MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS (25-24-12-1) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (35-18-5-2)
SPRING FORWARD LIKE THE WOLVES
Within the last two weeks, the Chicago Wolves have lost their two players who participated in the AHL All-Star Classic. Rookie defenseman Erik Brannstrom was traded to the NHL’s Ottawa Senators while left wing Daniel Carr, the league’s leading scorer, was injured by an illegal hit from San Antonio’s Jordan Nolan and there’s no timetable for his return.
In their absence, the Wolves have not moped. Instead, they’ve fashioned six consecutive strong periods and produced back-to-back 4-1 victories over the Milwaukee Admirals and Iowa Wild. So far this weekend, six Wolves have scored goals, four others have earned assists and goaltenders Max Lagace and Oscar Dansk have taken turns being brilliant in the crease.
Basically, they’ve decided to spring forward together. That’s why the Wolves hold a 1-point lead over the Grand Rapids Griffins and a 3-point lead over the Iowa Wild heading into today’s action.
“We’ve been dealt some blows in the last little bit — and guys have been challenged to have to pick it up,” Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson said after Saturday’s win over Iowa. “I think that they’re answering the challenge, but it’s not put on the individual necessarily. It’s a responsibility of the team to strengthen each other by playing a certain way. When you play together, you strengthen as a whole. Sometimes things can make it more difficult on you, but other things can kind of galvanize you as a group.”
SOME personnel CHANGES, TOO
The Wolves entered Saturday’s game 1 of 20 on the power play since Erik Brannstrom, the quarterback of the top power-play unit, was traded to Ottawa. The coaches made some adjustments to the power play midweek and the top unit went 1 of 3 on the power play Saturday night — the goal being a one-timer blast from above the right circle by rookie defenseman Nic Hague that was set up by new/old point man Zac Leslie.
Leslie, who joined the team last January in a trade with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, served as one of the team’s primary power-play operators last year — so the coaches thought it could work to turn back the clock and ask him to fill the role again.
“We moved ‘Les’ back to that top unit and gave him an opportunity to do what he did for us last year,” said head coach Rocky Thompson. “I thought ‘Les’ was outstanding at the end of the year and going into playoffs. He was challenged to be better and he knew he could be and he wanted the challenge. I think that’s been helpful, for one. We’ve moved some pieces around and we’re looking for different things right now. I think it started (Friday) night. I thought our power play looked pretty good.”
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 certain he’ll miss more time than Nolan. This weekend’s pair of wins mark the second and third time in eight games the Wolves have emerged victorious without Carr in the lineup.
3: The Wolves’ prowess during even-strength play shows up in the league’s plus/minus ratings as Chicago owns the top three spots and four of the top five. Gage Quinney earned a +2 Saturday night and leapfrogged over former linemate Daniel Carr (+35) to take over the league lead at +37. Rookie defensemen Zach Whitecloud has pulled even with Carr at +35. Bakersfield forward Patrick Russell ranks fourth (+28) while rooke defenseman Nic Hague holds fifth at +27.
4: Goaltender Max Lagace owns fourth place on the AHL’s goals-against average list with a career-low 2.30 GAA. Over his last seven starts, the Quebec native has produced a 6-0-1 record with an 0.98 GAA and a .963 save percentage. Neither Lagace nor goaltending partner Oscar Dansk have allowed more than two goals in a game during the team’s seven-game home winning streak.
11: In a remarkable coincidence, three Wolves produced their 11th goals of the season during the course of Saturday night’s 4-1 win over Iowa Wild. Rookie defenseman Dylan Coghlan set the tone with his 11th in the first period. Rookie defenseman (and Coghlan’s roommate) Nic Hague posted his 11th during the second and veteran center T.J. Tynan picked up his 11th during the third period. Only 10 AHL defensemen have scored double-digit goals this season — and Coghlan and Hague share the lead among rookie defenseman with Charlotte’s Jake Bean.
39: The Wolves are outscoring their opponents by 39 goals this season (200-161), 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 69-42. Nobody in the AHL is close to that +27 margin.
200: When T.J. Tynan scored in the third period Saturday night, the Wolves became the first Western Conference team to reach the 200-goal mark this season and the fourth AHL team overall. The Wolves are on pace to score 253 goals during the 76-game regular season, which would be the franchise’s highest total since the AHL moved from 80 to 76 games prior to the 2011-12 season.
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.