CHICAGO – 6-2-0-1. That’s the record of Rocky Thompson’s squad after just nine games of play this season. It took the Chicago Wolves until December 6th of last season to reach six wins. Needless to say, there has already been a significant improvement in Chicago.
This past weekend, Chicago traveled to Texas for its first road trip to the cowboy state since the Texas Stars and San Antonio Rampage joined the Central Division.
Friday night featured a tough match up against one of the best teams in the division, the Texas Stars, and also Curtis McKenzie’s first game against the team he previously captained.
Though Texas struck first, Griffin Reinhart’s first of the year tied the game, and for the rest of the first period, it was all Chicago. The Daniel Carr – Gage Quinney – Brooks Macek line, arguably the best in the AHL right now, found success once again with Macek getting his ninth goal of the season in just eight games, and Carr potting the game-winning power-play goal.
The Stars had surged to a one-goal advantage in the third after trading bouts of momentum with the away team, but Brandon Pirri’s third of the year tied the game with eight minutes left before Carr sealed the win.
Oscar Dansk had his best performance of the young season, making timely save after save in the third period to keep his team ahead by one goal.
Erik Brannstrom had the secondary assist on Carr’s GWG, and registered two shots on the night as well.
Sunday’s bout against an all-too-familiar San Antonio Rampage team would be a different story. The Rampage lineup featured seven former Chicago Wolves players from the past two seasons, and it would be because of these players that San Antonio finished the game with just its second victory of the year.
Mackenzie MacEachern broke a scoreless tie in the second period on the power play, with McKenzie off for tripping. Just a minute after MacEachern’s goal, Alex Gallant would get his fourth major of the year for fighting Adam Musil. Though Chicago was able to weather the majority of this five-minute penalty kill, it did yield another power-play goal to the home team.
McKenzie made up for his earlier penalty with a power-play goal of his own to bring his team within one in the third, but San Antonio’s third extra-man goal of the night all but sealed the victory for the Rampage.
Quinney registered Chicago’s first shorthanded goal of the season with just under five minutes remaining, but the comeback fell short with Max Lagace allowing three goals on 20 shots, including one on two shots in the third. Brannstrom had the primary assist on McKenzie’s tally.
The Carr-Quinney-Macek line continues to be one of the best in the AHL, with Carr and Macek ninth and 10th on the league’s scoring leaderboard, respectively. Macek is also tied for the league lead in goal-scoring with nine goals, but he has played one more game than the other player. The most impressive stat? Macek leads the league in shooting percentage, scoring on 64.3% of his shots. This means his nine goals have come on just 14 shots on goal. Carr (plus-13), Quinney (plus-12) and Macek (plus-11) are also first, second and fourth, respectively in the league in plus/minus.
Three goals on just 20 shots isn’t a pretty stat for Lagace, who is now 3-2 on the season. Luckily for the netminder, even with the stats from the loss, he holds a 2.26 goals against average and a .919 save percentage, so his performance Sunday should not be considered to be too much of a fluke especially when you consider how much of the game was played shorthanded.
Four majors for Gallant means a lot of time the Wolves have had to kill penalties this season. Chicago leads the Central Division in PIMs right now with 141, after being one of the lowest in the league last season. Its home penalty-killing record is 29th in the league at just 61.1%, and 10th on the road at 85.7% for a combined finish of 23rd in the season at 76.1%. In short, the Wolves need to take fewer penalties, and get better at killing them.
The good thing? It’s only been nine games and Chicago is already on a much better pace than last season. There’s room for improvement, and you can expect the upcoming road trip to be a good test especially for the young defensemen. The Wolves travel to Winnipeg for their first two games of the season against the Manitoba Moose Friday and Saturday, and then they are in Milwaukee Wednesday for their first away game against the Admirals.
Assistant Coach Chris Dennis on the young blue line:
“I think it [the youth] is a lot of fun. It’s a lot of fun working with them every day, they’re great kids. They’re eager to learn, which is really nice. It’s going to take them some time. There’s some situations they haven’t been put in before. Playing professional hockey is a different step and a difference of pace. They’ll learn. There’s going to be some mistakes early, that’s to be expected and normal, but they’ll get better as the year goes on. The nice thing is that I think they’re real good players that if they do get better and they do learn the way we’re hoping they do by April, we should have some pretty good defensemen on the back end.”
On how the youth compares to last season:
“I do feel that we have the ability to move the puck maybe a little better than we did last year. We’ve got some guys with just some natural offensive instincts that wasn’t evident last year as much. Last year we were more of a veteran kind of group, guys who have played pro for awhile. This year there’s a young, kind of vibrant excitement back they’re and they’re all having fun. They’re all friends. They all talk. They all want the best for each other. It’s just different but it’s been a lot of fun so far.”
Defenseman Jake Bischoff was returned to the Wolves earlier in the week as the Vegas Golden Knights have started to get healthy again.
Goaltender Zach Fucale was assigned to the Wolves on Monday, just in time for the trip to Manitoba.