CHICAGO WOLVES (14-4-1-1)
AT TEXAS STARS (7-8-2-1)
let’s talk goaltending
Why do the Chicago Wolves enter tonight’s game at Texas with the American Hockey League’s longest active winning streak? Well, it’s pretty easy to point toward the goaltenders and the team defense in front of them.
During the Wolves’ six-game streak that began Nov. 26 at Grand Rapids, goaltenders Alex Lyon and Eetu Makiniemi have combined to allow just seven goals. They have not allowed an even-strength goal since the 5:11 mark of the second period on Nov. 27 against Rockford, a stretch of 279 minutes and 49 seconds.
And while it’s not ideal to play the “ifs and buts” game, we’ll still mention this stat: If not for Iowa rookie Matt Boldy scoring on a 5-on-3 power play in the first period Saturday night, the Wolves would be entering H-E-B Center tonight riding their first back-to-back-to-back shutouts in franchise history.
During their six-game run, the Wolves have vaulted from seventh to second on the AHL’s goals against per game chart (2.71 to 2.25). Not coincidentally, they have risen from 28th place to 16th in the AHL’s penalty kill standings as they have jumped from 77.1 percent to 81.4 by stopping 20 of the last 22 power plays they’ve encountered.
Makiniemi, whose turn it is to play tonight, ranks fourth in the AHL in goals-against average (2.09) and eighth in save percentage (.923). Lyon, who’ll ride consecutive shutouts into Saturday’s game, stands second in GAA (1.47) and save percentage (.935).
WHEN DID IT BECOME 2012 AGAIN?
While we’re on the topic of goalies, the Dallas Stars sent 35-year-old Ben Bishop to the Texas Stars on Monday for a conditioning assignment. Bishop hasn’t played since Aug. 31, 2020, due to a knee injury.
If Bishop plays tonight as anticipated, it will mark his first action against the Wolves since Feb. 4, 2012, when Bishop stopped 29 shots to lead the Peoria Rivermen to a 4-1 victory. That moved Bishop’s lifetime record to 10-8-4 against Chicago with a 2.67 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.
Crazily enough, Bishop’s prospective 9-year, 10-month and 5-day gap between appearances in the net against the Wolves would not be a record. Jason LaBarbera faced the Wolves on Jan. 25, 2003, for the Hartford Wolf Pack, then didn’t see them again until April 18, 2004, with the Rockford IceHogs.
Meanwhile, AHL legend Michael Leighton owns the record for the longest amount of time between his first goaltending gig against the Wolves (Nov. 2, 2001, for the Norfolk Admirals) and his last game against the Wolves (Jan. 3, 2017 for the Charlotte Checkers). As an added bonus, Leighton proceeded to play five games FOR the Wolves after that! He posted his AHL-record 50th and final shutout on behalf of the Wolves exactly four years ago today at Cleveland.
we are the wolves
The last time the Chicago Wolves and Texas Stars met on Jan. 25, 2020, Curtis McKenzie served alongside Patrick Brown and Jaycob Megna as the Wolves’ assistant captains (there was no official captain that year).
Now, of course, McKenzie has returned to Texas for a second turn as the Stars’ captain. During his two seasons in Chicago, McKenzie lived up to his reputation as a fan favorite who plays his best when the stakes are the highest.
When the Wolves made their run to the 2019 Calder Cup Finals, McKenzie led the team with 8 postseason goals and shared the top spot in points with 15.
LAST TWO GAMES
- Alex Lyon became the seventh goaltender in Wolves history to record shutouts in back-to-back appearances as the Wolves pushed their winning streak to a season-high six games.
- Forwards David Cotton, Jack Drury, Stefan Noesen and Josh Leivo scored goals while C.J. Smith handed out two assists playing in his hometown of Des Moines.
- Lyon rejected 20 shots to register his eighth career AHL shutout.
- After Iowa scored during a 5-on-3 power play in the first period, the Wolves buckled down and scored in the second and third to extend their winning streak to five games.
