CHICAGO WOLVES (33-10-4-4)
AT GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (23-22-5-2)
STATE OF THE WOLVES ADDRESS
Just like the President of the United States delivers the State of the Union address at this time of the year, we figured we’d ask Chicago Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski for his thoughts on the State of the Wolves as the team prepares to enter the final third of the 2021-22 regular season.
Starting with today’s clash against Grand Rapids, the Wolves play their last 25 games over the next 59 days. They hold a 13-point lead over the Manitoba Moose in the Central Division standings and the third-best record in the AHL. So how is Poturalski feeling about things? For starters, he feels grateful.
He and his wife, Haley, are expecting their first child (a boy) on Easter Sunday. His teammates recently chipped in to get them a gift certificate to Maple & Ash — a swank steakhouse in downtown Chicago — and a night at The Peninsula Chicago Hotel. They took advantage after Sunday’s win over Iowa.
“The boys actually surprised us,” Poturalski said. “So we were there Sunday night and we had a couple of massages Monday morning and they bought something off our baby registry. I couldn’t believe it. It was way too nice of a gesture by all the guys. We’re really thankful for it — and it just shows what kind of group we have.”
As for how the group is performing, the Wolves have gone 6-0-0-1 in their last seven games after posting a 3-4-2-3 mark from Jan. 22 through Feb. 15. “It kind of seemed like we were going through a tough stretch,” Poturalski said. “But when you look back, it really wasn’t that bad. We just have high standards here and we want to win. We’re rolling and we’re not letting anything we can’t control affect us. We’re going to keep going the best we can to get to the playoffs.”
During the Wolves’ three home wins last week, when they outscored Texas and Iowa by a combined 12-7, 15 of the team’s 18 skaters produced points. In Poturalski’s eyes, that’s the best part of the team right now. “Just our depth,” he said. “We’re getting so much scoring from every line. That’s how we can play at such a high pace up and down our lineup. We’ve got a lot of guys who can make plays — and we’re also getting solid goaltending and our ‘D’ are making plays. Everything’s coming together. We’ve had a couple team get-togethers and it’s paying off.”
But if there was one aspect he wishes could get better as the Wolves prep for the playoffs? “I’ll say the power play,” said Poturalski, who handles a playmaking role along the right half-wall. “I’ll take the onus on that. In order to win games in the postseason, you need a couple goals on special teams. That’s huge. So if we can tighten up on that, I think those can swing games in our direction.”
For the record, the Wolves’ power play is 10 of 31 (32.3 percent) over the last 10 games and 46 of 230 (20.0 percent) for the season. That’s tied for 12th in the league.
we are the wolves
When Stefan Noesen scored the game-winning goal Saturday against Texas, he became the 23rd player in Wolves history to reach the 30-goal mark for a season. The 29-year-old from Plano, Texas, needed just 45 games to get there — the fewest for a Wolves player since Brett Sterling (29 games) in 2006-07.
Noesen, Abbotsford’s Sheldon Dries and Ontario’s Martin Frk are tied for the AHL’s goals lead with 30. With 25 regular-season games remaining, Noesen is on pace to finish with 46 goals. That would be the most for a Wolves player since, again, Sterling piled up 55 goals to win AHL Rookie of the Year in 2006-07.
LAST TWO GAMES
- Iowa broke to a 2-0 lead, but Jack Drury’s first professional hat trick highlighted five consecutive Wolves goals that earned the team’s sixth win in the last seven games.
- Forwards Ryan Suzuki and Josh Leivo also scored goals while Andrew Poturalski, Stefan Noesen, Max Lajoie and Spencer Smallman handed out two assists apiece.
- Goaltender Jack LaFontaine posted 25 saves to earn the win.
- Forward Stefan Noesen redirected a Spencer Smallman shot at 10:01 of the third period to give the Wolves their fifth win in their last six games.
- Forward David Gust scored in the second period to knot the score while rookie center Jack Drury extended his point streak to a team-high 10 games with an assist on Noesen’s GWG.
- Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov stopped 30 of 31 shots to improve to 3-0 in North America.
By the numbers
2.57: The Wolves lead the American Hockey League with 2.57 goals allowed per game. If they can maintain this status, it would mark the first time in franchise history that they pace their league in fewest goals allowed. The closest Chicago has come was a third-place finish in 2018-19 with 2.62 per game. The team record for fewest goals allowed per game was set in 2013-14, when AHL Goaltender of the Year Jake Allen and primary backup Matt Climie led the team to a 2.51 per-game mark.
3: Rookie Pyotr Kochetkov became the 70th goaltender in Wolves history when the 22-year-old from Penza, Russia, made his North American debut Feb. 19 versus Iowa. The Carolina Hurricanes’ second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft has improved in each of his three starts and finds himself with a 3-0-0 record, 2.36 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. If he starts tonight at Grand Rapids, it will mark his first action away from Allstate Arena — and he’ll have a chance to jump into some select company. Of the 69 Wolves netminders who played before him, only five earned wins in each of their first four starts: Norm Maracle (2001-02), Milan Hlinicka (2002-03), Dan Turple (2008-09), Beck Warm (2020-21) and Jeremy Helvig (2020-21). Of this group, only Hlinicka went farther than 4-0-0. He earned wins in each of his first six starts during a 12-day stretch from Dec. 6-17, 2002.
9: The Wolves are gunning to become the first AHL team since the 2007-08 Providence Bruins to lead the league in Shots For (34.75) and Shots Against (25.75) in the same season. Their shots differential per game (9.0) ranks as the AHL’s biggest positive margin since the 2001-02 Saint John Flames managed a 11.51 shots advantage. If the Wolves maintain these averages the rest of the season, they will break the single-season franchise records for Shots For (34.69) and Shots Against (27.93).
11: Not only did rookie center Jack Drury produce his first professional hat trick in Sunday’s 5-3 comeback win over Iowa, he extended his career-best point streak to 11 games. That’s the longest active streak in the AHL and tied with Texas center Joel L’Esperance for the fourth-longest streak all year. Three players share the season’s longest streak at 13 games.
12: We must provide a correction from the previous game’s notes. The official Wolves media guide declared the record for most goals in a single season by an individual against one team is 10, but longtime Wolves TV graphics czar Mark Stencel pointed out Sunday that legendary forward Steve Maltais delivered 12 goals against the Milwaukee Admirals in 1998-99.
22: To dive farther down the rabbit hole of obscure records, Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski and alternate captain Stefan Noesen must be on some sort of record pace that likely can never be proven. In the first seven games between the Wolves and Griffins this season, Chicago has outscored Grand Rapids 27-9. But when Poturalski and Noesen have been on the ice, the Wolves have scored 22 goals without allowing any.
418: Since the Wolves played their first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 721 players have suited up for Chicago. Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov became No. 721 when he made his North American debut with a win over Iowa on Feb. 19, while rookie goaltender Jack LaFontaine became the 418th player to compete for the Wolves and in the greatest league in the world when he made his Wolves debut on Jan. 26. Put another way, 58.0 percent of all Wolves have played in the NHL.
NEXT FIVE GAMES
|Saturday, March 12||at Milwaukee||6 p.m.||Panther Arena||AHLTV|
|Sunday, March 13||vs. Grand Rapids||3 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Wednesday, March 16||vs. Milwaukee||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Saturday, March 19||at Toronto||3 p.m.||Coca-Cola Coliseum||AHLTV|
|Sunday, March 20||at Toronto||3 p.m.||Coca-Cola Coliseum||AHLTV|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.