CHICAGO WOLVES (17-9-3-1) AT MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS (16-10-5-1)
A BOXING DAY TRADITION
For the fourth time in the last five years, the Chicago Wolves play their first post-Christmas game at Milwaukee. For the third time in those five years, the game is being held on Boxing Day. What’s even better about this tradition — at least from the Wolves’ perspective — is that Chicago keeps winning this game.
Last year on Dec. 27, defenseman Jake Walman made his final goal for the organization count as Tomas Hyka and Brandon Pirri set him up 1:05 into overtime for the tally that made goaltender Max Lagace the 3-2 winner.
On Dec. 26, 2016, Samuel Blais scored twice while Brett Sterling, Wade Megan and Ivan Barbashev also chimed in during a 5-2 Wolves victory. On Dec. 26, 2014, a whopping 12 Wolves scored points in a 6-2 triumph highlighted by Ty Rattie’s no-look, backhand, spin-o-rama goal that earned the No. 1 spot on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10. Go to bit.ly/RattieNo1 if you’d like to relive this goal.
STILL A FIRST-PLACE FRENZY
The Wolves claimed a share of first place in the Central Division (along with the division’s best points percentage) with a 3-1 victory at Milwaukee on Saturday afternoon. While that made for a lovely feeling heading into the three-day holiday break, all it did was make the logjam even larger at the top of the standings.
The Wolves (38 points, .633), Grand Rapids Griffins (38 points, .594) and the Admirals (38 points, .594) are locked at the top with the Iowa Wild (37 points, .617), Rockford IceHogs (36 points, .581) and Texas Stars (34 points, .586) all within an arm’s reach of the lead. The IceHogs and Wild tangle in Des Moines tonight, so there’s the opportunity for more change in the standings order.
Last year coming out of the break, the Central Division race couldn’t have been more different. The Manitoba Moose sat atop the entire league with 49 points and a .790 points percentage while Rockford and Iowa were next in the division with 36 points apiece.
pirri’s scoring getting eerie
Brandon Pirri posted three goals and one assist in three games for the Vegas Golden Knights Dec. 20-23, but he was returned on loan to the Wolves after Sunday night’s game. Despite missing two Wolves games during his Vegas stint, Pirri remains the AHL’s leader in points (41) and assists (24).
BY THE NUMBERS
1: The Wolves rank No. 1 among the 31 AHL teams in both goals with 118 and goals per game with 3.93. The Wolves are leading the league in these categories despite ranking 18th in shots attempted at 28.97 per game, which means Chicago enjoys a 13.6 shooting percentage this season. The last time Chicago led the league in scoring, the Wolves captured the Calder Cup championship (2007-08).
2: The Wolves have scored at least two goals in all 30 games this year, the only team in the AHL to do so. While this streak sets the franchise record for opening a season with 2+ goals, it only ranks second place on the franchise’s overall list. John Anderson’s 2006-07 team set the franchise mark by scoring 2+ in 36 consecutive games from Oct. 15, 2006 to Jan. 6, 2007. Of course, it helped to have Darren Haydar on the roster. Haydar set the AHL point streak record by recording at least one point in each of the Wolves’ first 39 games that year. It’s not a coincidence that Haydar’s streak and the team’s 2+ goal streak ended on the same day (Jan. 9, 2007).
9: Speaking of nice point streaks, Wolves alternate captain T.J. Tynan is in the middle of his career-high streak. The Orland Park, Illinois, native has delivered two goals and nine assists during his nine-game run. Saturday’s 3-1 win over Milwaukee marked the first time in the streak that Tynan didn’t earn an assist. Earlier this season, Tynan enjoyed a six-game assist streak (Nov. 11-25) and a five-game assist streak (Oct. 24-Nov. 3).
21: The Wolves are outscoring opponents 46-25 in the first period this season, a 21-goal differential that is the largest among AHL teams in the opening frame. Bridgeport is the only AHL team in the same universe with a +11 during the first. The Wolves own a 14-4-3-0 record in the league-leading 21 games in which they have scored first and a 14-1-2-1 record when leading after the first period.
72.9: That’s the Wolves’ points percentage when forward Daniel Carr is in the lineup (16-5-2-1) compared to a .250 points percentage when he was with the Vegas Golden Knights (1-4-1-0). Carr ranks first in the league in plus/minus rating (+20), tied for first in power-play goals (9), tied for first in power-play points (17), second to teammate Brandon Pirri in points (35) and second to Pirri in points per game (1.464 to 1.458).
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).