwaukee Admirals (19-10-0-1), the top affiliate of the NHL’s Nashville Predators.

The Monsters carried a three-game win streak - which tied a season best - into Wednesday night’s game at Quicken Loans Arena, but the win streak was quickly in jeopardy. The Monsters surrendered the game’s first goal just 12 seconds into the action, and were outshot by a 26-6 margin through 40 minutes of play. A late surge, however, showed what this Monsters team is capable of doing. Their 16 shots in the final period made for a greater shot frequency than we’ve seen at any time since Christmas for the Monsters. The Monsters rally came up just short, but there were certainly a few bright spots to be taken from Wednesday’s game against the league’s top team.

On the penalty kill, the Monsters seven-for-seven performance against Oklahoma City’s then-second ranked power play has vaulted Lake Erie into the top-ten in the league in penalty kill proficiency. With the Monsters looking to have that part of the game under control, the power play could stand to receive a boost tonight against Milwaukee, who is 26th in the league on the penalty kill. In games in which the Monsters have more power plays than their opponent, they are 7-3-0-1. If the Monsters can stay disciplined throughout tonight’s game, their chances at a victory certainly increase.

Hugh Jessiman is a former Milwaukee Admiral; he played 141 games and scored 40 goals in an Admirals uniform between 2008-09 and 2009-10. With that potentially giving him an added jump in tonight’s game, the Monsters leading goal scorer is certainly a player to watch tonight. His goal in the third period Wednesday gives him 17 on the season and 16 in his last 22 games. He also leads the team with six power play goals.

The Admirals have undergone a head coaching change this season, but have managed to continue the success they had out of the gate. The Admirals started the campaign with points in their first six games (5-0-0-1); essentially the opposite of the Monsters start to the season (0-5-1-0). On November 28th, assistant coach Ian Herbers was promoted to the position of head coach in Milwaukee when their previous bench boss, Kirk Muller, was named head coach of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. Since the change behind the bench, the Admirals, are 9-4-0-0 since Herbers assumed the head coaching duties.

Earlier today, the Predators called up goalie Jeremy Smith from the Admirals; his first career promotion to the NHL. Milwaukee does figure to miss Smith based on his statistics at the time of the call-up; he’s second in the AHL in games played with 25, first in wins with 16, carried a 2.30 goals against average, and boasted a .915 save percentage.

The Predators, however, did assign rookie goalie Anders Lindback (2-4-0, 2.75, .893 in eight NHL games) to Milwaukee; he had been serving as Pekka Rinne’s backup in the NHL. Lindback was 2-2-0 with a 2.73 goals against average and a .915 save percentage in his only four AHL appearances last season.

Nashville also assigned defenseman Jonathan Blum to Milwaukee; Blum has played 33 games for the Predators this season. The 22-year-old had three goals and seven points in the NHL this season, and scored twice in his only three AHL games last season. Assuming Lindback and Blum arrive in Milwaukee on-time for puck drop, they figure to be factors in tonight’s matchup.

The Monsters and Admirals meet three times this month. For the Monsters, tonight begins a string of five consecutive road games. For Milwaukee, tonight begins a Friday-Saturday-Sunday three-in-three; a process they’ll repeat next week. With both teams coming off losses - Milwaukee fell 1-0 to Peoria on New Year’s Day - the first period could be a big determining factor in the course of tonight’s game.

All of tonight’s action from the Bradley Center in downtown Milwaukee begins at 8:00 PM, and can be heard live on ESPN 850 WKNR. Tomorrow night, the Monsters will pay a visit to the Chicago Wolves, and again the game can be heard at 8:00 PM on ESPN 850 WKNR.

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