SAN ANTONIO RAMPAGE (27-30-6-0) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (36-19-5-2)
WHEN LAST WE MET…
The Chicago Wolves’ eight-game home winning streak came to a close Friday night with a 3-2 loss to Cleveland at Allstate Arena. It marked the Wolves’ first home loss since Jan. 20 — a stretch of 54 days.
Had the Wolves earned the victory, they would have tied for the league’s second-longest home winning streak all season with Hershey (Jan. 13 to Feb. 23). Only tonight’s opponent, the San Antonio Rampage, own a longer streak this season as head coach Drew Bannister’s team won 12 in a row at AT&T Center from Dec. 8, 2018, through Jan. 25, 2019.
Speaking of the AT&T Center, the Wolves were there 11 days ago and one of this season’s defining moments occurred early in the third period of the Wolves’ 2-1 shootout loss to the Rampage. Shortly after Chicago forward Daniel Carr, the AHL’s leader in goals and points, passed the puck ahead as he reached the Wolves blue line, San Antonio forward Jordan Nolan left his feet and delivered a high blow that sent Carr to the ice.
Unpunished by the game’s officials, Nolan was handed a two-game suspension by the league for charging. He served it last week and played in San Antonio’s 6-3 loss Friday night at Iowa. Carr, meanwhile, suffered an upper-body injury that will keep him off the ice for weeks (if not months) to come.
Despite losing Carr’s services, the Wolves have maintained their spot atop the Central Division by taking three games in three days last weekend. Chicago has changed its identity from an offensive juggernaut — which it was throughout the first half of the season — into a defensive powerhouse. Since the All-Star Break, goaltenders Max Lagace and Oscar Dansk have allowed just 36 goals in 18 games.
A RARE MISSTEP
Befitting a team that entered Friday’s game with a .735 winning percentage since the All-Star Break — and the Western Conference’s second-best winning percentage (.648) over the whole season — the Wolves have set a certain standard in their locker room.
That’s why Friday’s 3-2 loss wasn’t written off as just one of those nights that happen during a 76-game season — especially after the team regained the services of injured forwards Tomas Hyka and Keegan Kolesar. Hyka missed 12 games while Kolesar sat out two.
“I was really, really disappointed in our team effort,” Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson said afterward. “I thought last weekend, guys really stepped up and unified. I thought tonight, guys just said, ‘Hyka’s in, “Koley” is in,’ and they just let off the gas as a team. That was the result you get. You get dominated in your own building. We’ve responded the right way all year. That what I would anticipate will happen tomorrow.”
BY THE NUMBERS
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. Center Gage Quinney and former linemate Daniel Carr share the league lead at +35. Rookie defensemen Zach Whitecloud ranks third at +33. Bakersfield forward Patrick Russell ranks fourth (+28) while rooke defenseman Nic Hague holds fifth at +27.
8: San Antonio’s roster features eight players who suited up for the Wolves during the years when the franchise had a partnership with the St. Louis Blues: Forwards Conner Bleackley, Mark Cooper, Jordan Kyrou and Adam Musil, defensemen Chris Butler, Jordan Schmaltz and Jake Walman and goaltender Ville Husso. Two others — forward Tanner Kaspick and goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick — spent time on the roster but did not appear in any Wolves games.
12: Right wing Tomas Hyka returned to the Wolves lineup Friday night after missing 12 games due to injury. He suffered the injury on Feb. 13 at Manitoba, which robbed the Wolves of one of their leading scorers as Hyka owns 28 points (10G, 18A) in 30 games this season and 76 points in 80 Wolves games since the start of last season. He fired two shots in his return to the ice.
16: Heading into tonight’s matchup, the Wolves need just 16 points in 14 remaining games to clinch the franchise’s 20th playoff berth in 25 years. Only Bakersfield (10) has a lower number in the Western Conference. The magic number is reduced each time the Wolves earn points, as well as each time teams outside the playoff picture fail to earn points.
39: The Wolves are outscoring their opponents by 39 goals this season (204-165), 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 70-43. Nobody in the AHL is close to that +27 margin.
200: When T.J. Tynan scored in the third period last 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 250 goals during the 76-game regular season, which is just one goal off the pace of the 2016-17 Central Division champions.
357: 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 19-year-old defenseman Erik Brannstrom made his NHL debut Thursday night for the Ottawa Senators, he became the 357th player (out of 620 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
All games are streamed on AHLTV.