Christmas may have come a little bit late for the Chicago Wolves but a gift is a gift — goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov has been reassigned to the AHL from the Carolina Hurricanes after a very successful NHL stint. The reassignment isn’t a reflection of Kochetkov’s skill or future — he is still very much The Future Guy in Carolina. Rather, it’s a reflection on the fact that carrying three goalies is challenging, and ultimately Kochetkov needs to be playing, not sitting on the bench waiting for either Andersen or Raanta to falter.
Kochetkov will have plenty of chances to play with Chicago as they hit the road for the next few weeks. They have seven games over the next 14 days, including three sets of back to backs. While the Wolves have spent most of the season splitting back to backs between Zach Sawchenko and Cale Morris, Morris has undoubtedly struggled this year. Out of all AHL goaltenders who have played five or more games this season, Morris has the worst goals against average in the league (5.21). The only goaltenders with worse performances have played three or fewer games.
So Kochetkov’s return comes right on time and will be even more important to the Wolves than the return of any of the players they’ve gotten back recently from injuries. Perhaps with Kochetkov, the Wolves will get a few goalie wins, like the Grand Rapids Griffins did in the Wolves’ last game.
Zach Sawchenko and Alex Nedeljkovic faced off in a very low-event goaltenders duel, resulting in a 1-0 win for the Griffins. Sawchenko saw just 20 shots; Nedeljkovic saw 27. This was the first time in 16 games in which the Wolves outshot their opponent; the last time was on December 3 against Iowa.
While the Wolves had the upper hand in shots, they weren’t taking particularly dangerous ones, with many of their shots coming from the circles or back towards the blue line, and only a small number being fired from close to the goaltender. The Griffins only goal — and only goal of the game — came just four minutes into the first period. Rookie forward Cross Hanas fired a sharp angle shot which found its way in on Sawchenko’s stick side.
And that was all Grand Rapids needed. Both teams failed to convert on the power play, and despite a dominant third period from the Wolves, where they outshot Grand Rapids 7-1, they couldn’t find the equalizer.
The Wolves are back in action tonight as their road trip takes them to Winnipeg to face the Manitoba Moose. The Wolves have faced the Moose only once so far this season, back on October 21, where they suffered a 5-2 loss. The Moose have struggled as of late, losing five of their last 10 games and dropping to fifth in the Central Division.
Game 33: Chicago Wolves 0, Grand Rapids Griffins 1
In net: Zach Sawchenko, saved 19 of 20, 0.950 sv%