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Gameday: Sorting out the Central

CHICAGO WOLVES (46-15-5-5)
AT GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (32-32-6-2)

Friday, April 22 | 6 p.m. | Van Andel Arena | AHLTV (AHLTV Free Game of the Week) | Facebook Live

HANDICAPPING THE CENTRAL

There are nine days left in the 2021-22 regular season and every team in the Central Division remains very much alive in the chase for Calder Cup Playoff spots. And, with each team having at least three games to go, these last nine days promise to feature all sorts of twists and turns.

First, let’s take a look at our knowns: The Chicago Wolves have clinched the Central Division for the fifth time in the last six years and will await the winner of the best-of-three series between the No. 4 and 5 seeds. The Manitoba Moose are 99.9 percent of the way to one of the other two first-round byes. The Milwaukee Admirals have clinched a playoff spot.

To figure out how the rest of the spots might play out, we are enlisting the valuable website operated by Sean O’Brien — one of the co-hosts of the Calder Farmstead podcast. Sean’s data wizardry on much more than playoff probabilities can be found right here.

Anyway, here’s what his numbers say entering Friday’s play:
Chance to be the No. 3 seed: Milwaukee 58.9 percent, Rockford 40.0 percent, Manitoba 1.1 percent.
Chance to be the No. 4 seed: Rockford 56.4, Milwaukee 40.5, Iowa 3.0, Manitoba 0.1.
Chance to be the No. 5 seed: Iowa 68.8, Texas 25.3, Grand Rapids 2.9, Rockford 2.8, Milwaukee 0.2.

From Grand Rapids’ point of view, the Griffins need to sweep their final four games — three of them against the Wolves — and then let the pucks fall where they may. Head coach Ben Simon’s squad got off to a good start by rallying to beat Rockford 5-3 Wednesday night.

The Wolves, meanwhile, are trying to handicap who they might face in the first round. Iowa has the best chance to be a 4 or 5 seed (71.8 percent) with Rockford (59.2) and Milwaukee (40.7) next in line. FYI: Milwaukee has beaten Iowa 7 of 10 times this year, but Iowa has beaten Rockford 7 out of 10 times.

HE’S ON THE TEAM FOR NEXT YEAR

On Wednesday, the Wolves signed rookie defenseman Griffin Mendel to a Standard Player Contract (SPC) for the 2022-23 season. This honor has occurred just three weeks since the undrafted free agent from Quinnipiac signed an Amateur Tryout Contract (ATO) with the Wolves.

The 23-year-old Mendel made quick believers out of the Wolves as well as the Carolina Hurricanes. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Mendel caught the eye of Canes head coach Rod Brind’Amour this season when he’d watch his son, Skyler, play for Quinnipiac. Mendel made his pro debut April 3 against Texas and has posted 2 assists and a +2 plus/minus rating while playing in seven of Chicago’s last eight games.

“I wasn’t really too sure what was going to happen,” Mendel said. “I’ve had some buddies who’ve gone into similar situations and they only played a few games. I guess I’ve proven to the coaches I’m able to play, so I’ve gotten a lot of opportunity. (The new contract) is all I can ask for.”

we are the wolves

During the final game of the Wolves’ trip last week to Texas, Stefan Noesen scored 2 goals to give him 12 in 12 games against the Stars. The 12 goals tied the franchise record for most against one team in one season. Steve Maltais set the mark with 12 against Milwaukee in 1998-99.

Meanwhile, Darren Haydar owns the Wolves’ single-season record for points against one team as he produced 23 (6G, 17A) in 10 games against the Iowa Stars in 2006-07. With three games against Grand Rapids in the next seven days, there’s a chance Andrew Poturalski (19 points) and/or Noesen (15 points) can take a run at that mark.

