The Chicago Wolves lost back-to-back games against the Texas Stars this weekend, being outscored 11-2 on home ice. The losses underscored some of the issues that the team has been facing since the outset of the season.
One major factor continues to be injuries. While Brendan Perlini made his return to the lineup on Friday, playing for the first time since November 5, many other key veteran players remain out. Some are getting closer to returns, which would be a positive for the team. The Wolves organization provides very limited information on player status, making it difficult to make any accurate predictions, but there are several names on the list of recent scratches who are active participants in practice recently.
MacEachern LaBate Fitzgerald have been no contact but with the full team for about a week. Suzuki has been a full participant since being activated by the Canes on 11/9. Matheos and Lagesson practiced in full all last week and today. No Dzingle today. No sign of Lodnia at all.— Travis Cedzidlo (@TravisC_19) November 29, 2022
Perlini’s injury came after a road trip where he recorded five points in back-to-back games in Cleveland. He took the time off in stride, however. “It was kind of too bad [that] I had to take a couple weeks off, but in the same sense, there’s always good things you can take from certain situations,” Perlini said. “I think watching from the stands, sometimes you realize you got a little more time than down on the ice.” That time to refocus paid off for Perlini, who scored in his first game back on Friday.
In addition to producing on the ice, the veteran forward is helping keep things steady in a room full of younger players. “I think we’ve got some older pros who have been through some stuff, and we’ve got a lot of younger guys too. So it’s kind of getting for us to get the younger guys out of their comfort zone and speak up and talk,” he said.
Perlini continued, giving a glimpse into the communication inside the Wolves locker room: “I think for us the main thing right now is just communication and having guys not be timid or scared to say anything. Whether you’re a first year pro or a ten year pro doesn’t really matter, as long as you got everyone on the same page and working together, that’s the main thing. So for us older guys, we probably got to do a better job in helping them but you know that also has to come kind of from them too in wanting to do it as well.”
Coach Brock Sheahan recognizes that the results aren’t where they need to be for this team. “It hasn’t gone well, obviously, especially the score makes it even worse when you’re giving up a lot of chances. To me, it’s about finding ways to get better at all times. And [Friday], it took us until maybe the third period to push back and I think they know it’s not good enough and there’s really not any excuses. The lineup is what it is. It’s a great opportunity for guys, I just feel like we’re really passive right now. I think that you’ve got to keep them motivated and we’re working through that.”
There are some positives to come out of these losses. As Sheahan mentioned, the team fought back during the third period of Friday’s loss, outshooting the Stars 14-7. That late pushback resulted in the Wolves’ only goal of the night. On Saturday, their game tightened up considerably after a three-goal outburst by the Stars in the second. Sheahan pulled goaltender Cale Morris with more than five minutes remaining in the third, hoping to spark some offense. The Wolves didn’t allow an empty net goal and largely maintained possession of the puck during the closing minutes, though struggled to get any quality shots off.
Additionally, the penalty kill, which has struggled at times this season, remained perfect in both games against the Stars. This marked the third consecutive game in which the Wolves did not allow a goal while shorthanded, a streak which they’ve accomplished only once previously this season, at the end of October. The penalty kill currently sits as third best in the league, behind only San Jose (89.4%) and Hershey (87.1%).
Game 15: Chicago Wolves 1, Texas Stars 6
Scoring: Brendan Perlini, 1 G; Jamieson Rees, 1 A; Vasily Ponomarev, 1 A
In net: Zach Sawchenko, saved 30 of 36, 0.833 sv%
Game 16: Chicago Wolves 1, Texas Stars 5
Scoring: Josh Melnick, 1 G; Anttoni Honka, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A
In net: Cale Morris, saved 24 of 29, 0.828 sv%