Welcome to Wolves Insider, presented by Rivers Casino: the weekly report that gives you the latest Chicago Wolves news as the organization battles for its fifth league championship.
NEW GREAT MONTH, SAME GREAT TEAM
When the calendar flips from February to March, the chase for Calder Cup playoff spots begins in earnest. Considering the Chicago Wolves have set the pace in the American Hockey League’s Central Division for the last three months — and hold an 11-point lead over the Manitoba Moose as March starts — chances are good that the Wolves will claim their fifth division title in the last six years.
Here are three big reasons why the Wolves own a .708 points percentage (30-10-4-4) as they prepare for 13 games in March:
1) The Wolves lead the AHL in fewest goals allowed per game (2.58). Head coach Ryan Warsofsky’s crew has accomplished this despite needing to use a league-leading and franchise-record eight goaltenders so far. Alex Lyon, who leads the team with 14 wins, ranks second in the AHL with his 2.14 goals-against average.
2) The Wolves boast the league’s most explosive line as captain Andrew Poturalski leads the AHL with 66 points and right wing Stefan Noesen shares the AHL lead with 28 goals. CJ Smith (45 points in 42 games) and Josh Leivo (26 points in 28 games) have taken turns at left wing alongside Poturalski and Noesen.
3) The Wolves are excellent on special teams, which are so important come playoff time. Chicago leads the league in power-play chances (221) and ranks third in power-play goals (45). Meanwhile, the team’s penalty-kill units have been ridiculously stingy for the last seven weeks — allowing opponents to score just 3 goals in 56 power plays since Jan. 9. That 94.6 success rate has enabled the Wolves to climb from 24th in the AHL on the penalty kill all the way to second for the season (85.2 percent).
ST. PATRICK’S DAY FUN (AND FUNDRAISER)
One of the Wolves’ most wonderful traditions is their commemorative St. Patrick’s Day jerseys, presented by Jewel-Osco, that benefit Easterseals and autism awareness and Chicago Wolves Charities, driven by Kia.
The Wolves will wear St. Patrick’s Day jerseys on Sunday, March 6, and Sunday, March 13, but fans can start trying to win them Wednesday. That’s when the blind auction begins, which features jerseys from Jack Drury, Alex Lyon, Eetu Makiniemi, Pyotr Kochetkov, Max Lajoie, Josh Jacobs and Skates as well as a team-autographed jersey. Learn more here.
The Golden Ticket Raffle for one of Stefan Noesen’s jerseys starts Thursday — only 50 tickets available — while the silent auction begins at Sunday’s game.
BIG WEEK AT HOME
The Wolves start this weekend’s fun early with Wednesday’s Craft Beer Night special, but there’s plenty to look forward to Saturday and Sunday, too.
The first 2,500 fans to enter Allstate Arena Saturday receive a Wolves Snow Globe, courtesy of Jewel-Osco, and everyone is encouraged to stay for the postgame skate, courtesy of Jiffy Lube. There’s more family fun slated for Sunday with the Papa Johns Family Sunday activities.
The rookie center from Winnetka continues to enjoy the most consistent stretch of his professional career. Drury scored 2 goals Saturday and earned 1 assist Sunday to increase his point streak to a season-high eight games. The 22-year-old shares fourth on the team in goals (12), stands fifth in assists (20) and ranks fourth in points (32) in 45 games.
Drury isn’t the only local product who heated up in February. This Orland Park native handed out 2 assists Saturday and another Sunday to give him 4 goals and 6 assists over the last nine games. The 28-year-old Gust owns 12 goals, 14 assists and a +8 plus/minus rating in 43 games. The fifth-year pro is on his way to career-highs in all three categories.
After playing two games for the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes earlier this month, Leivo returned to Chicago and scored 2 points in three consecutive games to help the Wolves win all three. Leivo capped his spree with 2 goals in Saturday’s win at Manitoba. The 28-year-old owns 10 goals — including 7 power-play markers and 3 game-winning goals — in 28 games.
SUNDAY, FEB. 27: (AT) MANITOBA 4, CHICAGO 3 (SO)
- After Josh Leivo’s overtime goal was overturned, Manitoba outscored the Wolves 2-1 in a four-round shootout to claim the extra point at Canada Life Centre.
- Forwards CJ Smith and Maxim Letunov and defenseman Josh Jacobs scored in the first period to stake Chicago to a 3-1 lead.
- Goaltender Jack LaFontaine recorded a career-high 31 saves in regulation and overtime.
SATURDAY, FEB. 26: CHICAGO 5, (AT) MANITOBA 1
- Forwards Jack Drury and Josh Leivo scored two goals apiece as the Wolves raced to a 3-0 lead early in the second period and cruised to the win over the second-place Moose.
- Defenseman Cavan Fitzgerald opened the scoring while four Wolves notched two assists: Forwards David Gust and Andrew Poturalski and defensemen Josh Jacobs and Max Lajoie.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon rejected 25 shots to pick up his second straight win.
NEXT FIVE GAMES
|Wednesday, March 2||vs. Texas||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, March 5||vs. Texas||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Sunday, March 6||vs. Iowa||3 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Wednesday, March 9||at Grand Rapids||6 p.m.||Van Andel Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, March 12||at Milwaukee||6 p.m.||Panther Arena||AHLTV|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.