LAST TWO GAMES

TUESDAY, APRIL 19: ROCKFORD 4, (AT) CHICAGO 3

  • Center Spencer Smallman produced a pair of short-handed goals in the third period to forge a tie, but Rockford’s Mike Hardman scored with 47 seconds left to claim the victory.
  • Rookie center Vasili Ponomarev recorded his first professional goal in North America while defenseman Josh Jacobs handed out two assists as the Wolves outshot the IceHogs 47-28.
  • Goaltender Jack LaFontaine recorded 24 saves.

SATURDAY, APRIL 16: CHICAGO 6, (AT) TEXAS 4

  • Forward Stefan Noesen’s short-handed goal at 9:28 of the third period snapped the game’s fourth and final tie and wound up the game-winner as the Wolves clinched the Central Division title.
  • In addition to Noesen’s 42nd and 43rd goals of the year, the Wolves received goals from defensemen Joey Keane and Max Lajoie and forwards Richard Panik and Josh Leivo.
  • Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov stopped 25 shots for the win.

By the numbers

2.56: The Wolves have been leading the American Hockey League in Goals Against since the end of February. They own the lead at 2.56 goals allowed per game, but the Providence Bruins (2.62) have moved within striking distance lately. 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. The team record for fewest goals allowed per game was 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. The Wolves allowed 191 goals in 76 games that year, so this year’s crew needs to allow fewer than 9 goals over the final five games to break that record.

5: When center Spencer Smallman scored a pair of short-handed goals in the third period of Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Rockford, he joined Niklas Andersson (Dec. 22, 2000), the late Dan Snyder (Dec. 13, 2002), Jeremy Welsh (March 27, 2015) and T.J. Tynan (Dec. 16, 2017) as the only Wolves players to score two shorties in the same game. Smallman, Andersson and Tynan were the only ones to score their pair in the same period.

13: The Wolves’ magic number to claim home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs rests at 13 with five games to play. The Pacific Division-leading Stockton Heat have the inside track as their magic number has dropped to 7 with four games to go. The Ontario Reign is the only other team still in the running to finish with the best points percentage in the AHL. The Reign’s magic number is 12 with three games left.

23: The Wolves earned their 23rd road win Saturday at Texas, which ties the 2018-19 Calder Cup finalists for the organization’s most road wins since the AHL started playing a 76-game schedule in 2011. If the Wolves can earn 3 points in their final two road games, then they’ll finish with the second-best road points percentage in franchise history. The 2006-07 squad went 27-8-2-3 (.738).

43: Forward Stefan Noesen has become the first AHL player to score 43 goals in a season since 2010 — and the second Wolves player to score 43 goals in a season since Chicago joined the AHL in June 2001. Brett Sterling’s league-leading 55-goal performance in 2006-07 is Chicago’s only more productive showing in the last 21 years. Noesen owns a four-goal lead over Ontario’s Martin Frk in the race to win the AHL goal-scoring title. To make his odds even better, the Wolves have two more games remaining than the Reign.

91: Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski and Ontario’s T.J. Tynan have become the first two AHL players in 10 seasons to score more than 90 points, while Poturalski (25G, 66A) has become the first Wolves player since 2007-08 AHL MVP Jason Krog to produce more than 83 points in a season. However, Poturalski’s bid to become the first AHL player since 1998 to win back-to-back scoring titles just got tougher as Tynan produced 4 points Wednesday night at Colorado to take a 96-91 lead in the points race. However, the Wolves have two more games left than the Reign.

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, which doesn’t include former Wolves forward Cody Beach, who made his NHL officiating debut April 12 at Arizona.

FINAL REGULAR-SEASON GAMES

Saturday, April 23 vs. Milwaukee 7 p.m. Allstate Arena My50
Sunday, April 24 vs. Grand Rapids 3 p.m. Allstate Arena My50
Thursday, April 28 vs. Grand Rapids 7 p.m. Allstate Arena AHLTV
Saturday, April 30 at Rockford 6 p.m. MetroCentre AHLTV

 

All games are streamed on AHLTV.