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Wolves drop two straight against rival IceHogs

Jack LaFontaine picked up his first pro win in the team’s sole victory this week, against the Cleveland Monsters.

Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

Game 41: Wolves 3, Monsters 2 (OT)

Jack LaFontaine finally got his first professional win as the Wolves pulled off an overtime victory in Cleveland. Thanks to goals from David Gust and Stefan Noesen, the Wolves held a 2-1 lead until early in the third period. Monsters forward Tyler Angle pulled off a two-on-two rush where his shot bounced off of a player in front of the net and went in.

LaFontaine once again didn’t face too many shots as the Wolves worked hard to limit Cleveland’s possession time. The Monsters’ only other goal in this game came while shorthanded; Carson Meyer collected his own rebound after Joey Keane blocked the first shot and managed to put the puck behind LaFontaine.

Keane had a strong game, not only recording the ultimate game winner in overtime, but also helping to set up Stefan Noesen’s goal in the second period. Keane’s game winner came on a two-on-one rush with Maxim Letunov. Letunov drew the attention of the Monsters’ defenseman, who dropped to the ice in an attempt to block the shot; he was able instead to pass the puck to Keane, who scored on the mostly open net.

LaFontaine missed 4:12 of time in the second period after leaving the game for medical attention after a hectic shift of activity in front of the net. Alex Lyon briefly stepped in to take his place and faced no shots while in net.

This game marked the 12th consecutive game that the Wolves did not surrender a goal while on the penalty kill.

Scoring: Joey Keane, 1 G, 1 A; Stefan Noesen, 1 G; David Gust, 1 G; Jack Drury, 1 A; Maxim Letunov, 1 A; Andrew Poturalski, 1 A

In net: Jack LaFontaine, saved 16 of 18, 0.898 Sv%

Game 42: Wolves 4, IceHogs 5

Hurricanes fans who have seen their team struggle against the Ottawa Senators this season are well aware of a good team’s tendency to underperform against a mediocre opponent. For the Wolves, that opponent is the Rockford IceHogs.

While the IceHogs sit a distant fourth in the Central Division (42 points in 39 games; 0.538 points percentage), the Wolves have struggled mightily against their in-state rival. In 10 meetings this season (including game 43, written about below), the Wolves are 3-4-0-3 (the AHL separates overtime losses and shootout losses in their records).

The only other teams where the Wolves have a losing record to date are against the Manitoba Moose (1-2-1-0, with four games remaining) and Toronto Marlies (0-1-1-0, with two games remaining). The Moose and Marlies both currently sit second in their respective division and are viewed as tough opponents. The IceHogs? Not so much.

But so it goes in hockey. The Wolves found themselves in a 3-0 deficit by the early second period. The first two IceHog goals were scored just over a minute apart in the first period, both by Michal Teply, both in highly similar fashion off of rebounds.

Teply’s second goal came on an IceHogs power play, which ended the Wolves’ franchise-record streak of 35 consecutive successful penalty kills. The Wolves had not allowed a goal for 777 minutes and 59 seconds. The last goal surrendered on the penalty kill came January 9 against Cleveland.

Alex Lyon was pulled after Rockford’s fifth goal, with Jack LaFontaine appearing in relief. The Wolves scored twice in the second period, one in which they outshot Rockford by a margin of 20 to six, and continued the comeback attempt in the third. The Wolves scored twice, including a last minute goal from Jamieson Rees, but IceHogs goalie Collin Delia stopped a flurry of shots in the final seconds to preserve the win for Rockford.

Of note in this game, defenseman Jalen Chatfield left in the first period after getting boarded by Kurtis Gabriel. Chatfield did not return to the game and did not play the next night. Gabriel was assessed a five minute major penalty and a game misconduct. The Wolves failed to score on that major, which included two minutes of five-on-three play as the IceHogs took a slashing penalty less than a minute after the major began.

Scoring: Andrew Poturalski, 1 G, 2 A; Cavan Fitzgerald, 1 G, 1 A; Jamieson Rees, 1 G; David Gust, 1 G; David Cotton, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A; Jack Drury, 1 A; Stefan Noesen, 1 A

In net: Alex Lyon, saved 11 of 16, 0.688 Sv % (33:51 TOI), Jack LaFontaine, saved 7 of 7, 1.000 Sv% (23:29 TOI)

Game 43: Wolves 3, IceHogs 4 (SO)

The Wolves and IceHogs met for the second consecutive night and once again the Wolves allowed the first goal, just 5:07 into the first period. Forward Kyle Marino, called up that day from the ECHL for seemingly one purpose, attempted to give the team some life with a fight on the next shift, taking on Kurtis Gabriel in retribution for his hit on Jalen Chatfield the night before.

While the fight got the crowd fired up, the Wolves wouldn’t get on the board until the next period, when Ryan Suzuki scored his third of the season at the top of the period. Suzuki came across the front of the IceHogs net and unleashed his shot to tie up the game.

The IceHogs scored the next two goals, with one puck trickling underneath Jack LaFontaine when he failed to seal off the bottom of the net quickly enough, and later, a power play goal from Ian Mitchell, who was the benefit of a great pass from Lukas Reichel, who faked out the Wolves skaters and LaFontaine.

Less than a minute later, Jack Drury brought the Wolves within one as he was in the right place to receive a spinning pass from David Gust, in one of the more impressive plays I’ve seen the Wolves pull off this season.

Stefan Noesen, who celebrated his 29th birthday that day, tied the game with less than two minutes remaining. Noesen’s 22nd goal of the season put him in a tie for the league’s top goalscorer (tied with Sheldon Dries from the Abbotsford Canucks).

Overtime wasn’t fruitful for either team, so the game headed to a shootout, where Rockford’s Michal Teply scored the lone goal to give the IceHogs the win.

More concerning than the penalty kill allowing goals in two consecutive games — the kill had to come back to earth at some point — is the Wolves’ continued struggles on the power play. This is the third consecutive game without a power play goal, and seventh in 10 games without one. The Wolves have 42 power play attempts over 10 games and have just six goals to show for it (14.3%). Three of those goals came in one game (a 4-1 win over Grand Rapids, a team with one of the worst penalty kills in the league).

The Wolves have a significant break before they face the IceHogs again, and only have two remaining games against them on the schedule: at home on April 19 and in Rockford on April 30 to end the regular season.

Scoring: Ryan Suzuki, 1 G; Jack Drury, 1 G; Stefan Noesen, 1 G; Max Lajoie, 2 A; Andrew Poturalski, 1 A; David Gust, 1 A

In net: Jack LaFontaine, saved 16 of 19, 0.842 Sv%