CHICAGO WOLVES (44-14-5-5)
AT TEXAS STARS (28-26-6-6)
22 and 23
For a four-game stretch in March, Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky and assistants Patrick Dwyer and Bob Nardella put their heads together and decided to place Andrew Poturalski and Stefan Noesen on different lines.
Here was the idea: If they separated their top two point-producers — two of the top five in the American Hockey League at the time — then they would deepen their lineup and make it even harder for opponents to match up with the Wolves. It made sense. Coaches try to spread the wealth all the time.
The initial results were good. In Noesen’s first game alongside center Jack Drury on the second line, Drury earned his first hat trick since college as Noesen posted the primary assist on two of the three goals March 6 versus Iowa.
But after four games apart — capped by back-to-back 1-goal efforts by the Wolves against Milwaukee and Grand Rapids — the coaches realized there was no use fighting nature. There’s just something about putting No. 22 (Poturalski) and No. 23 (Noesen) together that makes Chicago go.
The Wolves averaged 2.75 goals in the four games they were separated. And in the seven games where either one or both of these veteran forwards weren’t been in the lineup — including Wednesday’s 3-2 loss at Texas while Poturalski was back in Chicago for the birth of his first child — the Wolves have averaged 2.71 goals.
But in the 57 tilts Poturalski and Noesen have been together on the top line, the Wolves are averaging 3.47 goals per game. There’s a synergy that makes the whole greater than the sum of their parts.
Poturalski owns career-highs in goals (25), assists (63) and points (88) this year. Noesen has crushed his previous bests as he owns career-highs in goals (41), assists (35) and points (76), too. As the record shows, they amplify each other as well as their teammates.
Of Noesen’s league-leading 41 goals, Poturalski has assisted on 20 of them (14 even-strength, 5 power plays and one short-handed empty-netter). Of Poturalski’s 25 goals, Noesen has assisted on nine (five even-strength, three power plays and one shorthanded).
Moreover, there have been 17 times this season when Poturalski and Noesen have teamed up to earn the assists on a Wolves goal. Forward CJ Smith has been on the receiving end the most — seven times. Drury and defenseman Jesper Sellgren have benefited twice apiece and six Wolves have been set up once: Forward David Gust and defensemen Jalen Chatfield, Cavan Fitzgerald, Joey Keane, Max Lajoie and Tarmo Reunanen.
we are the wolves
With the Texas Stars’ 3-2 win in regulation Wednesday night, the Wolves’ magic number to clinch the Central Division remained at 3. Because Manitoba’s home game planned for today has been moved to Sunday due to the blizzard that hit Winnipeg, that means the Wolves can’t clinch the Central until Saturday.
Wednesday’s loss also means the Wolves need to earn 8 points in the final eight games in order to set the franchise record for best regular-season record. The 1999-2000 Turner Cup champions finished at .695. If the Wolves get 8 points the rest of the way, then they finish at .697. Nine points or more would enable the Wolves to crack the magical .700 barrier.
LAST TWO GAMES
- The Stars broke to a 2-0 lead in the opening 8:02 and the Wolves never caught up despite Stefan Noesen’s league-leading 41st goal.
- Center Ryan Suzuki scored the Wolves’ other goal while Jack Drury, Joey Keane, Jesper Sellgren and David Gust picked up assists.
- Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov notched 19 saves.
- Forward Stefan Noesen became the first AHL player since 2011 to reach the 40-goal mark and rookie Noel Gunler scored his first pro goal in North America to highlight the Wolves’ win.
- Forwards Spencer Smallman and Andrew Poturalski and defenseman Jalen Chatfield also scored goals while Smallman and Poturalski also added one assist apiece.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon rejected 23 shots to earn the win.
By the numbers
2: It’s hard to beat the 1-2 punch Chicago has in goal. Veteran Alex Lyon, who owns a 17-7-3 record and 3 shutouts, ranks second among all qualifiers with his 2.18 goals-against average. Rookie Pyotr Kochetkov, meanwhile, has only appeared in 13 games since coming over from Russia Feb. 15, which isn’t enough to get him on the AHL official leaders’ lists. However, among all AHL goalies who’ve played more than 4 games, Kochetkov leads everyone in goals-against average (1.85) and save percentage (.9306). He also owns an 11-1-1 record. Providence’s Troy Grosenick is the league’s only goalie in the Lyon-Kochetkov neighborhood as he boasts a 2.02 GAA and .9305 save percentage in 28 games.
2.51: The Wolves stand atop the American Hockey League at 2.51 goals allowed per game with the Providence Bruins (2.65) their closest pursuers. If the Wolves can maintain their spot at the top of the GAA charts, it would mark the first time in franchise history to lead the league in fewest goals allowed. Prior to this, the closest Chicago came was a third-place finish in 2018-19 with 2.62 goals allowed per game. That’s not to be confused with the team record for fewest goals allowed per game — set in 2013-14 when Goaltender of the Year Jake Allen and backup Matt Climie led the team to a 2.51 per-game mark.
21: The Wolves already have clinched a first-round bye and their Central Division magic number sits at 3, but their magic number to own home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs stands at 21 with eight games left. The Stockton Heat, who won in overtime Wednesday night, own the inside track as their magic number is 11 with seven games left. Utica and Ontario are the only other teams with a chance to finish with the best regular-season record.
41: Wolves forward Stefan Noesen scored Wednesday night to push his league-leading total to 41 goals, but Ontario’s Martin Frk cut into Noesen’s lead with a hat trick. Frk still stands four behind Noesen, so the big Texan in good shape to become Chicago’s first goal-scoring champ since Wade Megan posted 33 goals to take the 2016-17 Willie Marshall Award. Noesen’s goal Wednesday was his 11th of the year on the power play to tie Andrew Poturalski for the team lead. If either one gets two more PPGs in the regular season, that will be the most for a Wolves skater since Andre Deveaux notched 14 in 2010-11.
88: Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski had an excused absence from Wednesday’s game because he had a note from his wife’s doctor. To be more specific, Haley Poturalski went into labor Tuesday night — a few hours after the Wolves arrived in Texas. Andrew hopped a plane back to Midway Airport, took advantage of car service arranged by linemate Stefan Noesen and made it to the hospital in time for the birth of their first child, Morrison, on Wednesday morning. While the Poturalskis’ lives were busy changing forever, Ontario center T.J. Tynan was busy racking up 2 assists Wednesday night to take a 2-point lead in the race for the AHL scoring title. Tynan owns 90 points (13G, 77A) while Poturalski has 88 (25G, 63A). The Wolves have two more games left than the Reign, but it’s not known when Poturalski will rejoin the team.
422: Since the Wolves played their first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 727 players have suited up for Chicago. Veteran Richard Panik and rookies Noel Gunler and Vasily Ponomarev joined the club April 6 — and Panik became the 422nd player to boast NHL and Wolves experience. That’s 58.0 percent of all Wolves players — and that doesn’t include former Wolves forward Cody Beach, who made his NHL officiating debut Tuesday at Arizona.
NEXT FIVE GAMES
|Saturday, April 16||at Texas||7 p.m.||H-E-B Center||AHLTV|
|Tuesday, April 19||vs. Rockford||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Friday, April 22||at Grand Rapids||6 p.m.||Van Andel Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, April 23||vs. Milwaukee||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Sunday, April 24||vs. Grand Rapids||3 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.