IOWA WILD (31-17-7-5) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (34-18-5-2)
RALLYING TO SEt UP a SHOWDOWN
Playing without AHL leading scorer Daniel Carr, who joined Tomas Hyka and Reid Duke on the list of injured forwards, the Chicago Wolves needed a little time Friday night to figure out their brave new world. The Wolves entered the third period trailing the Milwaukee Admirals 1-0, but rallied for four goals on the road in the final 20 minutes to snap a two-game losing streak.
Not only did the late flurry give the squad a confidence boost, it enabled the Wolves to grab sole possession of first place in the AHL’s Central Division. Chicago’s 75 points are one more than the Grand Rapids Griffins and Iowa Wild, who enjoyed their own character-building clash Friday night. The Wild fell behind 2-0 early in Michigan, but rallied for a 4-3 overtime win. That makes tonight’s stakes even bigger.
For those who haven’t been paying attention, Chicago and Iowa might be the most evenly matched foes in the AHL. Both teams have won three times this year. Three of their first six games went to overtime. Four of the six have been one-goal affairs. The other two games were one-goal margins until Iowa scored empty-net goals in the final seconds.
SORTING OUT THE LINEUP
Injuries and roster moves are a fact of life in the American Hockey League. As Wolves director of hockey operations Gene Ubriaco likes to say, you’re always coaching three teams: One coming, one going and the one that’s here.
Nonetheless, it’s worth noting what the Wolves have dealt with lately. Two weeks ago, for example, the team ranked among the AHL’s Top 10 in power play percentage. Then rookie defenseman Erik Brannstrom, the power-play quarterback, was traded to Ottawa. On Tuesday, AHL leading scorer Daniel Carr was injured on an illegal hit by San Antonio’s Jordan Nolan. Carr, who ranked third in the league with 27 points on the power play, did not suit up Friday and it’s uncertain when he might play again.
A PENALTY SHOT!
On Friday night, forward Brooks Macek received the franchise’s first penalty shot in 14 months and he didn’t waste the opportunity. Milwaukee goaltender Troy Grosenick got a piece of Macek’s attempt 7:05 into the third period, but his second effort wasn’t enough to prevent it from crossing the goal line. It marked the Wolves’ first converted penalty shot since Brandon Pirri on Jan. 5, 2018, vs. Manitoba. The Wolves are now 11 of 47 (23.4 percent) all-time on penalty shots.
BY THE NUMBERS
2: San Antonio’s Jordan Nolan was assessed a two-game suspension by the AHL Thursday for his illegal high hit against Wolves forward Daniel Carr on Tuesday. Carr leads the AHL in goals (30), points (71) and plus-minus rating (+35). While there’s no specific timetable for his return, it’s all but certain he’ll miss more time than Nolan. Friday’s win over Milwaukee marked just the second time in seven games that the Wolves emerged victorious without Carr in the lineup.
3: When he allowed just one goal yet again on Friday night, goaltender Max Lagace jumped into third place in the AHL with his 2.30 goals-against average. Bakersfield’s Shane Starrett (2.25 GAA) is the league’s only active goalie who ranks ahead of him. Lagace owns a 16-7-4 record in his 28 appearances for the Wolves this season and, along with Oscar Dansk, plays a huge part in the Wolves allowing the third-lowest goals against per game in the league at 2.71.
4: The Wolves’ prowess during even-strength play shows up in the league’s plus/minus ratings as Chicago owns four of the top five spots. Gage Quinney was a +1 Friday night to pull into a first-place tie with linemate Daniel Carr at +35. Rookie defensemen Zach Whitecloud ranks third at +34 while Nic Hague shares fourth at +26.
13: The last time the Wolves and the Wild met (on Feb. 17 at Allstate Arena), the Wolves tied a franchise record for fewest shots in a game with 13. Actually, Chicago managed just 11 shots during regulation — but came through with a pair of shots in overtime capped by Erik Brannstrom’s game-winning goal set up by Daniel Carr. Neither will be suited up for the Wolves tonight.
36: The Wolves are outscoring their opponents by 36 goals this season (196-160), which trails only Syracuse and Bakersfield for the best goal differential in the AHL. Most of that advantage has been piled up during the first period, when Chicago has outscored its foes 67-42. Nobody in the AHL is close to that +25 margin. The Wolves also outscore opponents by 20 (64-44) in the third. Only Syracuse (+31) boasts a better differential.
38: The Wolves lead the American Hockey League in scoring a game’s first goal. Though Chicago didn’t open the scoring Friday night at Milwaukee, it still leads the way with 38 first goals. The Wolves own a 25-9-3-1 record when scoring first. Coincidentally, the Iowa Wild rank second in the AHL with 37 first goals. The Wild also failed to score first Friday night at Grand Rapids, yet rallied to win. They’re 23-7-4-3 when scoring first.
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 Jan. 10 for the St. Louis Blues, he became the 356th player (out of 619 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 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
All games are streamed on AHLTV.