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No team in the Central Division is hotter than the Wolves—and it could be coming just in the nick of time for the defending Calder Cup champions.
The Wolves are riding a four-game win streak and have points in five in a row—both season highs—as they surge toward a postseason berth.
The strong play has pulled the Wolves to within four points of the Rockford IceHogs for fifth place and the final spot in the Central playoffs with a game in hand.
What’s been going right for the Wolves at such a key juncture?
“Everyone is realizing how to play,” forward Nathan Sucese said. “It’s a cliché, but it really makes a difference. Gaining lines is a huge thing as well as puck placement in the O-zone on dumps, not just throwing the puck in to throw it in. And we’ve been playing great defensively.”
There is no doubt that there was an adjustment period as players learned first-year head coach Brock Sheahan’s systems, but once everyone got on the same page, the Wolves started producing points at a clip that has turned around what appeared to be a lost season.
“We weren’t really close in the standings, but we knew we were getting better,” Sheahan said. “We’ve been playing good hockey for a while and now we’re getting more consistent results. We’re in it. These are meaningful games and that’s really good for our young group. We’re just going to control what we can control and hopefully we can find our way in.”
While there is some scoreboard watching until they meet the IceHogs face-to-face April 11 in Rockford, the Wolves realize they have to take care of their own business.
“We’re trying to worry about ourselves here,” defenseman Cavan Fitzgerald said. “There’s not much else we can do. I think we’ve proven to everyone in the league that we can make a little push.”
Sheahan agreed that players’ focus must remain on what they do on the ice and not opponents playing elsewhere.
“There is still a path,” Sheahan said. “We’re four points back with a game in hand on Rockford and we still play them. But we can’t control what they do. The whole season we’ve tried to control what we can control and I think we’ve done a good job of it and that’s why we’re in the position we’re in. We’re going to keep pushing.”
TAKING THEIR SHOTS
When it comes to shots on goal, what was once a shortcoming for the Wolves has become a strength.
After struggling to win the shot battle early in the season, in their last 10 games the Wolves have held an advantage in shots on goal eight times. A combination of strong defense, stellar puck possession and a consistent lineup has led to the positive trend.
“It’s a hard style of play,” Sheahan said. “We’ve really bought in and learned how to play that way. When you do that right, it’s hard to play against. We have the puck a lot right now which is what we want and then we’re much more healthy than we’ve been all year. We have a good mix of our young guys and veteran guys and we’re playing at a high level.”
In fact, the Wolves’ puck possession and strong defense turned historic against Rockford on Saturday night at Allstate Arena. During the first period of the Wolves’ 3-0 victory, they held the IceHogs without a shot on goal.
It marked the third time in Wolves franchise history that they held a team shotless in a period and the first time since they did so against the Cleveland Monsters on Jan. 9, 2022. The other time Chicago pulled off the feat was against Peoria on Nov. 18, 2005.
Did Sheahan, a former standout defenseman at Notre Dame, remember ever playing in a game when a team didn’t get off a shot in a period?
“I think my junior year in college we gave up like six shots in a game,” Sheahan said with a laugh. “This is a credit to the way the guys are playing and hopefully we can just keep getting better.”
IMPACT PLAY OF THE WEEK
In desperate need of a victory over the IceHogs in a key Central Division battle on Saturday night, Josh Melnick got the Wolves off to a strong start in a game Chicago eventually won 3-0 to pull within four points of Rockford in the standings.
REPUBLIC BANK SAVE OF THE WEEK
In their last contest of a four-game road trip last Wednesday night in Grand Rapids, the Wolves were deadlocked with the Griffins in the shootout when Zachary Sawchenko stoned Taro Hirose on his team’s third attempt. Moments later, Malte Stromwall scored at the other end to give the Wolves a 3-2 victory.
Weekly rewind (3-0-0-0)
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 29
Wolves 3, Griffins 2 (SO): Malte Stromwall scored the winner in the shootout and Joseph LaBate and Tuukka Tieksola had goals in regulation as the Wolves finished out their four-game road trip with a 2-1-1-0 record.
SATURDAY, APRIL 1
Wolves 3, IceHogs 0: The Wolves got a goal and an assist from Anttoni Honka, scores from Josh Melnick and Griffin Mendel and a 19-save shutout from goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov to win their third game in a row.
SUNDAY, APRIL 2
Wolves 5, Admirals 2: Vasily Ponomarev had two goals and an assist and Nathan Sucese, Tuukka Tieksola and William Lagesson also scored to help the Wolves extend their points streak to five games.
First Star of the Week
Where we stand
30-28-4-3, sixth in the Central Division.
|Wednesday, April 5||at Milwaukee||7 p.m.||UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena||AHLTV|
|Friday, April 7||at Iowa||7 p.m.||Wells Fargo Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, April 8||vs. Iowa||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||AHLTV/My50 Chicago|
|Tuesday, April 11||at Rockford||7 p.m.||BMO Center||AHLTV|
|Friday, April 14||at Milwaukee||7 p.m.||UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena||AHLTV|
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