CHICAGO WOLVES (38-19-5-3) AT SAN ANTONIO RAMPAGE (27-31-6-1)
ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION, SOMEHOW
It defies logic, but it’s the truth: The Chicago Wolves keep losing important players, but they keep winning important games. The latest example came Friday night as the Wolves knocked off the Texas Stars 4-1 despite playing without three of their top five scorers this season — and losing their No. 6 scorer during the third period.
On the morning of Feb. 17, the Wolves woke up in third place in the Central Division. They owned 60 points, which was seven behind the front-running Grand Rapids Griffins and two behind the Iowa Wild. Since that time, the Wolves have lost defenseman Erik Brannstrom (trade), No. 1 AHL scorer Daniel Carr (injury), No. 4 AHL scorer Brooks Macek (injury), physical forward Stefan Matteau (injury) and AHL plus-minus leader Gage Quinney (potential injury during Friday’s game).
Nevertheless, the Wolves have produced an 11-2-0-2 record (.800) since Feb. 17 to vault past the Griffins and the Wild into first place in the Central Division. Chicago takes the ice tonight with a 4-point lead over Grand Rapids and Iowa. Moreover, the Wolves’ magic number for a Calder Cup playoff berth has dropped to 9.
IT’S THE DEFENSE, STUPID
Over the Wolves’ last 15 games, the team has allowed more than two goals just twice. Not coincidentally, those are the teams’ only regulation losses during this streak (4-2 on March 2 at Texas and 3-2 on March 15 vs. Cleveland). Goaltenders Max Lagace and Oscar Dansk have taken turns handling the crease during this five-week stretch.
Because Lagace has spent most of the last week with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, Dansk has been in charge for the last three games and allowed just four goals. Since Feb. 17, Dansk owns a 5-1-1 record with a 1.70 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage. Not to be outdone, Lagace has contributed a 6-1-1 record with a 1.23 GAA and a .955 save percentage.
COGHLAN’s powerful play
Rookie defenseman Dylan Coghlan opened the scoring Friday night by blistering a slapshot from the right point past Texas goaltender Landon Bow. That continued Coghlan’s steady rise among the AHL’s most potent power-play threats.
The 21-year-old owns nine power-play goals this season — one of 18 players with at least nine PPGs. Of those 18 players, only three are rookies (Coghlan, Texas’ Joel L’Esperance and Syracuse’s Alex Barre-Boulet) and only three are defensemen (Coghlan, Rochester’s Zach Redmond and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Ethan Prow).
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 +37 while his former linemate Daniel Carr and rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud share second at +35. Rookie defenseman Nic Hague sits in a three-way tie for fourth place with a +28.
9: Heading into tonight’s matchup, the Wolves need just 9 points in 11 remaining games to clinch the franchise’s 20th playoff berth in 25 years. Only Bakersfield (5) 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.
15: The Wolves have held firm on their last 15 penalty kills — a stretch that has lasted nearly five 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 eighth place — a leap of four spots since Friday morning — among the AHL’s 31 teams. San Antonio’s power play has increased markedly as the season has gone along and sits ninth in the league at 19.8 percent.
21: 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 19 games, McKenzie has stacked up nine goals and 12 assists as the Wolves have fashioned a 13-4-0-2 record. He added two assists in Friday’s win at Texas. When the Wolves and Rampage met last Saturday, 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.
45: The Wolves are outscoring their opponents by 45 goals this season (215-170), 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 73-44. Nobody in the AHL is close to that +29 margin.
65: With high-scoring right wing Brooks Macek forced to sit out Friday night’s game due to an injury — his first absence from the lineup this season — top line left wing Curtis McKenzie becomes the only Wolves player who has suited up for all 65 games this season. McKenzie never has appeared in all 76 AHL games during his career, but he played 75 games in 2013-14 during his rookie season with the Texas Stars.
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 621 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.
The March 30 game will be broadcast on CW50.