Zack Kassian scores his first goal of the season in Chicago Wolves’ OT Win

(Chris Jerina/AHL in Photos)

With tonight’s 2-1 win over the Peoria Rivermen, the Chicago Wolves have opened the "Scott Arniel era" (just go with it) with three straight wins on home ice. Zack Kassian scored the only regulation goal for the Wolves, while defenseman Zach Miskovic scored the over-time winner.

The Canucks’ AHL affilliate came away with the win on Wednesday night, but this was their least impressive performance so far this season. The Wolves spent much of the game hemmed into their own end, they were out-shot 31 to 26 overall (15 to 8 in the third period) and were out-chanced 21to 17 overall and 16 to 11 at five-on-five.

Both sides scored power-play goals in regulation, but the quality of those goals matched the basic tenor of the game. Kassian’s marker was a trademark Nashville Predators style bank-shot, an attempted pass from behind the net that redirected into the goal off of the skate of a Riverman defender. Peoria’s goal, on the other hand, was a beauty tally from T.J. Hensick who finished a lovely passing play with Jaden Schwartz to tie the game with only 7 minutes remaining. 

Wolves goaltender Matt Climie was excellent, and I was impressed by several of Chicago’s skaters, but the Wolves enjoyed the benefit of the bounces this evening against a mediocre Peoria side. The Wolves will have to be better this weekend to get by a very Abbotsford Heat team.

Some notes:

– While his flukey goal will get the attention, Zack Kassian had an otherwise strong game on Wednesday evening. Before the Peoria game, he hadn’t registered a single shot on goal (though he’d done some good work in the slot, and I’m surprised he didn’t receive credit for a shot on goal for a puck he tipped in the season opener). He finished the game with three shots, two of them scoring chances, one of them a goal (though it didn’t really come as a result of a shot).

In the first period, Kassian made a lovely spinning back-hand pass to Jordan Schroeder on a power-play zone-entry. In the third, he took a big run at Peoria defenseman Ian Cole, who lost his footing just a few miliseconds before impact. Kassian demonstrated the presence of mind and the personal restraint to pull up. He still registered a solid blow, but he hit Cole in a such a way as to avoid putting him in a dangerous spot. You’ve got to respect that.

– Anton Rodin continues to impress with his puck possession skills, his ability to consistently win puck battles against larger players, and his open ice speed. He registered 3 scoring chances on Wednesday, one of them on a glorious breakway chance late in the first, and was making things happen (relatively speaking – after all the Wolves only had 11 scoring chances at evens) on nearly every shift.

– Matt Climie was bailed out by a post on a flurry late in the first, and allowed a late game tying goal to T.J Hensick in the third, but this game could’ve gotten out of hand without an excellent performance from the Wolves’ veteran backup. As expected, Chicago’s goaltending has been a big strength so far this season. It’s early yet, but Lack and Climie have combined to allow only 4 goals in 3 games, and only 1 at even-strength. 

– When I was watching Wolves games last season, Chris Tanev was his usual, smooth, chain-smoking self and dominated at the AHL level. So far this season, it appears to me that he hasn’t yet found his stride. He’s been solid in his own end, but his decision making hasn’t been up to its usual standard. Maybe he’s trying to do too much offensively? 

I don’t mean to be unduly critical, it’s just that so far this season Tanev’s performance hasnt’ "wowed" me like it consistently has at both the NHL and AHL levels. Maybe if I had some AHL fancy stats to look over…

– Kevin Connauton continues to impress, however. Connauton was efficient on Wednesday and he had to be since the Wolves spent a lot of the game in their own end. Connauton was victimized somewhat on Hensick’s power-play tally, but that goal resulted from a gorgeous pass by Jaden Schwartz that would’ve baffled most NHL defenders. And at evens he was near flawless. 

On one particular sequence in the third after the Wolves had iced the puck, Connauton snuffed out a building attack in the defensive end and passed the puck to a teammate who failed to clear. Undetered, he anticipated where the next breakdown would be, went and retrieved the puck from a Peoria forward and cleared the puck with a crisp outlet pass to a teammate. You wouldn’t have seen a play like that from Connauton if you were watching Manitoba Moose games back in 2010-11. 

– Alexandre Mallet isn’t getting much ice-time on Chicago’s fourth line, but he looks comfortable enough in the offensive end and flashed some good instincts while forechecking on Wednesday. He set up a Kevin Connauton scoring chance in the first with a nice cross-seam pass, but otherwise had a quiet game.

– Jordan Schroeder managed an assist on Kassian’s bank shot, and took three shots and two scoring chances, but this wasn’t his strongest game of the season. In particular, he was dominated in the face-off dot all evening by Peoria’s T.J. Hensick.

Now the AHL doesn’t track face-off data (and I didn’t either) so this is just my impression, but it seemed to me like Schroeder continually lost draws tonight (several of them in the defensive end). The Canucks have been in the top-3 in NHL face-off percentage over the past two seasons, and it’s something the coaching staff clearly values. Tough to see Alain Vigneault trusting Schroeder to play big minutes if he can’t hold his own in the circle.