The good news for the Chicago Wolves is that finally, their offense seems to be coming alive. They’ve scored 36 goals in the month of December, with two games still left on the schedule. They have points in three straight games and are getting contributions from some of the younger players who have been desperately needed on the scoresheet.
The bad news is that their defense is still a work in progress that may not actually get any better. While their average goals per game has decreased (4.30 in November, decreasing to 4.18 in December to date), they’ve still allowed overall the third most goals in the league. Their 110 goals against are surpassed only by Laval (112) and San Diego (117), with the Wolves having played the fewest games of the three.
The team does appear to be playing with more cohesion as of late though and there are fewer moments where a play looks like it’s every man for himself. Players are learning to use and rely on one another rather than trying to make everything happen solo. That was a noticeable concern throughout the early parts of the season, with players trying to force zone entries and shot attempts on their own, appearing to not trust their teammates to be there when needed.
The trio of Malte Stromwall, Noel Gunler, and William Lagesson in particular have been working to create offense when they’re out on the ice together. Gunler has points in five straight games (five goals, three assists). Stromwall has points in six of ten (one goal, nine assists). Even players brought in to fill depth roles are getting in on the action. Josh Melnick has points in three straight games, and Logan Lambdin and Joey LaBate have been chipping in at crucial moments.
Of course, the problems that got the Wolves into the bottom spot in the Central Division aren’t going to go away overnight. Look no further than their 8-7 overtime loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins, the type of loss that’s so outrageous that there are few, if any, real lessons to take away from it. But it’s not often that a team can say they squandered a 6-2 lead. While goaltender Cale Morris certainly needed to be better — a classic case of needing your goalie to make one last save and not getting it from him — the players in front of him repeatedly allowed odd-man rushes, created egregious turnovers, or took ill-timed penalties. The game-tying goal for the Griffins came with just over a minute left on the clock on an admittedly soft penalty, but a needless penalty nonetheless.
While the Wolves climbing back into the playoff picture seems difficult at this point, they are gaining ground on the Griffins, who currently occupy sixth place in the division. Both teams are tied with 23 points each, although Grand Rapids has one game in hand and more overall wins. (Fun fact: the Wolves have yet to win in overtime this season.) Both teams are three points back of the Iowa Wild, who have 26 points in 28 games. With Iowa’s top scorer, Sammy Walker, doing well in the NHL, it’s not too hard to envision a scenario in which the Wild get leapfrogged by one of the teams below them in the standings.
Game 21: Chicago Wolves 3, Texas Stars 6
Stelio Mattheos gettin' us back in it ‼️ pic.twitter.com/qMhsrQB3pU— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) December 15, 2022
Scoring: Dylan Coghlan, 1 G; Stelio Mattheos, 1 G; Logan Lambdin, 1 G; Noel Gunler, 1 A; William Lagesson, 1 A; Jamieson Rees, 1 A; Malte Stromwall, 1 A; Josh Melnick, 1 A; Brendan Perlini, 1 A
In net: Zach Sawchenko, saved 32 of 37, 0.865 sv%
Game 22: Chicago Wolves 5, Grand Rapids, 1
Scoring: Ryan Suzuki, 2 G; Malte Stromwall, 1 G, 1 A; Josh Melnick, 1 G, 1 A; Logan Lambdin, 1 G; Griffin Mendel, 1 A; Dylan Coghlan, 1 A; Alexander Pashin, 1 A;
In net: Cale Morris, saved 31 of 32, 0.969 sv%
Game 23: Chicago Wolves 5, Milwaukee Admirals 3
Brendan Perlini PPG to put us on the board first?— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) December 18, 2022
Noel Gunler PPG perfection pic.twitter.com/aOY4c0YNmi— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) December 18, 2022
Dylan Coghlan is good with the one-timers pic.twitter.com/VblQfm7wyp— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) December 18, 2022
Scoring: Noel Gunler, 2 G; Jamieson Rees, 1 G, 1 A; Dylan Coghlan, 1 G; Brendan Perlini, 1 G; Malte Stromwall, 2 A; Vasily Ponomarev, 2 A; Griffin Mendel, 1 A; Nathan Sucese, 1 A
In net: Zach Sawchenko, saved 22 of 25, 0.880 sv%
Game 24: Chicago Wolves 2, Milwaukee Admirals 5
Scoring: Anttoni Honka, 1 G; Noel Gunler, 1 G; Joseph LaBate, 1 A; Ronan Seeley, 1 A; Malte Stromwall, 1 A; Tuukka Tieksola, 1 A
In net: Zach Sawchenko, saved 27 of 31, 0.871 sv%
Game 25: Chicago Wolves 7, Grand Rapids Griffins 8 (OT)
Sweet dish from Ponomarev to set up Tuukka pic.twitter.com/dDVXdMtgFU— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) December 23, 2022
Scoring: Noel Gunler, 2 G, 1 A; Tuukka Tieksola, 1 G, 1 A; Griffin Mendel, 1 G; Zack Hayes, 1 G; Max Lajoie, 1 G; Joseph LaBate, 1 G; William Lagesson, 2 A; Vasily Ponomarev, 2 A; Malte Stromwall, 2 A; Anttoni Honka, 1 A; Blake Murray, 1 A: Logan Lambdin, 1 A; Josh Melnick, 1 A
In net: Cale Morris, saved 24 of 32, 0.750 sv%
Game 26: Chicago Wolves 3, Rockford IceHogs 2
Money @ Alexander Pashin. pic.twitter.com/Xe6lPUrKy6— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) December 24, 2022
Scoring: Alexander Pashin, 1 G; Nathan Sucese, 1 G; Josh Melnick, 1 G; Stelio Mattheos, 1 A; Noel Gunler, 1 A; Anttoni Honka, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A
In net: Zach Sawchenko, saved 31 of 33, 0.939 sv%
Game 27: Chicago Wolves 4, Milwaukee Admirals 3
Vasily Ponomarev goal pt. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/JyehEY9WFq— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) December 28, 2022
Vasily Ponomarev goal pt. 2/2 pic.twitter.com/sZ5OmJ0ZDG— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) December 28, 2022
Scoring: Vasily Ponomarev, 2 G; William Lagesson, 1 G, 1 A: Josh Melnick, 1 G; Nathan Sucese, 2 A; Malte Stromwall, 2 A; Stelio Mattheos, 1 A; Noel Gunler, 1 A
In net: Cale Morris, saved 29 of 32, 0.906 sv%