Zack Kassian was a handful in the preseason against Rockford and he was a handful this weekend too. (Chris Jerina/AHL in Photos)
Playing two games in less than 24 hours is pretty standard for the AHL, so Sunday’s tilt between the Wolves and the IceHogs might have been expected to be not as energetic as Saturday night’s season opener. But it wasn’t. In pushing the tempo the whole game, both teams set themselves up for a wide-open, skate-till-you’re-gassed third period; it should be no suprise that six of the game’s eight goals came in the final stanza. On the whole, the Wolves were better and fully deserving of their 5-3 win, even if it made for a scary finish.
Sunday’s game was also a great example of how score effects work. Despite outchancing the IceHogs 17-9 by the time they’d scored their third goal of the game and looking just as dominant, the flow changed course. Rockford carried the play for the rest of the game, picking up 13 chances in the game’s final 15 minutes to take the overall total 22-20. Eddie Lack was huge in the third and the forwards found the goal scoring touch that was lacking on Saturday night, get four of their five goals from gilt-edged chances. Oh and Zack Kassian was a monster.
More notes and stuff after the jump.
– Might as well start with Kassian, who had three shifts of especial note. On one second-period shift, he took advantage of a Rockford defenceman’s broken stick (for which Kassian himself was pretty much responsible). While waiting for a forward to hand his stick off to the stickless defenceman, Kassian collected the puck and proceeded to challenge the now-stickless forward, dominated the engagement and got himself a quality shot off from the slot. It all took about 15 seconds and in the words of Thomas Drance was ‘hilariously deliberate.’
– Big Zack’s next feat was to throw a big hit behind the net on Ryan Stanton. It was a heavy hit that had some shades of Raffi Torres, though in Kassian’s defence, Stanton did have the puck and he probably expected some kind of collision. You can bet safely that he was really hoping it wouldn’t be Kassian. The big forward saw the contact coming, set himself and (again) owned the confrontation, sending Stanton hard to the ice and gaining the attention of Stanton’s teammates. Kassian and Jimmy Hayes mixed it up some, each earning roughing minors.
– Accomplishment three was a game saver. Late in the third, with BIlly Sweatt shuffled on to the second line because of his defensive prowess (Anton Rodin had spent most of the night on Jordan Schroeder’s left), Kassian led a forechecking effort along the boards that seemed to last minutes. With the occasional help of Sweatt, Kassian worked the puck around the corner, down towards the endboards and while Schroeder skated through, distracting defenders as he went, Kassian fired a pass to Sweatt in the slot. Sweatt fought off his man and laid a strong one-timer over Rockford goalie Carter Hutton’s left shoulder. Game, set, match. How Kassian was not a star is a mystery, but there were plenty of strong Wolves on the night so just chalk it up to that.
– Kevin Connauton looks ready to take the next step. He’s learned how to use his big frame effectively and was a tower of strength at both ends of the ice all night. His strong puck distribution was noticeable throughout the game. With his offensive talents, will he actually find himself ahead of Chris Tanev in the pecking order?
– Anton Rodin is stronger. That much is obvious. At the end of last season it was very common for commentators to not his exceptional skill level and how it was being held back by his lack of strength. It was also pointed out that he was barely 20 when the season had started. He’s clearly a year older and a year stronger. His play last night was obviously so impressive to head coach Scott Arniel that he was promoted to a regular five-on-five shift with centre Jordan Schroeder and Zack Kassian. The trio had multiple dominant shifts, partly due to Kassian’s above-noted physical dominance, but also because Rodin was strong with the puck along the boards, getting himself often more than once, as well as Schroeder’s creativity, agility and doggedness with the puck.
– Some notable scoring chance performances: Longpre 3, Kassian 2, Schroeder 3, Rodin 3, Sterling 2.
– Eddie Lack didn’t have much to do in the first two periods, but what a performance in the third. Two of the goals – both on the powerplay – the Stork had next to no chance on, both slick cross-ice passes by Rockford’s Martin St. Pierre to open men, who wired one-timers past Lack. All 13 of Rockford’s third period scoring chances came in a ten-minute stretch, and included all three goals. But for Lack’s efforts, it could have been far worse.
– Nathan Longpre is not Canucks property, but he must be at least on the edge of their radar. He was invited to camp last fall and impressed enough that the Wolves brought him into the fold. He started the year playing top-line minutes but as the Canucks shored up their lineup and the Wolves’ his role diminished. He moved to Syracuse as part of the Samme Pahlsson deal, but the Wolves brought him back this summer. He looks set to play mostly third-line minutes, but they will be useful minutes. He scored a pair of goals against Rockford, including a shorthanded goal that started with blueline turnover he forced with a nifty pokecheck.
– The Wolves had consistent success with passing the puck out from behind of Rockford’s net; three of their goals were created by playing the puck out from below the goal line (including Sterling’s lucky bounce off of a Rockford defenceman).
– Patrick Mullen went very hard into the boards behind the Rockford net on a rush early in the 2nd period. He went off the ice favouring his shoulder and didn’t return.
– Lines were Sterling-Ebbett-Haydar, Rodin-Schroeder-Kassian, Sweatt-Longpre-Pinizzotto, Miller-Mallet-Desbiens. The fourth line didn’t see much ice time, though Miller and Desbiens did do some penalty killing. Defence pairings were Connauton-Tanev, Joslin-Mullen, Matheson-Anderson.