GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (24-23-5-2)
AT CHICAGO WOLVES (34-10-4-5)
WOLVES SPRINGING AHEAD
When Daylight Saving Time arrives and clocks spin an hour ahead, that’s when American Hockey League divisional races really kick into high gear. Fortunately for the Chicago Wolves, they’ve been putting in the work since October and are well-positioned to capture their fifth Central Division title in the last six years.
With 23 regular-season games to go, the Wolves hold a 13-point lead over the second-place Manitoba Moose. From a larger perspective, the Wolves are on pace for the best winning percentage in franchise history as they sit at .726. The 1999-2000 team set the mark with a .695 winning percentage, so head coach Ryan Warsofsky’s crew needs to earn 29 points in the last 23 games to break that mark.
Chicago enters today’s 3 p.m. game against Grand Rapids on three distinct streaks. For starters, the Wolves have won all eight encounters with the Griffins this season. They have never run the table for a full season series against one team (minimum six games).
Next, the Wolves have earned points in each of their last nine games (7-0-2) — though the team tends to believe it ought to be on a nine-game winning streak. On Feb. 20 at Manitoba, Josh Leivo’s game-winning overtime goal was overturned. On Saturday night at Milwaukee, Andrew Poturalski and Stefan Noesen thought Poturalski scored the game-winner 3:30 into overtime. However, the official closest to the net did not see things the same way. He called “no goal” live, then the video review did not show anything to merit a change. The Wolves wound up dropping both games in the shootout.
Lastly, the Wolves have picked up points in 19 of their last 20 home games dating back to Nov. 14. The only regulation loss in their 14-1-2-3 run (.825) occurred on Feb. 15 when Milwaukee claimed a 4-3 decision during a School-Day Game matinee.
Wolves assistant captain Stefan Noesen just keeps scoring. With his first-period goal Saturday night at Milwaukee, Noesen regained a share of the AHL lead as he and Ontario’s Martin Frk have notched 31 goals apiece. Noesen seeks to become the first Wolves player to win the goals crown since Wade Megan came through with 33 in 2016-17.
Noesen also has bigger fish to fry. He’s on a pace to score 45.8 goals this season, so let’s just round that up to 46. Only two players have managed to reach the 40-goal mark since the Wolves joined the league in 2001-02: Brett Sterling’s 55 goals and Darren Haydar’s 41 goals achieved in 2006-07. Nobody in the AHL has delivered a 40-goal season since 2010-11 — when Oklahoma City’s Colin McDonald scored 42 goals in 80 games and Hamilton’s Nigel Dawes posted 41 in 66 games. Actually, Dawes scored 27 of those in 47 games for the Wolves before getting dealt to Hamilton (technically, the Montreal Canadiens) along with Brent Sopel for Ben Maxwell and a fourth-round pick.
we are the wolves
The Wolves wear their exclusive St. Patrick’s Day jerseys, presented by Jewel-Osco, today for the second and final time to benefit Easterseals and autism awareness and Chicago Wolves Charities, driven by Kia.
Today’s also the grand finale for the Silent Auction in Allstate Arena’s Southwest Lobby. Bids on all jerseys much be made before the second intermission concludes. But no one should fret if they don’t win: The Blind Auction — featuring jerseys from Jack Drury, Max Lajoie, Josh Jacobs, Alex Lyon, Eetu Makiniemi and Pyotr Kochetkov — closes at noon Monday. Click here to make a bid.
LAST TWO GAMES
- Milwaukee’s Cole Schneider and Graham Knott scored in the first and fifth shootout rounds, respectively, to outdo Stefan Noesen’s third-round tally and claim the extra point.
- Noesen scored in the first period to pull into a share of the AHL goal-scoring lead with 31. Forwards Jamieson Rees and Andrew Poturalski picked up the assists.
- Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov posted 27 saves in regulationa and overtime.
- The Wolves’ new fourth-line combo of left wing Sam Miletic, center Spencer Smallman and right wing Stelio Mattheos teamed for the second and third goals as Chicago won its fourth in a row.
- Miletic, Smallman and forward CJ Smith posted 1 goal and 1 assist apiece while defenseman Josh Jacobs scored the opening goal while Mattheos and defenseman Cavan Fitzgerald had 2 assists.
- Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov stopped 20 shots to run his record to 4-0.
By the numbers
2.55: The Wolves lead the American Hockey League with 2.55 goals allowed per game as they continue to build a little distance with the Pacific Division-leading Stockton Heat (2.67). If the Wolves can maintain this status, it would mark the first time in franchise history they led their league in fewest goals allowed. The closest Chicago has come was a third-place finish in 2018-19 with 2.62 allowed per game. That’s not to be confused with the team record for fewest goals allowed per game. That 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.
6: The Wolves have posted a 4-0-0-2 record in their last six games without needing the services of the AHL’s leading goaltender. Veteran Alex Lyon paces the AHL with his 2.14 goals-against average, but he hasn’t played for Chicago since Feb. 25 largely because he has been on a treadmill between Chicago and Carolina. Lyon was scheduled to start for the Wolves March 5 against Texas, but the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes recalled him from loan shortly before the game began. He served as the Canes’ backup for a win versus Seattle last Sunday, then reassigned him to the Wolves Monday. Carolina recalled him again Thursday so he could serve as Antti Raanta’s backup for his shutout of Colorado. He was reassigned to the Wolves again Saturday.
8.94: The Wolves are gunning to become the first AHL team since the 2007-08 Providence Bruins to lead the league in Shots For (34.68) and Shots Against (25.74) in the same season. Their shots differential per game (8.94) ranks as the AHL’s biggest positive margin since the 2001-02 Saint John Flames managed a 11.51 shots advantage. The Wolves have a chance to break the single-season franchise records for Shots For (34.69) and Shots Against (27.93).
10: The Wolves played with just 10 forwards for most of Saturday’s game as left wing Sam Miletic suffered an injury in the opening two minutes and rookie center Jack Drury went off for good after trying to return for the start of the second period.
20: This is the Wolves’ magic number to clinch their 21st playoff berth in 26 seasons (ignoring the last two years when COVID-19 did not allow anyone to qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs). Any combination of 20 points won by the Wolves and lost by the Iowa Wild (currently the sixth-place team in the Central Division) will ensure a playoff berth.
350: Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski will play his 350th AHL game today — and he has a chance to hit a few more milestones along the way. The 28-year-old Williamsville, New York, native is sitting on 99 goals, 197 assists and 296 points. If he manages to get 4 points today — something he has done twice against Grand Rapids this season — he’ll pull into a tie for the AHL scoring lead with Ontario’s T.J. Tynan (11G, 63A). Poturalski scored his 70th point Saturday when he assisted on Stefan Noesen’s goal. That ties Poturalski’s career-high for points as he earned 70 in 72 games for Charlotte in 2018-19.
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
|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|
|Tuesday, March 22||vs. Texas||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||AHLTV|
|Friday, March 25||vs. Manitoba||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.