TEXAS STARS (13-17-2-2) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (16-16-2-1)
RINGING IN THE NEW YEAR
The Chicago Wolves and the Texas Stars have the honor of playing the American Hockey League’s first game of the new year and decade today when they meet for the third time in 13 days at Allstate Arena.
Both teams hope to build on their strong showings in December. Texas, after winning just six games in the first two months, produced a 7-4-2-0 record. The Wolves, after winning just three games in November, delivered a 7-3-1-0 record as they made more than incremental improvement at both ends of the ice.
On the defensive end, goaltender Oscar Dansk won all seven starts he made to tie his career-long winning streak. Capped by his 20-save shutout on New Year’s Eve in Grand Rapids, Dansk posted a 1.57 goals-against average (11 goals in 420 minutes, 50 seconds) and a .943 save percentage (183 saves on 194 shots).
The Wolves allowed just 24 goals in 11 games during December, but two of those were empty-net goals and a third was issued for Milwaukee’s shootout win on Dec. 29. That means the Wolves posted a 1.90 GAA and a .927 save percentage (268 of 289) for all games in December.
At the offensive end, the Wolves increased their output slightly — they entered the month averaging 2.42 goals per game and produced 2.54 per game in December (28 in 11 games) — but the big change was Chicago’s shot differential.
During the 24 games played in October and November, the Wolves averaged 25.1 shots and fired more shots than their opponent just six times. In the 11 December games, the Wolves averaged 30.5 shots and outshot their opponent seven times.
WHEN PIRRI SCORES…
Veteran forward Brandon Pirri returned to the Wolves from the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 17 and has averaged more than one point per game (8 goals and 11 assists in 17 games) since his return.
During December, Pirri produced points in eight of Chicago’s 11 games. In those eight games, he contributed five goals and eight assists and the Wolves posted a 7-0-0-1 record. In the three games in which he was blanked, the Wolves went 0-3-0-0.
For his Wolves career, the 28-year-old Toronto native has delivered 55 goals and 58 assists in 101 regular-season appearances.
WE ARE THE WOLVES
On the final day of the 2010s, the Chicago Wolves revealed the franchise’s All-Decade Team as voted by the fans on social media during December. Several of the votes were close, but these were the six who emerged triumphant:
Goaltender Jordan Binnington (2013-17): 59-40-12 record with a 2.62 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.
Left defenseman Nic Hague (2018-19): 13 goals, 22 assists and +28 plus/minus rating in 85 games.
Right defenseman Zach Whitecloud (2018-19): 8 goals, 24 assists and +35 plus/minus rating in 98 games.
Left wing Brett Sterling (2010, 2012-13, 2016-18): 57 goals and 59 assists in 179 games.
Center Jason Krog (2010-11): 30 goals and 83 assists in 122 games.
Right wing Darren Haydar (2010-13): 68 goals and 120 assists in 218 games.
LAST TWO GAMES
- The Wolves looked ahead to 2020 with the numerologically appropriate 2-0 victory sparked by 20 saves from goaltender Oscar Dansk.
- Forwards Tye McGinn and Valentin Zykov tallied the final goals of the decade for the Wolves while Nicolas Roy, Reid Duke and Brandon Pirri earned the final assists.
- Dansk registered his seventh win in a row and his second shutout of the season.
- In the fourth round of the shootout, Milwaukee’s Frederick Gaudreau became the first skater to score to give the Admirals the extra point at Allstate Arena.
- Forward Brandon Pirri scored on the power play with 3:23 left in regulation to send the game to extra time. Forward Valentin Zykov also scored for the Wolves.
- Goaltender Garret Sparks stopped 21 shots in regulation and OT and 3 of 4 in the shootout.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: Forward Lucas Elvenes assisted on Brandon Pirri’s game-tying power-play goal late in Sunday’s game against Milwaukee, but Utica defenseman Brogan Rafferty scored a goal on New Year’s Eve. That means they share the top spot on the AHL’s list of top rookie scorers entering 2020. Elvenes boasts seven goals and 23 assists in 35 games while Rafferty owns five goals and 25 assists in 34 games. They share 10th place on the AHL’s overall scoring list.
3: For the third season in a row, goaltender Oscar Dansk has strung together a personal seven-game winning streak. This year, he owns a 1.57 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage. When Dansk won his final seven regular-season starts last year (March 22-April 13), he notched a 1.57 GAA and a .949 save percentage. When the 25-year-old Stockholm, Sweden, native won seven straight starts from Feb. 15 to March 9 in 2018, he posted a 2.26 GAA with a .925 save percentage.
7: When the Wolves captured the Central Division title last April, they became the seventh organization in the American Hockey League’s 83-year history to win back-to-back-to-back division crowns. They joined the company of Toronto (2012-14), Rochester (1999-2001), Philadelphia (1997-99), Hershey (1967-69), Quebec (1964-66) and Springfield (1960-62). If the Wolves win the Central Division this year, they’ll become the first AHL franchise to win four straight titles.
21: Five rookie forwards have scored their first AHL goals this season for the Wolves. In a weird coincidence, these first goals have been spaced out almost exactly 21 days apart. On Oct. 5, Lucas Elvenes scored in the season opener against Grand Rapids. Twenty-one days later (Oct. 26), Jake Leschyshyn scored vs. Manitoba. Twenty-two days later (Nov. 17), Ben Jones scored at Iowa. Twenty days later (Dec. 7), Jermaine Loewen scored at Manitoba. Twenty-one days later (Dec. 28), Paul Cotter’s first goal served as the GWG at Iowa. This suggests another Wolves rookie forward should be on target for a first goal on Jan. 18.
72: With center Nicolas Roy being recalled from loan by the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday, the Wolves have been part of 72 player transactions since the regular season opened on Oct. 5. While a few have been paper transactions engineered by the Golden Knights, the 72 transactions helps to explain some of the inconsistency the Wolves have experienced this season. To help put that number into perspective, the Wolves had been a part of just 18 regular-season transactions as of Jan. 2, 2019. The Wolves finished the 2018-19 regular season with just 57 player transactions as they won the Central Division and wound up in the Calder Cup Finals.
100: When the Wolves defeated the Texas Stars by a 2-1 count on Dec. 21, head coach Rocky Thompson earned his 100th regular-season victory behind the Wolves bench. Thompson boasts a 102-61-15-9 record (.610) and a pair of Central Division titles since taking the reins prior to the 2017-18 season — and also led Chicago to the 2019 Calder Cup Finals. Only AHL Hall of Famer John Anderson (624 wins in 14 seasons) has delivered more wins for the Wolves.
|Saturday, Jan. 4||vs. Iowa||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Sunday, Jan. 5||at Rockford||MetroCentre||4 p.m.||Watch|
|Friday, Jan. 10||at San Antonio||AT&T Center||7 p.m.||Watch|