Daniel Mannella registered his first AHL shutout and Stefan Noesen racked up two more goals as the Chicago Wolves rolled to a 4-0 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins Wednesday night at Allstate Arena.
Forwards Jack Drury and Andrew Poturalski also scored for the Wolves (23-5-1-1), who leaped over North Division leader Utica to claim the best record in the AHL. Chicago has won 15 of its last 16 contests.
The 26-year-old Mannella (2-0-0), a rookie signed to a professional tryout contract on Saturday, has been a brick wall in three appearances for the Wolves — allowing just 3 goals in 66 shots for a 1.21 goals-against average and .955 save percentage.
“He was really good, even better than the previous games,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “Made big saves early in the game. In the second, we weren’t very good and he made big saves. You could tell he was locked in and really focused. I’m happy for him getting his first shutout.”
“These opportunities don’t come around every day and I was going to come to Chicago and make the most of it,” Mannella said. “I’ve just had a blast and learned every day I’m here. It’s a great group of guys and their record shows that — shows how tight-knit they are. I’m just happy to be a part of it right now.”
The Wolves seized the lead for good just 4:03 into the game on Noesen’s eighth goal in his last six games. Defenseman Eric Williams rushed the puck through the neutral zone and fed Poturalski at the left point. Poturalski dropped it to Williams as he built a head of speed behind him and Williams fired from the left dot at goaltender Calvin Pickard, who sent the rebound directly to Noesen for an easy cleanup.
Chicago boosted its lead to 2-0 on Drury’s power-play goal at 9:19. C.J. Smith controlled the puck in the left circle and spun it back to defenseman Joey Keane, who rifled a shot from the point. Drury, stationed in the slot, redirected it past Pickard.
The Wolves added an insurance goal on Poturalski’s one-timer at 1:43 of the third. Grand Rapids turned over the puck in its defensive zone in the midst of a change and Sam Miletic pounced on it in the right circle. He spied Poturalski alone near the bottom of the left circle and delivered a perfect pass for Poturalski’s 16th goal of the season, which pulled him into a share of the AHL lead with Rochester’s Michael Mersch.
When the Griffins (13-11-4-1) went on the power play with 4:02 to play, they pulled their goaltender to gain a 6-on-4 advantage. That backfired on Grand Rapids as Noesen banked home a goal from deep in the defensive zone for a 4-0 advantage with 2:04 to go.
Pickard (12-8-3) stopped 30 shots for the Griffins.
The Wolves hit the road for a five-game road trip that starts with a 6 p.m. clash Friday against the Iowa Wild. Chicago returns to Allstate Arena for 7 p.m. games on Jan. 26, 28 and 29. To procure the best ticket specials, email a Wolves representative at [email protected].