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GRAPPLING THE GRIFFINS

The Chicago Wolves and Grand Rapids Griffins are the last two teams in the Central Division — a 180-degree change from last season when the two clubs were the titans locked in a grudge match for the Central Division crown. Chicago came out the victor as the Wolves secured their eighth title in franchise history with an overtime win against the Charlotte Checkers on the final day of the regular season. This year, the teams are just looking to climb back into playoff contention. The Wolves are last in the division, but have a game in hand on the Griffins. However, Grand Rapids does have a two-point advantage and leads in ROW (regulation and overtime wins) by one game.

MORE MATTEAU

On Wednesday, the Vegas Golden Knights claimed Ryan Carpenter off waivers and returned center Stefan Matteau on loan to the Chicago Wolves. The 23-year-old Matteau made his National Hockey League season debut on Nov. 28 against the Dallas Stars and collected an assist on Nov. 30 against the Minnesota Wild. Prior to his departure, Matteau appeared in 19 consecutive games for the Wolves and registered five points — including four goals.

MAXIME OVERDRIVE

Two Chicago Wolves goaltenders have faced the Grand Rapids Griffins this season, but the recently returned-on-loan Max Lagace is not one of them. However, Lagace is no stranger to the Griffins as he has faced them on four occasions in his short AHL career. In two games last season for the Texas Stars, Lagace finished with a 1-1-0 record, .925 save percentage and 3.01 goals-against average. While Lagace tended goal for the Vegas Golden Knights — a team stricken with multiple injuries to players between the pipes —Kasimir Kaskisuo was one of three goalies to step up in his absence. On Nov. 3, Kaskisuo backstopped the Wolves to a 2-0 shutout with 33 saves at Van Andel Arena, a venue in which the Wolves have had little success. Over the last five seasons, the Wolves are 8-9-3-0 at Van Andel.

WHO NEEDS SHOOTOUTS

Over the last five seasons, the Chicago Wolves and Grand Rapids Griffins have resolved zero of their head-to-head games in a shootout. The Griffins own the five-year series edge with a 25-12-2-0 record. Last season, Grand Rapids was one of Chicago’s strongest competitors and took the series with a 8-2-0-0 record. Of the 10 regular-season contests between Chicago and Grand Rapids, three needed overtime and seven were decided by two or fewer goals. The lack of shootouts between the clubs is impressive as Chicago appeared in seven shootout contests while Grand Rapids participated in eight. The good news for the Wolves this season is, although the Griffins have already appeared in four shootout games, the squad is just 1 for 11 in shootout scoring.

By the Numbers:

  • 1: This season, Chicago Wolves Teemu Pulkkinen owns just one goal in head-to-head competition against his former team, the Grand Rapids Griffins. Pulkkinen netted his lone goal of the season series in the clubs’ first game on Oct. 27. Since then, the 25-year-old has been scoreless against the team with which he began his North American professional career. The last time Pulkkinen & Co. faced Grand Rapids, it was the first of back-to-back contests in which the Finn was held scoreless. It was the second time Pulkkinen had been held pointless in back-to-back games. The previous time also involved the Griffins — Nov. 3 and 8 (Milwaukee).
  • 2: Last time the Grand Rapids Griffins and Chicago Wolves met, it marked the only time in the 2017-18 campaign that Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson has elected to use two goaltenders in a game. Veteran Michael Leighton started the contest but gave up two goals in less than six minutes, so Thompson opted to have Kasimir Kaskisuo relieve Leighton for the remainder of the contest. Through 54:12 of playing time, Kaskisuo allowed three goals and the Griffins skated out of Allstate Arena with a 5-2 win.
  • 3: When forward Tobias Lindberg records a point, the Chicago Wolves are a perfect 3-0-0-0 this season. Lindberg’s first point of the season came on Nov. 3 when he assisted on Mackenzie MacEachern’s game-winning goal as the Wolves shut out the Grand Rapids 2-0 at Van Andel Arena. Lindberg then netted his first goal on Dec. 9 — which stood as the game-winner — when Chicago shut out Cleveland as goaltender Michael Leighton earned his milestone 50th career shutout. In Tuesday’s 2-1 victory at Rockford, Lindberg assisted on Brandon Pirri’s goal just 5:03 into the game.
  • 13+: Grand Rapids Griffins forward Tyler Bertuzzi boasts a career +13 plus/minus rating against the Chicago Wolves. In 17 regular-season games, the 22-year-old nephew of Todd Bertuzzi has registered 13 points — including five goals — against Chicago. The Sudbury, Ontario, native also owns 22 penalty minutes in that span. Bertuzzi was Grand Rapids’ leading scorer in the Central Division Finals of the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs. He helped the Griffins finish the Wolves in five games with six points (3G, 3A) and a +3 plus/minus rating.
  • 20: Twenty of forward T.J. Tynan’s 147 career American Hockey League points have come against the Grand Rapids Griffins. Through 27 games — including three contests this year — Tynan owns two goals and 18 assists. Of the three seasons he has faced Grand Rapids, Tynan’s best was the 2016-17 campaign when he totaled 11 points (G, 10A) in a dozen games for the Cleveland Monsters. Additionally, the 25-year-old faced the Griffins in six Calder Cup Playoff games in 2016. Though he recorded only one assist, Tynan helped then-Lake Erie earn its first Calder Cup.
  • 65: On Dec. 2, the Grand Rapids Griffins netted the game’s opening goal just 65 seconds into the contest. That tally is the second-fastest goal allowed by the Chicago Wolves season. Coincidentally, the Griffins also own the fastest goal scored by a Wolves opponent this season. In the clubs’ first meeting on Oct. 27, Matt Lorito scored just 53 seconds into the contest. That marker was the first of three en route to a hat trick for Lorito — the only time this season the Wolves have given up three goals to a single player.

Game Review

Tuesday, Dec. 12 Chicago 2, (at) Rockford 1

  • The Wolves topped the IceHogs for their third win in four games.
  • Forward Brandon Pirri scored early in the first period and Chicago held the lead for over 40 minutes before Rockford tied the game in the third.
  • With just 1.8 seconds on the clock, captain Paul Thompson netted the game-winning goal.
  • In his first game with Chicago since Oct. 22, goaltender Max Lagace made 34 saves for the win.

Saturday, Dec. 9 Chicago 3, (at) Cleveland 0

  • Chicago bested Cleveland in the second of back-to-back games at Quicken Loans Arena.
  • Goaltender Michael Leighton made 24 saves for his AHL milestone 50th career shutout and his first win in a Wolves sweater.
  • Forward Tobias Lindberg netted his first goal of the season while center Wade Megan and captain Paul Thompson also tallied.