CHICAGO WOLVES (37-19-5-3) AT TEXAS STARS (32-27-4-3)
EVERY POINT COUNTS
The Chicago Wolves earned a crucial point in a 2-1 shootout loss on Wednesday at Rockford, which kept the Wolves two points ahead of the pack in the Central Division race as the Grand Rapids Griffins fell 6-3 to Texas the same night.
The Wolves lead the division, as well as the Western Conference, with 82 points while the Griffins and Iowa Wild are tied in second with 80 points. Rockford sits in the final playoff spot with 72 points, but Texas is in contention just one point back. If the Wolves win tonight and the Colorado Eagles defeat the Manitoba Moose in regulation, the Wolves’ magic number to clinch a playoff berth drops to 7.
EXAMINING THE special teams
The Wolves special teams both rank in the top 15 among AHL teams despite recent struggles to score on the power play. The Wolves have been without two key cogs in the man-advantage since defenseman Erik Brannstom, who tallied three goals and 13 helpers on the power play, was traded to Belleville and forward Daniel Carr, who owns 12 goals and 15 assists on the man-advantage, has been sidelined due to injury.
Regardless, the power play still ranks 13th at 19.2 percent and has a promising record this year when matched up with the Stars. Against Texas, the Wolves power play improves drastically to 35 percent (7 of 20). The Chicago penalty kill ranks 12th and has been performing at an 82.3 percent rate this season, improving slightly to 82.8 percent in the month of March, allowing just six goals on 35 opportunities as of late. On Wednesday, Wolves center Gage Quinney scored his third short-handed goal of the season — the sixth of the year for Chicago.
MEET THE NEW GUY
The Wolves announced the signing of center Reid Petryk to a PTO (professional tryout contract) on Thursday afternoon. Petryk met the team in Texas and will be available when the Central Division-leading Wolves face off against the Stars. Petryk, a 26-year-old Edmonton native, has produced 19 goals and 25 assists in 52 games for the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads this season. His nine power-play goals rank ninth in the league while his 19 goals own second on Idaho and his 44 points stand third.
Petryk boasts four years of AHL experience, playing the last three seasons with the San Antonio Rampage. He also played half of the 2014-15 campaign with the Lake Erie Monsters. His career AHL numbers show 36 goals and 42 assists in 205 games. If he suits up tonight, then he’ll become the 621st player in Wolves history.
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. Center Gage Quinney leads the league with his +36 while his former linemate Daniel Carr and rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud share second at +35. Rookie defenseman Nic Hague is in a three-way tie for fourth place with a +28.
11: Heading into tonight’s matchup, the Wolves need just 11 points in 12 remaining games to clinch the franchise’s 20th playoff berth in 25 years. Only Bakersfield (6) 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.
13: The Wolves have held firm on their last 13 penalty kills — a stretch that has lasted nearly four full games. Chicago hasn’t given up a power-play goal since Milwaukee’s Adam Helewka struck 2:16 into the March 10 game at Allstate Arena. The penalty-kill unit’s recent excellence has pushed the Wolves into 12th place among the AHL’s 31 teams. Tonight will be a test as Texas boasts the league’s No. 3 power play (23.9 percent). The Stars own seven PPG in seven games against the Wolves this season.
19: Left wing Curtis McKenzie has been one of the most productive and most consistent Wolves since the All-Star Break. In the team’s last 18 games, McKenzie has stacked up nine goals and 10 assists as the Wolves have fashioned a 12-4-0-2 record. In Saturday’s win over San Antonio, he rang up two goals and one assist to earn his third three-point performance of the season. Overall, he has looked remarkably similar to the standout who captained the Texas Stars to the Calder Cup Final last season and led all goal-scorers during postseason play.
42: The Wolves are outscoring their opponents by 42 goals this season (211-169), 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 71-43. Nobody in the AHL is close to that +28 margin.
113: Wolves first-line center T.J. Tynan has racked up 113 points (27G, 86A) in 130 games during his two seasons with the team. That puts him 27th on the franchise’s all-time scoring list — and he’s in position to climb three more spots shortly. Next in his sights are three Wolves favorites over the course of 25 years: former AHL All-Star defenseman Nathan Oystrick (114 points) and former NHL forwards Brian Noonan (115 points) and Guy Larose (115 points).
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.