It’s inevitable over the course of a long season. Every team gets into a funk and finds themselves coming up on the wrong side of the score sheet night after night. Unfortunately for those in Milwaukee, that time is now.
The Nashville Predators top affiliate, the Admirals have dropped five-straight contests and seven of their last eight. The untimely stretch has put the club third in the Midwest Division and seventh in the Western Conference.
But it’s not all doom and gloom along the shores of Lake Michigan. Thanks to their hot start earlier in the season, the Admirals are just two points behind spot No. 6 in the West and trail the second spot in the division by just four points heading into Wednesday’s contest against division leader Rockford.
“We just have to stay the course,” Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason said. “There are ups and downs, and the easy thing is to do is get frustrated and hang your head and be negative… We have to all stay on the same page in order to turn things around, and we think our group will do that. We’ve got a good leadership group within the room, and we have no doubt that they’ll pull the other guys along as well.”
The Ads don’t appear to be far from turning the streak around for the better. Of those seven recent losses, five have been by just one goal with three coming in a shootout.
“The biggest thing is we are getting our opportunities,” defenseman Anthony Bitetto said. “If we weren’t getting our opportunities, then we would ask questions, but we’re getting those chances now.”
“We’re generating lots of scoring chances, and a lot of that is coming from some hard offensive zone play and getting the cycle going,” forward Austin Watson said. “Obviously when you’re not scoring goals and not winning games, you just want to throw pucks at the net and get a couple of good bounces.”
Second on the team in goals with eight, Watson has been finding his was to the cage this season. Evason has been pleased with the 6-foot-3 forward’s play, utilizing Watson in multiple game instances.
“[Watson] plays in all situations,” Evason said. “He’s first over the boards killing penalties, he plays on the power play, he’s in front of the net and down low, and he’s taken a step [forward] this year. It’s part of his development. Obviously he saw some games last year in Nashville, and he was confident coming in. He’s a little stronger, he’s a little bigger and he’s more confident, and that’s certainly allowed him to have some success here early.”
Bitetto is another component that Evason and Assistant Coach Stan Drulia are counting on to reverse the current trend in Milwaukee. Leading team defensemen in points with 12 (1g-11a), Bitetto also carries a team-high plus-14 rating to go along with 36 penalty minutes.
“What we’ve really liked is [Bitetto’s] assertiveness, his aggressiveness,” Evason said “When he stays aggressive and he keeps moving his feet and he stays hungry in those areas, he is a real good defenseman. He skates so well that he can not only be an offensive guy but he can defend very well.”
Bitetto says that he and the rest of the Ads blueliners have been working on boxing players out in front of the net, concentrating on the elimination of second and third chances. He believes that with fine-tuning, the success will come once again.
“Our goaltending has been phenomenal, and as a defensive unit, I think we’ve been very strong back there making good plays and defending well,” Bitetto said. “When you come out of the ups and downs, it makes your team closer going through a little adversity.”
That adversity is inevitable throughout the season, but there’s an organizational belief that the focus deserves to stay within the Milwaukee room, as opposed to wandering down the hall. It also applies in Nashville, and the Ads believe that it’s that same mantra which will eventually turn things around.
“You take care of your business,” Evason said. “You don’t alleviate from the game plan… If everybody’s on the same page, you’re going to allow yourself to have success. There’s no question that we want to play the way that we play, and hopefully it’ll force the opposition to try to react to the way that we play the game.”
“It’s about us, it’s not about what other teams are doing,” Bitetto said. “We make these in-game adjustments based on what teams are doing at times, but for the most part, we go into games and we’re focusing on us. It’s the same in Nashville, and that’s a good thing about this organization. Wherever you play, the philosophy is the same. It’s hard work and aggressiveness, it’s heart, being physical and being intense at times, and it’s a good place to play.”