CHICAGO WOLVES (24-6-2-1)
AT MANITOBA MOOSE (20-10-2-1)
CENTRAL DIVISION SHOWDOWN
The temperatures in Winnipeg are supposed to plunge as low as minus-15 Saturday and minus-19 Sunday, which seems fitting for this weekend’s games between the Chicago Wolves and Manitoba Moose. Why? Because both teams will be minus multiple key contributors for what everyone hoped would be a true showdown between the Central Division’s top two teams.
The Wolves, who boast the American Hockey League’s best points percentage (.773) as they stalk their fifth Central Division title in six years and their fifth league championship overall, will be without two of their top five scorers this weekend as the sizzling Stefan Noesen and Josh Leivo have been recalled from loan by the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.
Noesen, the hottest player in the AHL over the last five weeks, piled up 12 goals and 8 assists in his 10 AHL appearances from Dec. 9 through Jan. 17. He rose from a share of 19th place on the AHL’s scoring list into second place by himself with 37 points. His 18 goals, meanwhile, share the top spot with linemate Andrew Poturalski.
Leivo, meanwhile, merely stacks up as the AHL’s reigning Player of the Month. The veteran forward earned the honor in part for his final-second heroics against the Moose on Dec. 16, when he took a pass from Jamieson Rees at the blue line, executed a perfect pull-and-drag and beat Moose goaltender Mikhail Berdin with a backhand with 1.1 seconds left to give the Wolves a 4-3 victory.
But the Wolves have way more of their usual pieces in place than the Moose. Manitoba has 1e players with double-digit point totals this year, but SEVEN of them are not on the roster right now because they’re filling gaps in the Winnipeg Jets’ roster. Moreover, the Moose are without the two goaltenders — Berdin and Arvid Holm — who’ve handled the vast majority of their games this year.
LET’S NOT GET IT TWISTED
Judging by the first two meetings between the Wolves and Moose at Allstate Arena, Manitoba will give Chicago everything it can handle and then some.
As mentioned above, Leivo’s last-second goal gave the Wolves a 4-3 win, but it was their only lead all game. And when the teams met the first time on Nov. 6, the Moose soared to a 3-0 lead in the opening 12:02 on the way to a convincing 5-1 win. Yes, the Moose took advantage of a cold goalie (Eetu Makiniemi) who was told just prior to the introduction of the starting lineup that he needed to play because starter Alex Lyon was scratched in order to head to Carolina.
Here’s the main point: While shots on goal aren’t always the best barometer of which team played better — Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky and his staff prefer to go by legitimate scoring chances — the Wolves have only been outshot four times in 33 games this season and Manitoba is responsible for two of them.
we are the wolves
To show their gratitude to the health care workers who have worked tirelessly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wolves are offering two free tickets to all healthcare workers.
The offer is good for any of the Wolves’ next three home games: Wednesday vs. the Texas Stars, Friday vs. the Grand Rapids Griffins and Saturday vs. the Rockford IceHogs. To request tickets, click here.
Also, the the Wolves will wear special Healthcare Heroes jerseys, presented by Turtle Wax, Jan. 28-29. All of them are being auctioned to benefit Chicago Wolves Charities and three local healthcare-related charities: NAMI Illinois, the Illinois Association of School Nurses and the Chicago chapter of the National Black Nurses Association. To learn how to bid on these commemorative jerseys, click here.
LAST TWO GAMES
- The Wolves scored four goals in a six-minute, 27-second stretch of the second period to transform a 2-1 deficit into a permanent lead during a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day matinee.
- Forward Stefan Noesen produced two goals and one assist while captain Andrew Poturalski and CJ Smith notched one goal and two assists. Forward David Gust also scored for the Wolves.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon stopped 15 shots as the Wolves outshot the IceHogs 45-18.
- After being stonewalled for the first 54 minutes by Iowa goaltender Hunter Jones, the Wolves broke through with two goals in 86 seconds to ensure a point at Wells Fargo Arena.
