ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (15-14-3-1)
AT CHICAGO WOLVES (25-7-4-1)
MAKING IT SPECIAL
Exactly three Saturdays ago, as the Chicago Wolves prepared to host the Iowa Wild at Allstate Arena, the Wolves’ special teams weren’t necessarily special.
The Wolves ranked 23rd out of the AHL’s 31 teams on the power play with a 16.9 percent conversion rate (22 of 130). Coincidentally, the Wolves also ranked 23rd on the penalty kill with a 79.6 percent success rate (74 of 93).
Ten games and 21 days later, things look completely different. As the Wolves head into today’s Chicago Mid-Winter Classic, presented by Planet Fitness, against the Rockford IceHogs, they have moved up to 12th place on the power play (19.5 percent) and zoomed all the way to fifth on the kill (83.7 percent).
The Wolves’ power play has converted 12 of 44 opportunities over the last 10 games (27.3 percent), which includes a season-high 3 power-play goals in Friday night’s 4-1 win over the Grand Rapids Griffins as the team debuted its special Healthcare Heroes jerseys, presented by Turtle Wax.
Chicago produced all three of those goals during a six-minute, 19-second stretch of the second period as Stefan Noesen played like a bearded, rolling ball of butcher knives around the crease while Andrew Poturalski, CJ Smith, Max Lajoie and Jack Drury kept the puck in continual motion in the offensive zone. Noesen scored the first two PPGs on feeds from Poturalski and Lajoie, then Poturalski set up Lajoie’s goal as Sam Miletic (subbing for Drury, who was in the box) screened the goaltender.
“We needed (the power play) to come through,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “With power play, you can really get really frustrated and it can take a toll on your 5-on-5. It’s just sticking with it. Stay calm.”
The Wolves lead the AHL with 174 power-play opportunities and rank fourth with 34 power-play goals. The team’s penalty-kill units, meanwhile, have erased 29 of 30 opportunities over the last 10 games (96.7 percent) and are riding a streak of 25 consecutive kills. They haven’t allowed a PPG since the 9:44 mark of the second period Jan. 9 versus Cleveland — a streak of 515 minutes and 48 seconds.
Rookie center Ryan Suzuki, the Carolina Hurricanes’ first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, played Friday night for the first time since Oct. 29 due to injury. He centered the fourth line, fired one shot while playing a regular shift all night. He admitted to Wolves rink-side reporter Alli Vellucci during the first intermission that “my legs were a little heavy,” but he could have fooled his head coach.
“He was good,” Ryan Warsofsky said. “Better than we expected, to be honest. We thought he’d be a little bit rustier, but he made some plays. Line rush, power play, he didn’t look out of shape. Credit to the coaches for keeping him in shape and keeping his conditioning up.”
we are the wolves
Today is the final day the Wolves will wear their commemorative Healthcare Heroes jerseys, presented by Turtle Wax.
All of the jerseys are being auctioned to help Chicago Wolves Charities, driven by Kia, as well as the Illinois Association of School Nurses, the Chicago chapter of the National Black Nurses Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Illinois.
The silent auction closes during tonight’s second intermission, but the blind auction for six jerseys (Jack Drury, Ryan Suzuki, Skates, team-signed, etc.) continues here until noon on Monday, Jan. 31.
LAST TWO GAMES
FRIDAY, JAN. 28: (AT) CHICAGO 4, GRAND RAPIDS 1
- The Wolves scored three power-play goals in a six-minute, 19-second stretch of the second period to spark the team’s seventh win in as many tries against Grand Rapids this season.
- Forward Stefan Noesen scored two power-play goals and added an assist while center Maxim Letunov and defenseman Max Lajoie also scored as the Wolves outshot the Griffins 40-16.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon stopped 15 shots to earn the win.
- The Wolves outshot the Stars 37-17 (just two shy of tying the team record for fewest Shots Against), but Rhett Gardner scored 2:58 into overtime to give Texas the extra point.
- Captain Andrew Poturalski scored his league-leading 20th goal in the first period as forward CJ Smith and defenseman Max Lajoie earned the assists.
- Goaltender Jack LaFontaine posted 15 saves in his Wolves debut.
By the numbers
2: As a way to express the organization’s gratitude to health care workers for their dedication to everyone’s health and safety throughout the pandemic, the Wolves offered all health care workers two free tickets to any of this week’s three home games. Thousands have taken advantage of this opportunity, many of whom elected to attend tonight’s game versus Rockford.
4: Center Maxim Letunov scored the opening goal in the first period Friday night’s 4-1 win over Grand Rapids, which marked his 100th point as a professional. The 25-year-old from Moscow, celebrated by taking a high-stick to the chin in the next period that required 4 stitches (but led to a power-play goal). Letunov returned to the game before the period was through. He owns 45 goals and 54 assists in 176 AHL games and 1 goal in three games with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.
7: Rookie Jack LaFontaine, who turned pro Jan. 9, made his Wolves and AHL debut Wednesday night and allowed just 2 goals in nearly 63 minutes. He became the seventh goaltender to play for the Wolves, which sets the franchise record for most in a season. The Wolves have used five goalies in the last nine games (in order): Michael Lackey, Daniel Mannella, Alex Lyon, Dylan Wells and LaFontaine.
15: The Olympics men’s hockey tournament begins Feb. 9 in Beijing and the Wolves will be well-represented with 15 former players listed on the active 25-man rosters: forward Tyler Wong and defenseman Jake Chelios (China); defenseman Konrad Abeltshauser (Germany), forward Sergey Andronov (Russian Olympic Committee), forwards Daniel Carr, Adam Cracknell, Landon Ferraro and Eric O’Dell and goaltender Edward Pasquale (Canada), forward Kenny Agostino and defenseman David Warsofsky (USA), forward Tomas Hyka (Czech Republic), defenseman Petteri Lindbohm (Finland) and forward Nicklas Jensen (Denmark).
20: Wolves forward Stefan Noesen scored two goals Friday night, which means he has scored a pair of goals in six of his last 11 games dating back to Dec. 11. Noesen, who has racked up 14 goals and 9 assists in his last 12 games, has jumped into a tie for the AHL’s goal-scoring lead with linemate Andrew Poturalski. With the Wolves playing their 38th of 76 regular-season games today, it’s clear both are on pace to score 40-plus goals. No Wolves player has scored that many in an AHL season since Brett Sterling stacked up a league-leading 55 goals on his way to Rookie of the Year honors in 2006-07. No Wolves pair has scored 40-plus in a season since the same year, when league MVP Darren Haydar aided and abetted Sterling with 41 goals and 81 assists.
35.35: 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 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 35.35 shots per game, which owns first in the 31-team AHL with Colorado (34.03) the nearest pursuer.
417: Since the Wolves played their first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 720 players have suited up for Chicago. Goaltender Jack LaFontaine became No. 720 when he made his Wolves debut Wednesday, but he also became the 417th player to compete for the Wolves and in the greatest league in the world. Put another way, 57.9 percent of all Wolves have played in the NHL.
NEXT FIVE GAMES
|Friday, Feb. 4||at Milwaukee||7 p.m.||Panther Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, Feb. 5||at Milwaukee||6 p.m.||Panther Arena||AHLTV|
|Tuesday, Feb. 8||at Cleveland||6 p.m.||Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse||AHLTV|
|Friday, Feb. 11||at Rockford||7 p.m.||MetroCentre||AHLTV|
|Saturday, Feb. 12||vs. Rockford||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.