TUCSON ROADRUNNERS (34-18-1-2) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (26-26-5-2)
HANDICAPPING THE CENTRAL
Four Central Division teams enjoyed a Friday night off — first-place Milwaukee, second-place Iowa, the Wolves and the Manitoba Moose — while the other four teams added another chapter to the Central’s topsy-turvy playoff chase. Rockford blanked Grand Rapids 4-0 while Texas scored a power-play goal with 14 seconds left to take a 2-1 win at San Antonio.
Milwaukee owns the AHL’s best points percentage (.717) and goal differential (+65) and could clinch its Calder Cup playoff berth within days. Iowa boasts the AHL’s third-best points percentage (.658) and also seems well on its way toward the playoffs. The other two Central Division playoff spots couldn’t be more of a tossup:
|TEAM||POINTS||GAMES REMAINING||RECORD||POINTS %|
|3. Grand Rapids||61||15||27-27-3-4||.500|
|5. San Antonio||60||17||24-23-7-5||.508|
The Wolves hold a few potential advantages over the rest of the group. The Wolves have 10 home games remaining, which are the most in the Western Conference. Also, according to the AHL’s Playoff Primer chart on the league’s website (theAHL.com), the average points percentage of the Wolves’ final 17 opponents sits at .529. That’s the lowest among the bottom six teams in the Central.
WELCOME HOME, KOLESAR AND ZYKOV
When the Chicago Wolves battled the Tucson Roadrunners on Thursday night, the Wolves celebrated the return of two key players: center Keegan Kolesar and right wing Valentin Zykov. Kolesar missed 12 games due to a lower-body injury suffered Jan. 31 while Zykov missed five games due to an illness.
Not only did Kolesar and Zykov bolster the team’s forward lines during 5-on-5 play, they boosted the Wolves’ power play that tallied twice Thursday night. With 3:54 remaining Thursday, Kolesar ripped a shot high off the post. Zykov was battling for position just outside the crease and found himself in the right place for the carom to bang off his upper body, drop to the crease and cross the goal line for the game-tying tally.
Kolesar had been one of the Wolves’ brightest lights at the time of his injury. He had delivered three goals and three assists in his last seven games for Chicago — and made his NHL debut with the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 11. Zykov, meanwhile, has been a steady goal-producer since making his Wolves debut on Nov. 29. He owns 10 goals in 27 appearances, so his goals-per-game average of .37 ranks second on the squad to Brandon Pirri (15 goals in 38 games).
WE ARE THE WOLVES
The Wolves are on Game 2 of a six-game homestand, which marks the franchise’s longest stretch at home since the 2016-17 season (Feb. 22 to March 9). When the Wolves host games on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon next weekend, it will be the first time the Wolves have played home games on three consecutive days since March 4-6, 2011.
One thing that has been consistent for the Wolves over the years? The success of the Adopt-A-Dog Nights, presented by Premier Veterinary Group, that occur one Saturday night per month — including tonight in Allstate Arena’s South Lobby.
At last month’s Adopt-A-Dog Night, Jason and Kara Needham of Hammond, Indiana, fell in love with “Cadbury” and made him the 1,500th adoptee in the program’s history. The Needhams have renamed him “Muttley Crüe” as an homage to the Motley Crüe classic “Kickstart My Heart” that has opened the Wolves’ pregame show for years.
LAST TWO GAMES
- Forward Tyler Steenbergen’s rebound goal with 3:37 left snapped a 2-2 tie and lifted the Pacific Division-leading Roadrunners to the road win at Allstate Arena.
- Center Gage Quinney posted a game-tying power-play in the first, then forward Valentin Zykov’s power-play goal made it 2-2 just 19 seconds before Steenbergen’s game-winner.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk stopped 26 of 29 shots.
- Moose forward C.J. Suess scored 1:32 into overtime to give Manitoba its second overtime win over the Wolves in as many days.
- Forward Lucas Elvenes scored in the first period, then center Patrick Brown and defenseman Jake Bischoff notched shorthanded goals 35 seconds apart in the second to take a 3-1 lead.
- Goaltender Garret Sparks stopped 26 shots.
BY THE NUMBERS
2: Forward Lucas Elvenes ranks second among all AHL rookies with 33 assists and shares eighth among all players in assists. Elvenes earned his 33rd assist Thursday night when he earned the secondary helper on Gage Quinney’s power-play goal in the first period. Elvenes owns 12 goals and 33 assists to lead the Wolves in scoring and share 22nd place overall in the AHL. The 20-year-old Angelholm, Sweden, native is bidding to become the second rookie in Wolves history to pace the team in points. Ty Rattie became the first when he posted 31 goals and 17 assists in 2013-14.
5: Veteran forward Brandon Pirri sits on his longest point streak of the season as he has racked up four goals and two assists in his last five Wolves games. The catch is figuring out when he’ll get a chance to increase that streak. Pirri has played in the Vegas Golden Knights’ last three games, including Friday night’s 4-0 loss at Winnipeg. Pirri and Nicolas Roy played Sunday and Tuesday nights in Vegas, then returned to Chicago for Thursday’s morning skate before being recalled Thursday afternoon.
12: The Wolves gave up their 12th empty-net goal of the season with 26 seconds left in Thursday’s 4-2 loss to Tucson. Chicago ranks sixth in the AHL in this category that Manitoba leads with 16 ENGs. The Wolves allowed just nine empty-net goals in 2018-19 and haven’t reached the 12 mark since surrendering 14 empty-netters during the 2014-15 season.
27.02: The Wolves rank last out of the 31 AHL teams with 27.02 shots attempted per game, which is on pace to break the single-season franchise record for fewest shots per game. Last year’s Calder Cup finalists set the mark with 27.71 shots per game. Curiously, the Wolves enjoy a better points percentage when they don’t reach their shots per game average. The squad is 16-15-3-0 (.515) when attempting 27 shots or fewer, but 10-11-2-2 (.480) when trying 28 shots or more.
50: There are just 50 tickets available in the Chicago Wolves’ St. Patrick’s Day Golden Ticket raffle, which means each ticketholder has a 1 in 50 chance to win alternate captain Curtis McKenzie’s game-worn St. Patrick Day’s jersey, presented by Jewel-Osco. Each ticket costs $50 and proceeds go to Easterseals Metropolitan Chicago and Chicago Wolves Charities. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis at ChicagoWolvesStore.com/Charity. The Wolves will wear their commemorative St. Patrick Day’s jerseys on March 14-15.
136: Since the regular season began on Oct. 5, the Wolves have been a part of 136 roster transactions. Is that a lot? Well, consider that the Wolves made it through ALL of the 2018-19 regular season with just 57 transactions. Center Nicolas Roy has been the busiest traveler on the team — if not in professional hockey — as he has either been recalled or reassigned by the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights 30 times from Oct. 1 through Thursday’s recall by Vegas.
373: When center Gage Quinney made his NHL debut with Vegas on Feb. 22, he became the 373rd player in Wolves history to put NHL experience on his resume. When defenseman Patrik Parkkonen made his Wolves debut Thursday night vs. Tucson, he became the 649th player to don the Wolves uniform. That means 57.5 percent of all Wolves have appeared in the NHL. That percentage is even higher among goaltenders as 40 of the team’s 57 goalies (70.2 percent) can say they’ve played in the NHL.
|Sunday, March 8||vs. Rockford||Allstate Arena||3 p.m.||Tickets|
|Friday, March 13||vs. San Antonio||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Saturday, March 14||vs. Rockford||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|