CHICAGO, IL – After dropping their first two games of the season to the Texas Stars, by a score of 6-5 both games, the Chicago Wolves are looking to make a splash at their home opener Saturday against the Ontario Reign. With ten goals in their first two games, the Wolves should have, on paper, come away with at least one W. However, there are four key areas they’ll need to improve upon as they attempt to walk away with their first win.
- Lock down the goaltending. Allowing six goals in back-to-back games is a recipe for a loss, especially when done by two different goaltenders. Maxime Legace allowed six goals on 27 shots in his first game, while Oscar Dansk let in six on 36. Legace appeared shaky in his first period against his former team but solidified his play during the rest of the game. Dansk played opposite, beginning strong but declining as the minutes ticked by. Legace’s career AHL save percentage is almost a whole .200 better than his first game so it can be reasonably assumed his first start was a fluke. Dansk, however, has spent the last two years playing overseas. His previous AHL experience is 21 games, where he posted a similar SV% to his first game. When Dansk is in net, the Wolves need to make sure they allow fewer shots on goal.
- Improve scoring depth. The top line for the Chicago Wolves registered 11 points in two games. The other three lines combined eight points. While the top line for the Wolves found instant chemistry, the same could not be said for the rest of Rocky Thompson’s lineup. During practice on Tuesday, it appeared the Alex Tuch–Brandon Pirri–Teemu Pulkkinen line will remain together as long as they stay successful. However, do not be surprised to see Thompson juggle the rest of his lines a bit before, and even during, Saturday’s game if success is not found.
- Find solid defensive pairings. Something else Thompson seemed to be juggling during Tuesday’s practice was the defensive pairings for the Wolves. Shea Theodore was not only the most productive defenseman for Chicago on the scoresheet, but he’s also tied for the team lead. That should be impressive, but there is a catch. Even with three goals and two assists, Theodore finished minus-3 for the weekend. The only defenseman who finished the weekend with a positive plus/minus was Jake Bischoff. It’s not a prediction; Thompson will undoubtedly be icing different defensive pairings than his first game.
- Reduce the number of quality shots the opposing team takes. Watching both games against the Texas Stars, one of the most apparent issues for the Wolves was the number of quality chances they were allowing. Whereas usually, the forwards create pressure up top to try and force outside chances, which are typically considered less quality, they were playing deeper in their own zone. This allowed the Stars to tee up what seemed like quality shot after quality shot. Playing deeper in one’s own zone also puts more bodies between the outside shooter and the goaltender, making it more difficult for them to see shots well. Their strategy of playing deep in their own zone worked against them repeatedly against the Stars, so I’d like to see the forwards challenge Ontario’s defensemen more aggressively in their own zone.
Most of these issues can be attributed to the fact that this team came together almost at the last minute. However, Pirri, Pulkkinen, Tuch, and Theodore were four of the last players to be added to the Wolves’ roster, and they were also four of the most impactful players that opening weekend. Hopefully, having a full week to practice together and find lines that gel well will improve the quality of play. Goaltending should not be as big of an issue this weekend, with both men having a game to get their nerves under their belt. Look for fewer goals allowed this weekend, regardless of the offensive production.
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