GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (21-12-3-4) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (22-13-3-1)
THE RACE FOR FIRST PLACE
What’s on the line tonight? Oh, no big deal…the winner merely takes control of first place in the Central Division — perhaps the tightest race in professional hockey.
The Central Division’s top five teams are separated by just four points with Grand Rapids and Iowa (which is idle tonight) tied for first with 49 points. The Wolves are just one point behind heading into tonight’s matchup while Texas (47 points) and Milwaukee (45 points) are just a successful week away from the top.
But, wait, it gets crazier. Texas ranks fourth in points, but the Stars are first in points percentage (.635) because they’ve played two fewer games than the Wolves and three fewer than the Griffins and the Wild. And then there’s the San Antonio Rampage, who’ve won 11 consecutive home games and officially shaken off their early-season struggles. They sit at 43 points.
GOALS ON GOALS ON GOALS
The Chicago Wolves exploded for eight goals in two games last weekend against the Tucson Roadrunners, reclaiming the league lead in scoring with 141 goals this season. After a bit of a scoring lull, the Wolves seem to be back on pace as they’ve outscored their opponents by 26 goals (141-115). That differential ranks first in the Central Division, second in the Western Conference and fourth in the American Hockey League.
Chicago’s four goals in the first period on Friday tied the most Rocky Thompson’s squad has put up in one period this season, which the Wolves also did in the second period en route to a 7-2 win at Rockford on Nov. 23. The Wolves enjoyed three four-goal periods last season. The last time Chicago posted five goals in a period occurred on Dec. 22, 2016, in the third period vs. the Milwaukee Admirals.
Who’s scoring thEse goals?
Veteran forward Daniel Carr has been leading the Wolves offense in Brandon Pirri’s absence, but after a four-point weekend in Tucson he took over the lead in the AHL as well. Carr’s 45 points, off 19 goals and 26 assists, are three greater than the next-highest active player, Syracuse’s Carter Verhaeghe. Carr excels on the power play as he’s tied for second in the league with nine power-play goals — and he’s good at even strength as his +23 plus/minus rating leads all AHL players.
Forward Brooks Macek also got back on the scoresheet in the desert, tallying a goal and three assists. Macek averages a point per game for Chicago and has recorded multiple points on 13 occasions this year. Not to be left out, forward Tomas Hyka returned to the lineup and notched four goals for the Wolves, including a hat trick in Friday’s win. The Wolves were 1-3-0-0 in the four games Hyka missed from Dec. 31 to Jan. 5 and scored just five goals in that span.
BY THE NUMBERS
3: The Wolves had three representatives — forwards Brandon Pirri and Daniel Carr and defenseman Erik Brännström — selected to participate in the 2019 AHL All-Star Classic, joining the San Jose Barracuda as the only other team to have three players selected. It marks Pirri’s fourth selection for the AHL All-Star Classic while Carr and Brännström are first-time picks.
5: With his hat trick on Friday, right wing Tomas Hyka became the fifth Wolves player to score at least three goals in one game this season — joining Brooks Macek, Gage Quinney, Daniel Carr (4 goals) and Brandon Pirri. The AHL’s other 30 teams have combined for 27 hat tricks this season. The last Wolves team to have at least five players rack up a hat trick in the same season was the 2008 Calder Cup champs — when Jesse Schultz, Brett Sterling, Kevin Doell, Joel Kwiatkowski, Darren Haydar and Jason Krog (two hat tricks in the playoffs) made it happen.
8: In Friday’s 6-3 win in Tucson, Wolves forwards Daniel Carr and Tomas Hyka scored goals just eight seconds apart in the first period, the fastest two goals by the Wolves this season. As quick as that may seem, it is two seconds from the fastest two goals in Wolves history, set on Dec. 6, 2008, when Joe Motzko and Colin Stuart scored goals six seconds apart against Rockford.
19: The Wolves average 29.13 shots per game, ranking 19th among the 31 AHL teams. Grand Rapids, on the other hand, averages 30.65 shots and ranks 13th. This shouldn’t be an issue, seeing as how the Wolves have a 10-3-1-1 record when being outshot by their opponents.
29: Forward T.J. Tynan’s 29 assists are tied with Toronto’s Jeremy Bracco for the most helpers among AHL players. In two seasons with the Wolves, Tynan has racked up 23 goals and 74 assists in 109 games, putting him just three away from 100 points in a Wolves sweater.
141: Thanks to eight goals against the Roadrunners, the Wolves have regained sole possession of first place in AHL scoring with 141 goals — two ahead of the Charlotte Checkers and Springfield Thunderbirds. The Wolves also continue to boast three of the league’s top 10 scorers: League leader Daniel Carr (19G, 26A), No. 2 Brandon Pirri (18G, 24A) and No. 6 Brooks Macek (18G, 21A).
356: 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 recent Wolves forward Mackenzie MacEachern made his NHL debut on Thursday night for the St. Louis Blues, he became the 356th player (out of 618 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 55 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 (69.1 percent).
THE next three GAMES
|Saturday, Jan. 19||vs. Rockford||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Sunday, Jan. 20||vs. Milwaukee||Allstate Arena||3 p.m.||Tickets|
|Thursday, Jan. 24||at Cleveland||Quicken Loans Arena||6 p.m.||Watch|
All times Central. All games stream on AHLTV.