Wolf Prowl returns from the holiday break and looks back at a busy but middling holiday week for the Wolves – a pair of wins and a pair of losses. Two games on the road, two games at home between Christmas and New Year’s. Wins where they gave up lots of shots and losses where they gave very few. It was another tough-to-contemplate week for the Wolves
A tough stretch, 4 games in 6 days (just like the Canucks). The busy schedule paid a toll over the week, as the quality of play from the Wolves declined as the week went on.
The Wolves played their first two games of the week on the road – a Boxing Day 4-3 win over Peoria and a 4-2 loss in Milwaukee on the 28th.
The return home on December 29th brought a 5-3 win over Rockford. The Wolves rushed out to a 4-0 lead, including three in the first. Chicago’s legs gave way during the third but the team held on. Nolan Baumgartner iced the game with an empty-net goal.
New Year’s Eve afternoon was marked by a most disappointing 4-1 loss to the Charlotte Checkers. Trailing 2-0 midway through the second, the Wolves earned themselves a two-man advantage but squanded their chance to get back into the game, generating no shots on goal.
Steve Reinprecht picked up his first two goals of the season and added 3 assists. Anton Rodin bagged a goal and 3 assists over the four games. Jordan Schroeder continues to improve: 3 points in 4 games and a continually strong presence from his line.
Kevin Connauton picked up points in all 4 games, including a goal against Rockford. The kid keeps finding the net, will he be quarterbacking the Canucks PP in the near future? Connauton, it was announced yesterday, has been named to the AHL All-Star Game. Someone’s noticing how well he’s playing.
Two assists and a plus-2 rating for Chris Tanev is pretty solid. He looks to be back on his game.
Antoine Roussel had a tough New Years Eve as he went -3 against the Checkers. Matt Climie made his return to the lineup on the weekend and was solid in Friday night’s win but gave up 3 goals on only 20 shots on Saturday.
Darren Haydar has only 3 points in his last 8 games. He’s been bounced back and forth between Reinprecht and Schroeder lately, so that may have something to do with it.
Still too many shots against. Before limiting Charlotte to just 21 shots on New Year’s Eve, the Wolves conceded 34, 33 and 38 shots against. The goalies have been mostly very impressive this year, standing tall in very tough circumstances, but the numbers tell us that giving up too many shots eventually works against you. The Wolves are finally rolling offensively (with and without Mark Mancari), but this good work will be undermined by poor work at the defensive end of the ice.
One of the players who it was hoped would be more influential defensively is Yann Sauve. After getting a taste of the NHL and a generally well-regarded first AHL season, much was expected this year but he hasn’t shown much in the way of improvement. Friend of the blog Paul LaTour (who also covers the Wolves for the Chicago Tribune) commented that Sauve has ‘been very prone to defensive zone turnovers. At least once a game I shake my head on his decisions.’ Sauve has been paired with Nolan ‘Old Hand’ Baumgartner of late.
Mark Mancari was recalled by the Canucks on December 28th, after Chris Higgins’ staph infection recurred. As a result, head coach Craig MacTavish reunited the Billy Sweatt-Jordan Schroeder-Anton Rodin line. This leaves Steve Reinprecht centring Tim Miller and Darren Haydar, Nathan Longpre between Mike Duco and Victor Oreskovich and Stefan Schneider with Antoine Roussel or Matt Clackson.
Kevin Doell remains concussed. Mike Davies took ill last week and so wasn’t available for selection.
Wolves captain Nolan Baumgartner returned to the line up against Milwaukee on the 28th.
Chris Tanev and Kevin Connauton have paired to great effect recently, to the point where some are speculating that Connauton may soon be ready for the NHL test. He can score, that is known. His defensive work was a concern even before his arrival in the AHL and last year did nothing to suggest he’d overcome those difficulties. From the beginning of the season, there were signs he was doing a better and since being paired with Tanev, he’s said to be playing even better at both ends of the ice.
After Mancari’s recall, coach Craig MacTavish chose to go with seven defencemen. Pairings were Connauton-Tanev, Sauve-Baumgartner, with Sebastian Erixon and Adam Polasek splitting the 6/7 spots with JP Testuwide and Dustin Friesen. Mark Matheson remains a constant as the number 5 defenceman.
Ryan Parent was loaned to Team Canada at the Spengler Cup.
Mancari was returned to the Wolves on Tuesday, when it became clear the Canucks’ lineup was 100% healthy again.
Byron Bitz was waived by the Canucks on Tuesday and cleared on Wednesday. He’s been assigned to the Wolves so he can find his fitness. Bitz has not played in nearly two years after suffering complications from sports hernia surgery in the fall of 2010. The big forward is expected to play for the Wolves for at least a few weeks.
The week ahead
This coming weekend is a tripleheader: away at Peoria on Friday, then home games vs Lake Erie and Charlotte.