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Visiting Toronto Marlies show Chicago Wolves what they need to work on

Jamieson Rees returned to the Wolves lineup as they played three games in three days.

via Chicago Wolves

Game 9: Wolves 4, IceHogs 1

If you found yourself wondering if the Rockford IceHogs were even alive during the first period of this game, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Rockford mustered just one shot in the period while the Wolves racked up three goals on 16 shots.

From the very first minute of play, you could tell this game was going to be weird. IceHogs defenseman Alec Regula took a penalty just 13 seconds in, before either team registered a shot. Just 15 seconds later, Wolves forward C.J. Smith took a tripping penalty of his own, sending the teams to four-on-four hockey. Andrew Poturalski, who’d gone two games without scoring, got the Wolves on the board only 19 seconds after the start of four-on-four.

The 19 total shots the Wolves allowed tied for a new season low; they also held the Milwaukee Admirals to 19 in a 6-1 win on October 23.

Scoring: Stefan Noesen, 1 G 1 A; Eric Gelinas, 1 G; Max Letunov, 1 G; Andrew Poturalski, 1 G; Max Lajoie, 2 A; C.J. Smith, 1 A; Jack Drury, 1 A; Spencer Smallman, 1 A; David Gust 1 A

In net: Eetu Mäkiniemi, saved 18 of 19, 0.947 Sv%

Game 10: Wolves 1, Marlies 5

The strong play of the Wolves against the IceHogs on Friday night fooled pretty much everyone into thinking perhaps they’d carry that momentum forward into Saturday. That certainly wasn’t true as the Wolves struggled to have any significant momentum in their game against the Marlies.

The Toronto team traveled to Chicago for the first time since April 2015 and based on this weekend’s performance, the Wolves would probably be glad to wait another six years or so before seeing them again. The Marlies scored twice within the first five minutes of the game: one off of a fortuitous bounce off the boards behind the net, and one batted in off a rebound.

Sam Miletic scored his first of the season at 9:28 in the first period, making this a one-goal game, but the Marlies quickly pulled away in the second period. The Wolves’ special teams troubles continued as not only did they fail to generate any goals on six power play opportunities, but they also surrendered a short-handed goal to the Marlies aggressive penalty kill.

Some of the Wolves top players had particularly rough outings in this game. Andrew Poturalski and Stefan Noesen, players generally relied upon to help give the offense a spark, were both on the ice for four goals against. Beck Warm, making his first AHL start this season after being assigned to the ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals, didn’t get much support from the team in front of him, either.

The Wolves put 39 shots on Marlies goaltender Erik Kallgren, their second highest shot count of the season, but Kallgren turned nearly everything aside.

Coach Ryan Warsofsky was frustrated with the team’s effort in this loss.

“I think our mental focus from the puck drop lacks at times. When things don’t go our way, we let it snowball out of control. … When things don’t go our way, we give up. It’s that simple.”

While Warsofsky didn’t call out specific players after the game, he was clearly disappointed in the team’s effort. Talking about players who didn’t have their best night, Warsofsky said: “When you are struggling or not finding your game, how do you impact the hockey game? We have guys, when they’re not having their A game, or they have their B game, they’re not impacting the hockey game. It’s that simple.”

Given that the AHL serves as a developmental league for the NHL, Warsofsky and his coaching staff of course have a focus on what players need to do to prepare to take the next step in their careers. For Warsofsky, this game served as a prime example of what’s holding some players back from achieving that.

“If you want to play in the National Hockey League, you have to impact the hockey game, somehow, someway. And we have guys when it’s not going our way, they just check right out. That’s unacceptable.”

Scoring: Sam Miletic, 1 G; Maxim Letunov, 1 A; Spencer Smallman, 1 A

In net: Beck Warm, saved 20 of 25; 0.800 Sv%

Game 11: Wolves 1, Marlies 2 (OT)

In stark contrast to Saturday night’s outing against the Marlies, the Wolves controlled play early on Sunday, starting the game with nearly a solid minute of zone time. The Wolves even ended the first period with a lead after Max Letunov scored the opening goal on the power play.

The Marlies tied the game off of another fortunate bounce, this time off of forward Curtis Douglass for his first of the season. The game overall was a very tightly played game, with fewer of the odd-man rushes and turnovers that we’ve seen recently. Despite several excellent chances for the Wolves, including a C.J. Smith shot that slid through the crease but not over the line, they were unable to get the go-ahead goal.

Overtime saw each team with excellent chances — three shots for the Marlies and four for the Wolves — but both Eetu Mäkiniemi for the Wolves and Michael Hutchinson for the Marlies were up to the task. With the clock ticking down, everyone prepared for a shoot-out.

And then, enter Semyon Der-Arguchintsev.

A perfectly placed shot with 1.3 seconds left on the clock ended the game and the Wolves’ hopes of getting revenge on the Marlies.

Despite the loss, Warsofsky was more pleased with the team’s effort in the game.

“I thought we worked harder. Some things we need to clean up,” he said. “[The Marlies are] a good team, they have a lot of skill, they can skate. Sometimes they’re beating us at our own game a little bit. But I thought our response for the most part was pretty good even though we didn’t get the two points, it was a positive step in the right direction.”

One bright spot for the Wolves was the play of Jamieson Rees, getting into his second game after returning from knee surgery. Rees picked up his first point of the season on Letunov’s goal and was on the ice in key situations, including in overtime. He made an impact when he was on the ice and frequently showed off his skills with puck protection to help create chances for the Wolves.

Warsofsky was glad to have Rees back in the lineup and has big hopes for his future development on the team. Regarding Rees, Warsofsky said: “He’s got to continue to learn, play a little bit quicker and have a little bit more of a motor, but he’s got a bright future. … I liked his game. We missed him [on Saturday], we need him in our lineup. … He brings a different element that we need.”

Scoring: Max Letunov, 1 G; Jamieson Rees, 1 A; Joey Keane 1 A

In net: Eetu Mäkiniemi, saved 25 of 27, 0.926 Sv%