SAN ANTONIO RAMPAGE (17-17-1-0) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (20-12-3-1)
Four games and seven days ago, the Chicago Wolves ranked second in the American Hockey League with 3.94 goals per game. Considering the Wolves were averaging practically four goals per game — and hadn’t scored fewer than 2 goals in any of their first 32 games — who would have dreamed they would score just four goals in their last four games?
Friday night’s 3-0 home loss to San Antonio was the most recent struggle for the Wolves offense, though some of it makes sense considering No. 1 scorer Brandon Pirri has missed the last eight games while playing for Vegas (NHL), No. 1 scoring defenseman Erik Brännström has missed the last 10 games while playing for Team Sweden in the World Junior Championship and point-per-game forward Tomas Hyka has missed nearly all of the last four games due to injury.
Any number of these three vital Wolves could be back in the lineup tonight, but that’s not the only encouraging sign for head coach Rocky Thompson.
“We’ve been fighting it a little bit here the last four games,” Thompson said after Friday’s loss. “I think a lot of that was on us originally — like trying to make an extra play, not having a shooter’s mentality and not shooting for rebounds in non-scoring areas. Little things like that. But I think with about seven minutes left in the second period, our fourth line (Tyler Wong, Matthew Weis and Marco Roy) went out there and had a really good shift…and then it started to snowball.”
Welcome BACK, BRANDON PIRRI
Forward Brandon Pirri was returned on loan by the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights on Friday afternoon, but did not make it to Allstate Arena for the game. Pirri posted six goals and three assists in seven games for Vegas.
The 27-year-old Toronto native, who was named to the 2019 AHL All-Star Classic roster on Thursday, continues to pace the AHL in points (41) despite not playing in the league since Dec. 18. He ranks one assist behind teammate T.J. Tynan and Toronto’s Jeremy Bracco for first in assists (24) and shares fourth in goals (17) with teammates Daniel Carr and Brooks Macek and three others.
Pirri returns to the AHL riding a nine-game point streak that featured nine goals and 10 assists from Nov. 28 to Dec. 18. He scored points in six of his seven games with Vegas, which included one goal and one assist in each of his last two games (Dec. 30 at Arizona and Jan. 1 vs. Los Angeles). The Golden Knights posted a 5-0-2 record in the games Pirri played.
BY THE NUMBERS
3: The Wolves will have three representatives – forwards Brandon Pirri and Daniel Carr and defenseman Erik Brännström – at the 2019 AHL All-Star Classic, joining the San Jose Barracuda as the only other team to have three players selected. It will be Pirri’s third appearance at the AHL All-Star Classic while Carr and Brännström are first-time selections.
4: The Wolves’ prowess during even-strength hockey can be seen at the top of the AHL’s plus/minus ratings — where they own four of the top seven spots. Left wing Daniel Carr and rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud are tied for the league lead with a +20 plus/minus. Center Gage Quinney shares fourth place with Syracuse’s Cameron Gaunce at +18 while rookie defenseman Nic Hague shares sixth place with a +17.
5: Rookie defenseman Erik Brännström has been the quarterback of the Wolves’ power play virtually from Day 1. But since he left the team on Dec. 16 to join Team Sweden for the WJC, the Wolves scored just 5 power-play goals in 39 chances (12.8 percent). Prior to Brännström’s departure, the Wolves converted 28 of 122 chances (23.0 percent) and ranked fourth in the league. He did not dress for Friday’s game, but he might be available tonight.
8: The San Antonio Rampage roster features eight former Wolves: forwards Samuel Blais, Conner Bleackley, Jordan Kyrou, Mackenzie MacEachern and Adam Musil, defensemen Chris Butler and Jake Walman and goaltender Ville Husso. Bleackley, MacEachern and Walman each played roles on the Wolves’ 2016-17 and 2017-18 Central Division champions while the others all helped the 2016-17 team captained by Butler.
14: For the first time all season, Rocky Thompson made a goalie switch on Friday night. Max Lagace entered for Oscar Dansk after the first period and saved all 14 shots he saw. That continued Lagace’s recent strong work as over his last three games, he has posted a 1-1-0 record with a 1.11 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage.
130: Despite the Wolves’ recent scoring issues, they continue to lead the AHL with 130 goals — four more than Syracuse. The Wolves also continue to boast three of the league’s top 10 scorers: League leader Brandon Pirri (17A, 24A), No. 2 Daniel Carr (17G, 23A) and No. 7 Brooks Macek (17G, 17A).
355: 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 left wing Tye McGinn made his Wolves debut Friday, he became the 355th player (out of 617 Wolves all-time) who have competed for the Wolves and in the NHL. That 57.5 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).