Grand Rapids Takes Down Milwaukee 3-0
After a late night of travel from Rockford which didn't see the Griffins arrive back in Grand Rapids until 5:30 Saturday morning, it was understandable that Grand Rapids would get off to a slow start offensively. Even with this in mind however, it was still surprising how long it took for the offense to get going. They skated hard all period, were winning puck battles and even sustained pressure in Milwaukee's zone for periods of time, however, they were not able to record their first shot on goal until there were just two minutes and 15 seconds remaining in the first period. But the Griffins were able to weather the storm.
Grand Rapids took some early penalties which led to Milwaukee having six minutes of power play time in the first period. Grand Rapids was able to kill these off successfully and did a great job of keeping Milwaukee to the edges of the zone. They were also successful in clearing the front of the net so their goaltender Patrik Rybar was able to see everything coming at him. Killing these penalties seemed to give the Griffins a boost but they still were unable to get pucks to the net.
With under 30 seconds left in the first period Milwaukee was out-shooting Grand Rapids 13-1. But, with hardly any time remaining, the Griffins forced a turnover in their own zone. This sprung a 2 on 1 as Matt Ford got the loose puck to Wade Megan who streaked up the left wing into the Milwaukee zone. Megan passed the puck across the ice to Matt Puempel who was able to put the puck far side past the blocker of Admirals goaltender Tom McCollum with just seven seconds remaining in the first period. Grand Rapids would end the period being out shot 13-2 but leading the game 1-0.
In the second period though, Grand Rapids found their game. They turned the tables on Milwuakee and out shot them 15-4 over the course of the period. Grand Rapids carried play and spent most of the period in the Milwaukee zone. Grand Rapids had a great opportunity to extend their lead as they had lengthy 1:47 of five on three power play time. The Griffins moved the puck well and got quite a few chances but McCollum made a series of great saves to keep the Admirals in the game. After this power play expired, Grand Rapids was able to keep their offensive pressure for the remainder of the period but could not crack McCollum.
In the third period the Griffins were able to extend their lead. As Milwaukee forward Eeli Tolvanen sat in the penalty box for hooking, Matt Puempel of Grand Rapids took a shot from the point that found its way through traffic and into the left pad of McCollum. The puck rebounded off the skate of Wade Megan and into the back of the net. With just under two minutes left in the game, Grand Rapids winger Givani Smith scored an empty netter to solidify a 3-0 win for the Griffins.
Patrik Rybar stopped all 24 shots he faced to record his first shutout of the season and improve his record to 10-6-5-0 on the season. Admirals goalie Tom McCollum had a solid outing as well in the loss, stopping 24 of 26 shots. His record drops to 8-7-5-2.
Patrik Rybar was once again outstanding in net. All night there were very few times where Rybar looked like he was scrambling. He plays a very calm and collected game and relies on his positioning to make every save look routine. He had a lot of help from his defense tonight which did a great job of keeping Milwaukee from the center of the ice and clearing traffic from the front of the net. His shutout Saturday night improves his save percentage to .913 which is tied for 11th in the AHL and his goals against average of 2.30 ranks him 3rd in the league.
The Griffins' penalty kill looked great. They killed off all four Milwaukee power plays and have killed off 18 of their last 21 attempts. The biggest thing I noticed on the penalty kill was that Milwaukee rarely had any open shooting lanes. There were a few times where they were able to sneak a puck through the middle but for the most part Grand Rapids was forcing shots to come in from the edges of the zone and many of them were being blocked before they could get to Rybar. Overall the Griffins' penalty kill sits at 80.9 percent on the season which puts them at 15th in the league.
Vili Saarijarvi looks very composed on the ice. His skating is impressive and incredibly smooth. He makes solid passes out of his own zone and when there is no open option he has the confidence to carry the puck up the ice himself. He likes to pinch down in the offensive zone and is very eager to join the offensive rush. This does leave the defense quite vulnerable to odd man rushes but he seems to pick his spots well. Although he only has 11 points this season (2 goals and 9 assists), he does seem to drive a lot of offensive play. He has also had rough luck as his shooting percentage sits at just 2.3%. Although I worry his offensive aggressiveness could be exploited by opposition at the NHL level, I would really like to see him get a year to study under Mike Green and learn what it takes to be an offensive defenseman and powerplay QB in the NHL.
Grand Rapids will play game two of their four game home-stand against the Manitoba Moose on January 23. After Saturday the Moose find themselves at the bottom of the Central Division with an 18-18-2-1 record, good for 39 points. In their previous five meetings against Manitoba this season, Grand Rapids holds a 4-1-0-0 record and has outscored the Moose 16-11.