CHICAGO – The Chicago Wolves find themselves headed into Thursday’s game against the Rockford IceHogs knowing they absolutely have to win if they want to keep their Calder Cup hopes alive for another day. In the best-of-five opening round, the IceHogs lead 2-0 after a 2-1 win at Chicago Saturday, followed by a commanding 5-2 win in Rockford Sunday.
Looking at the box score, it’s no surprise the IceHogs have the series lead after successfully goading the Wolves into taking costly penalty after costly penalty. From there, the IceHogs’ power play repeatedly dissected Chicago’s penalty kill, taking advantage of any slight hesitation by the Vegas Golden Knights’ affiliate to convert on five of 12 chances (41.7%).
Looking at that figure, it’s clear Chicago has a problem. Two, to be precise.
First and foremost, Rocky Thompson’s team is not controlling its temper. When an IceHogs player dishes out a cheap shot which goes uncalled, instead of taking the shot and continuing to play, the Wolves player dishes out one (or more) in return. If you’ve ever watched hockey, you know that when an initial shot goes uncalled, the retaliating player is almost always caught and penalized.
In two games, the Wolves have been shorthanded 12 times, which is an absurdly high number for the playoffs. Rocky always preaches the importance of playing smart and playing for the guy next to you in the locker room. Allowing yourself to be continuously baited into making these same mistakes is doing neither. It’s one thing for your team to take a pair of penalties in a playoff game on calls which could have gone either way, but it’s another to be killing for 24/120 minutes thus far in the series. On paper, you’ll lose those games 99 out of 100 times.
Just as importantly for the Wolves, has been their poor special teams, especially the penalty kill. The Wolves are 66.7% at home on the kill, and just 50% in Rockford. Not only do the Wolves need to buckle down on the kill at home Thursday if it wants to force a game four, but it then needs to transfer this success to Rockford. Though when you’re staring down elimination, you just focus on the game at hand.
If they fix these two problems, Chicago stands a chance at turning this series around beginning with Thursday’s game. This season has shown one thing about the Chicago Wolves – when they are down, they bounce back, hard. Do not forget this team went from being 5-11-4-2 to going on a 14-game point streak within the same month and eventually finishing first in the Central Division.
@SinBinWolves will have coverage of Thursday’s pivotal game three live on Twitter beginning at 7 p.m. CT.