The Grand Rapids Griffins had the best power play in the AHL at 24.4 percent during the regular season.
During Friday’s 4-3 overtime win against the Milwaukee Admirals in Game 1 of the Central Division semifinals at Van Andel Arena, they converted on just one of seven opportunities.
“I thought we played the right way, but I don’t know if we played our best hockey,” Matthew Ford, who had a goal, told The Hockey Writers. “I think the power play could probably be a little bit better. At the same time, we played the right way. Some big plays both by (Jared Coreau) in net — (Brian Lashoff) with some big plays. I don’t think we gave them a ton of Grade-A’s in the second half.”
Griffins coach Todd Nelson said the power play has to be better for Game 2, which is Sunday afternoon at Van Andel Arena.
“It’s tougher to score power-play goals (in the playoffs),” he said. “We just have to simplify it, get pucks to the net with traffic.”
The Griffins were missing Martin Frk’s booming right-handed shot on the power play. Frk has missed the past four games with an injury and is day to day, according to Nelson.
“Obviously, he has a good shot,” Nelson said of Frk. “It forces teams, when he’s out there, to make adjustments to the kill that they don’t want to make. It is a bit different.”
The Griffins penalty kill was slightly better, killing 5 of 6 opportunities. However, the Grand Rapids power play allowed a shorthanded goal near the end of the second period that gave Milwaukee a 3-2 lead after two periods.
It was an uncharacteristically penalty-filled game for the Griffins, who were short-handed just 268 times — an average of 3.5 penalties per game — this season, which was seventh least in the AHL.
Tomas Nosek said the penalties might have been due to nervousness for the start of the playoffs.
“I think it was the first game, it was a nervous game,” he said. “I think they took a lot of penalties, we did too. It’s just the playoffs.”
Nosek Scores OT Winner
Nosek, who played 11 games for the Detroit Red Wings this season, scoring one goal, was the hero of Game 1 for the Griffins, beating Admirals goalie Marek Mazanec on a bad-angle shot at the 9:32 mark of overtime. Nosek also assisted on Ford’s goal late in the first period that tied the game at 1-1.
“It was pass from Matt Lorito, I was just trying to catch it,” Nosek said of his OT winner. “I just follow the puck, and I didn’t see any player on me, so I just throw it to the net, and it goes in.
“It was actually the first time I did a bad-angle shot. I’m happy for that.”
Nosek, who missed nearly a month while up with the Red Wings at the end of the season, has three points in his past three games with the Griffins. He’s a big body (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) the Griffins surely have missed.
Another player who spent some time with the Red Wings this season, Evgeny Svechnikov, scored the Griffins’ second goal 13 seconds after their first goal to give Grand Rapids a 2-1 lead late in the first.
Coach Todd Nelson: We didn’t execute
Despite getting the first win and taking a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series, Nelson said there is room for improvement.
“We were OK tonight,” he said. “It was a combination of things. There was lack of execution, but we grinded through it. And also, you have to give Milwaukee credit. They did a good job checking. They had some great chances where some of our players had second efforts to save goals.
“It was a tough game where things weren’t really clicking for us. … That one’s out of the way. We got the first one, and we’ll definitely have to be better on Sunday.”
With the Red Wings calling up a plethora of players on emergency basis near the end of their season, the Griffins have had to adjust with an ever-changing lineup. Nelson said there might be some cobwebs to shake off to begin this game, as this group hasn’t been together in quite some time.
“This is the second time this group’s been all together for about a month and a half,” he said. “That was one thing I was worried about before the game; is the chemistry going to be there? We’re probably going to have to shake the rust off. I think that was really evident.”
Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.