- Centers Maxim Letunov and Jack Drury scored as Dominik Bokk set up Letunov’s tying blast and captain Andrew Poturalski teed up Drury’s game-winner.
- Goaltender Eetu Makiniemi posted 23 saves to earn his third straight win.
By the numbers
2: You can count on two fingers the number of times the Wolves have been outshot during their first 19 games this season. The first game was way back on Oct. 22 when the Wolves allowed a season-high 43 shots in a 3-2 win at Milwaukee. The second was Nov. 6 when Manitoba limited the Wolves to a season-low 23 attempts during a 5-1 Moose win at Allstate Arena. Chicago enters today’s action riding a 13-game streak of outshooting its opponent — the second-longest streak in franchise history. They can tie the record set by John Anderson’s 1998-99 squad that won the shots battle in 14 consecutive games from Jan. 2 to Jan. 30 and posted an 8-4-0-2 record during that run. The current Wolves own a 473-322 shot margin (36.4-24.8 per game) during this spree.
7: Seven players have taken the ice for all 20 games to date — and all are forwards: Jack Drury, Maxim Letunov, Stelio Mattheos, Stefan Noesen, captain Andrew Poturalski, Spencer Smallman and C.J. Smith. This seven-man crew has combined for 34 of the Wolves’ 61 non-shootout goals — including four of the six tallies over the weekend at Iowa — and 55 of their 106 assists. Smith, Poturalski and Noesen have served as the team’s top line for all but two games.
10: Veteran forward Josh Leivo, No. 10 on the roster, fired 10 shots during Sunday’s 4-0 win at Iowa. Not only did that set a professional-high for the 28-year-old from Innisfil, Ontario, it represented a season-high for the Wolves. In fact, no Wolves player had launched at least 10 shots in a game since rookie defenseman Dylan Coghlan fired 10 on goal during a 3-2 shootout loss to the Colorado Eagles on April 7, 2019. That was 117 regular-season games ago for the Wolves.
34.65: The Chicago Wolves’ single-season record for shots per game was set by the 1998-99 squad with 34.65 per outing. This output led the 16-team International Hockey League that season — and marks the only time in the Wolves’ first 27 years that they led their league in shots per game. This year’s squad has a chance to break the team record AND become the second in franchise annals to lead the league. The Wolves enter tonight’s game averaging 35.10 shots per game, which has overtaken Manitoba and Iowa within the last week to move into first place in the 31-team AHL.
250: Captain Andrew Poturalski produced his 250th AHL point Saturday night when he deftly set up Jack Drury’s game-winning goal 47 seconds into the third period. Poturalski has racked up 86 goals and 164 assists in 319 games for the Charlotte Checkers, San Diego Gulls and Wolves. Not only did Poturalski reach that milestone, he pulled into a tie with Rochester right wing Jack Quinn for the AHL’s 2021-22 scoring lead with 24 points (9G, 15A) in 19 games. The 27-year-old is bidding to become the AHL’s first player to win back-to-back scoring titles since Philadelphia’s Peter White in 1996-97 and 1997-98.
415: Since the Wolves organization played its first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 709 players have suited up for Chicago. Defenseman Daniel Brickley was the latest to make his debut when he played Thursday against Iowa. When forward Ben Jones made his debut with the Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 20, he became the 415th Wolves alum to compete in the greatest league in the world. Put another way, 58.5 percent of all Wolves have played in the NHL.
NEXT FIVE GAMES
|Saturday, Dec. 11||at Texas||7 p.m.||H-E-B Center||AHLTV|
|Sunday, Dec. 12||at Texas||5 p.m.||H-E-B Center||AHLTV|
|Thursday, Dec. 16||vs. Manitoba||11 a.m.||Allstate Arena||AHLTV|
|Friday, Dec. 17||at Milwaukee||7 p.m.||Panther Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, Dec. 18||vs. Milwaukee||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.