- Forwards Stefan Noesen and David Gust scored during the third-period rally. For Noesen, it marked his 10th goal in his last eight games.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon notched 26 saves.
By the numbers
5: With less than three weeks before the men’s Olympics hockey tournament begins Feb. 9 in Beijing, several countries have solidified their 25-man rosters and five former Wolves (to date) are going to suit up. High-scoring forward Kenny Agostino, the 2016-17 AHL Most Valuable Player, and defenseman David Warsofsky (younger brother of Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky) will represent the United States. Tomas Hyka, a top scorer on the 2019 Calder Cup finalists, will play for the Czech Republic. Former defenseman Petteri Lindbohm will play for Finland while forward Nicklas Jensen, who posted a hat trick for the Wolves on April 15, 2012, in his sixth pro game, will be a part of Denmark’s first Olympics squad.
9: Defenseman Joey Keane made his season debut with the Carolina Hurricanes last Saturday, which made him the ninth Wolves player this season to suit up for the National Hockey League’s No. 1 team in terms of points percentage. The Hurricanes’ .757 showing (27-8-2) is slightly ahead of the Colorado Avalanche’s .750. Keane played 13 minutes, 38 seconds Saturday in Carolina’s 4-1 win over Vancouver. The 22-year-old Homer Glen native now has two NHL games under his belt. Here are the other Wolves who have played for the Canes this season: Goaltender Alex Lyon, defensemen Jalen Chatfield and Max Lajoie and forwards Jack Drury, Josh Leivo, Stefan Noesen, Andrew Poturalski and CJ Smith.
16: The Wolves’ penalty kill units have defused opponents’ last 16 power plays dating back to the 9:44 mark of second period of their Jan. 9 home win over Cleveland, which means it has been 271 minutes and 32 seconds since the last time Chicago allowed a power-play goal. This streak of excellence has pushed the Wolves to No. 10 in the AHL rankings with an 82.5 percent kill rate.
34.88: The Wolves’ single-season record for shots per game was set by the 1998-99 squad with 34.65 per outing. That led the 16-team International Hockey League that season — and marks the only time in the Wolves’ first 27 years they’ve led their league in shots per game. This year’s crew has a chance to break the team record AND become the second in franchise annals to lead the league. The Wolves average 34.56 shots per game, which owns first in the 31-team AHL with Colorado (34.18) the nearest pursuer.
114: It’s dangerous to try to project season point totals when a team hasn’t even reached the halfway point, but let’s do it anyway. Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski has racked up a league-high 47 points (18G, 29A) in just 30 games this season, which gives him a legitimate chance to become the first AHL player since Philadelphia’s Peter White in 1997-98 to win back-to-back scoring titles. Anyway, if Poturalski maintains this 1.566 points-per-game the rest of the season and has the good fortune to stay healthy, then he’s on pace to finish with 110 points this season. Nobody has scored that many points in an AHL season since the Wolves’ Darren Haydar stacked up 122 points (55G, 81A) in 73 games on his way to winning the league’s MVP award in 2006-07.
416: Since the Wolves played their first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 716 players have suited up for Chicago. Defenseman Derek Topatigh became No. 717 when he made his AHL debut Sunday at Iowa. When center Jack Drury made his debut with Carolina on Dec. 16, he became the 416th Wolves alum to compete in the greatest league in the world. Put another way, 58.0 percent of all Wolves have played in the NHL.
NEXT FIVE GAMES
|Sunday, Jan. 23||at Manitoba||2 p.m.||Canada Life Centre||AHLTV|
|Wednesday, Jan. 26||vs. Texas||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||AHLTV|
|Friday, Jan. 28||vs. Grand Rapids||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Saturday, Jan. 29||vs. Rockford||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Friday, Feb. 4||at Milwaukee||7 p.m.||Panther Arena||AHLTV|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.