ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (8-8-1-4) at CHICAGO WOLVES (10-5-2-1)
let’s do this again
Two days after engaging in the 126th regular-season edition of the Illinois Lottery Cup rivalry, the Chicago Wolves and Rockford IceHogs are back at it this afternoon at Allstate Arena. This time, an international NHL Network audience will be tuning in along with the CW50 crowd throughout the greater Chicago area.
The Wolves won Friday’s game in Rockford by a 7-2 count, which enabled the Wolves to forge a 63-63 tie in the lifetime series between these heated rivals. But Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson doesn’t look at Friday’s game as if the scoreboard told the whole story.
“I think this is going to be a really good game,” Thompson said. “I think Rockford and us always play hard. It was physical, it was emotional (Friday night). I thought we capitalized on the good chances that we had and we got some key saves at the right time (by Max Lagace) that prevented them from getting back into the game. I don’t think the score was indicative necessarily of how the game went.”
The IceHogs are in the throes of the AHL’s longest current winless streak. Rockford suffered a 2-1 shootout loss Saturday night at Milwaukee, which marked the team’s sixth loss in a row. The Wolves, meanwhile, haven’t taken advantage of their recent stretch of home games. Saturday night’s 4-3 overtime loss to Grand Rapids pushed the team’s record at Allstate Arena to 1-2-2-0 over the last 15 days.
NOT THE USUAL SUSPECTS
Saturday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Grand Rapids marked the first time all season that none of the Wolves’ top three scorers — Daniel Carr, Brandon Pirri and Brooks Macek — found a way to get on the scoresheet. Now, Carr has a decent excuse for not producing because he was playing in the Vegas Golden Knights’ 6-0 win over the San Jose Sharks. Pirri had his second five-game point streak of the season snapped Saturday night, while Macek is in search of his first goal since a pair versus Rockford on Nov. 10.
But fear not, Wolves fans. Head coach Rocky Thompson is starting to see everybody get involved at the offensive end.
Right wing Keegan Kolesar has scored two of his three goals in the last two games. Right wing Tyler Wong has scored both of his goals in the last five games. Defenseman Griffin Reinhart entered last Sunday’s game with just one goal, but he produced the game-winner last Sunday against the Manitoba Moose and pushed Saturday night’s game into overtime with a shortie. Rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud scored his first professional goal Friday night.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: No team enjoys playing the first period as much as the Chicago Wolves. With Tyler Wong and Keegan Kolesar scoring first-period goals Saturday night against Grand Rapids, the Wolves pushed their first-period advantage to 28-12 this season. That +16 differential nearly doubles the second-best first-period team in the league as Charlotte owns a +9 differential. By the way, the Wolves have scored the game’s first goal in each of their last five games and 12 of their 18 games overall.
12: After falling all the way to 29th place in the AHL’s penalty-killing rankings, the Wolves’ penalty-killing units have been seeing the fruits of their practice labors. Chicago has killed 12 of its last 13 short-handed situations, which started late in the second period of the Nov. 17 game versus Iowa. Moreover, defenseman Griffin Reinhart scored a short-handed goal on Saturday night, so the PK unit has been even over the last 10-plus periods.
13: With his pair of assists Saturday night, Jake Bischoff became the 13th Wolves player this season to rack up a multi-assist game. He joined Brooks Macek (5 assists), Brandon Pirri (3 assists), Daniel Carr (3 assists), Zach Whitecloud, Curtis McKenzie, Reid Duke, Nic Hague, T.J. Tynan, Erik Brännström, Dylan Coghlan, Gage Quinney and Tomas Hyka.
14: As the Wolves’ offense continues to evolve, the team isn’t as reliant on the Daniel Carr–Gage Quinney–Brooks Macek line. Despite not scoring in the last five games, Macek continues to lead the AHL with 14 goals as the 26-year-old from Winnipeg has maintained nearly a goal-per-game pace over the season’s first seven weeks. His 14 goals are not a franchise record for most goals after 18 games: Steve Maltais produced 23 goals in the Wolves’ first 18 games of 1995-96, Rob Brown notched 16 in the first 18 games of 1996-97 and Brett Sterling posted 16 in the first 18 games of 2006-07.
20+: There are 14 players in the American Hockey League who’ve scored 14-plus points this season. The Wolves and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms are the only teams with three players at 20-plus points. Perhaps not coincidentally, Lehigh Valley leads the AHL with 74 goals while Wolves share second with the Charlotte Checkers at 72 goals.
353: If you’ve suited up for the Wolves, chances are better than 50/50 that you’ve also played in the National Hockey League. When Daniel Carr, Curtis McKenzie and Zach Whitecloud made their Wolves debuts on Oct. 5, they became the 351st, 352nd and 353rd players (out of 615 Wolves all-time) who have competed for the Wolves and in the NHL. That 57.4 percent overall success rate is even higher among goaltenders. Of the 54 players who’ve tended the net for the Wolves over the years — starting with original goaltenders Ray LeBlanc and Wendell Young and continuing through current Wolves Max Lagace and Oscar Dansk — 37 boast NHL experience (68.5 percent).
6,532: This is the number of days between Brooks Macek’s five-assist effort on Nov. 7 at Milwaukee and the previous five-assist game by a Wolves player. Rob Brown, who holds the team’s single-game (6) and single-season (91) assist records, handed out five assists on Dec. 19, 2000, in a 7-5 victory at Kansas City.