TUCSON ROADRUNNERS (15-7-2-1) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (14-9-2-1)
OWNING THE MIDDLE THIRD
Every team wants to get their season off to a good start. And, of course, every team wants to finish strong and head into the postseason on a roll. But what about the middle third of the schedule? Those games count just as much in the standings.
The Chicago Wolves opened the middle third of this year’s 76-game schedule with a 4-2 victory over the Tucson Roadrunners on Saturday night at Allstate Arena. That suggests this year’s team might be made of the same stuff as the last two Wolves squads that rode strong efforts in the middle third of the schedule to the Central Division title.
Last season, Rocky Thompson’s Wolves posted a 17-5-2-1 record (.740) during Games 26-50 to vault from last place to third in the Central Division. In 2016-17, Craig Berube’s Wolves earned a 15-7-1-2 record (.660) during the middle third of the season to climb from third to second.
PIRRI TOPS THE CHARTS
Forward Brandon Pirri keeps putting distance between himself and the rest of the AHL in the scoring race. Pirri produced a goal and an assist during the third period of Saturday’s 4-2 win over Tucson, which gave him 36 points in 26 games this season. Texas’ Erik Condra is his closest pursuer at 31 points (14G, 17A).
Pirri also boasts 14 points (6G, 8A) during his ongoing seven-game point streak. That ranks as the AHL’s second-longest active streak behind Utica’s Reid Boucher (8 games, 13 points). In his spare time, Pirri also leads the AHL in assists (22) and shots (105).
BY THE NUMBERS
1.5: Among AHL players who’ve competed in more than two games this season, Wolves forward Daniel Carr shares the lead in points per game as he owns 30 points (12G, 18A) in 20 games. Carr’s 1.5-points-per-game average is matched only by Syracuse’s Cory Conacher (11 points, 19 assists) in 20 games.
4: Rookie defenseman Nic Hague scored the opening goal in Saturday’s game, which pushed his goal streak to four games. That’s the longest active streak in the AHL and pushes him within two of the league’s longest streak all year — Texas’ Denis Gurianov scored in six straight Oct. 12-26. Hague owns five goals over the last four games as his shot totals have surged as well. After firing 43 shots in the Wolves’ first 21 games, Hague has launched 21 shots in the last five games — and at least four shots in each of those games. One last Hague stat: Only two defensemen have scored more goals this year: Rochester’s Zach Redmond (14) and Milwaukee’s Matt Donovan (9).
11: The Wolves have racked up 11 power-play goals in the last six games as they’ve delivered at least one power-play tally in each of those games. If that sounds like a lot in a short period of time, that’s because it is. Chicago hasn’t stacked up 11 power-play goals in a six-game stretch since Nov. 23 to Dec. 4, 2010, when Jason Krog and Darren Haydar sparked the attack.
16: Forward Daniel Carr shares the top spot in the AHL in power-play points with 16. Springfield’s Jayce Hawryluk (5G, 11A) also has 16, while the Wolves’ Brandon Pirri is among the group that owns 15. Carr scored a power-play goal midway through the third period Saturday to re-take the league lead in PPGs with 8. Carr’s importance to the Wolves can be explained by the team’s points percentage when he plays and when he doesn’t. The Wolves posted a 1-4-1-0 record (.250) while Carr was with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, but the Wolves are 13-5-1-1 (.700) when Carr is in the lineup.
17: The Wolves are outscoring opponents 40-23 in the first period this season, a 17-point differential that is the largest among AHL teams in the opening frame. The Wolves have collected an 11-4-2-0 record in the 16 games in which they have scored first and a 10-1-2-1 record when leading after the first period. On the other side of the ice, Tucson has a 5-3-0-0 record when trailing after one — which includes the loss in Saturday’s game as the Wolves led 2-1 after one.
354: 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 goaltender Eddie Pasquale won his NHL debut Dec. 4 for the Tampa Bay Lightning against the Detroit Red Wings, he became the 354th player (out of 615 Wolves all-time) who have competed for the Wolves and in the NHL. That 57.6 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 — 38 boast NHL experience (70.4 percent).