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Chicago Wolves lose to Eric Staal and the Iowa Wild

The former Hurricane helped hand defeat to the Wolves in two straight games

Photo: Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

Game 30: Wolves 4, Griffins 0

Both teams came out firing in the first period, with the Wolves putting 17 shots on Griffins goaltender Calvin Pickard. Stefan Noesen continued his strong run of recent play by adding two goals for the team, including the game opener.

Joey Keane and Jack Drury teamed up for the Wolves’ second goal, with Drury redirecting a huge shot from Keane on the blue line.

Goaltender Daniel Mannella, who made his unexpected AHL debut during last weekend’s series of games, had one more big hurrah in the league before Alex Lyon’s return. Facing off against the Grand Rapids Griffins, Mannella stopped all 23 shots for his first professional shutout.

This win temporarily gave the Wolves the best record in the AHL; they were quickly overtaken again by the Utica Comets, who have been dominant in the league’s Eastern Conference.

Scoring: Stefan Noesen, 2 G; Andrew Poturalski, 1 G, 1 A; Jack Drury, 1 G; Joey Keane, 2 A; C.J. Smith, 1 A; Eric Williams, 1 A; Sam Miletic, 1 A

In net: Daniel Mannella, saved 23 of 23, 1.000 Sv%

Game 31: Wolves 3, Wild 4

Chicago Wolves, meet Eric Staal. The veteran forward signed a try-out contract with the Iowa Wild in preparation for his presumptive role on the Canadian team for men’s hockey in the upcoming Olympics. Staal hadn’t played professionally yet this season, so this was his first time back in action since the Montreal Canadiens’ playoff run. And while Staal may be the elder statesman of the team, he was a difference-maker for the Wild in both games this weekend.

The Wolves actually opened scoring at the end of the first period off of a Max Lajoie snapshot, but the momentum in the second period belonged to the Wild. Two goals in around 13 seconds swung the game in Iowa’s favor. Staal’s goal, the Wild’s second of the night, was his first goal in the AHL since the 2004-05 season, when he scored 26 with the Lowell Lock Monsters.

The Wolves battled back thanks to the strong play of their veterans, with C.J. Smith scoring on a power play less than a minute after the Wild’s third goal. Captain and leading scorer Andrew Poturalski tied the game in the third period with a shorthanded breakaway goal (on his birthday, even).

The Wild countered with their own shorthanded goal less than 10 minutes later, regaining the lead. Wild goalie Zane McIntyre withstood a barrage of shots from the Wolves in the third, including several strong chances in the final minutes. The Wolves ultimately were unable to capitalize, handing goaltender Alex Lyon a loss in his first game back with the team after being called up to the NHL.

Scoring: C.J. Smith, 1 G, 1 A; Andrew Poturalski, 1 G, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 G; Stefan Noesen, 2 A; Jack Drury, 1 A

In net: Alex Lyon, saved 25 of 29, 0.862 Sv%

Game 32: Wolves 2, Wild 3 (OT)

Apparently all Eric Staal does is score for the Wild. This time, he gave the Wild the winner in overtime on a two-on-one play.

The Wolves held a one-goal lead in this game for less than 30 seconds. After no Wolves found the back of the net in the first or second period, Stefan Noesen and David Gust scored 86 seconds apart. Both sequences involved lengthy possession time for the visitors, helping the Wolves overcome the one-goal deficit.

Marco Rossi, one of the Minnesota Wild’s top prospects, scored quickly afterwards to send the game to overtime, where, well, Eric Staal ended things.

This marked the third consecutive game where the Wolves did not allow a goal while shorthanded. Their penalty kill has greatly improved recently; over their last 10 games, they have allowed just four goals on 35 penalty kills. Six of those 10 games, the Wolves have been perfect on the penalty kill.

Over the past 10 games, the Wolves’ power play is at an 18.9% success rate, only slightly better than their season average. The penalty kill, however, is averaging 88.6%, which would put them near the top of the league if that were sustained over the whole season. It’s a drastic improvement from the early days of the season where the Wolves’ penalty kill was among the worst in the league.

After this weekend’s action, the Wolves are 4-1-1-0 against the Iowa Wild this season. This is just the third time so far this season that the Wolves have lost consecutive games (they also did it November 13/14 against Toronto and November 19/20 against Rockford.)

Scoring: Stefan Noesen, 1 G; David Gust, 1 G; Max Letunov, 1 A

In net: Alex Lyon, saved 26 of 29, 0.897 Sv%