What a difference a goaltender makes. Pyotr Kochetkov played in two of the Wolves’ three games this past week, and the Wolves not only won both games, but they won them convincingly.
After being shut out for two consecutive games, first to Grand Rapids and then Manitoba, the Wolves did a complete about-face. In the type of offensive explosion the Wolves have rarely seen this year, they recorded six goals in consecutive games. The Wolves have recorded four or more goals in consecutive games only once this season, when they put up five goals in back-to-back games against Grand Rapids and Milwaukee.
First they piled six goals onto Manitoba goaltender Oskari Salminen, who has been one of the hottest goaltenders in the league at times this year. A few nights later, they did the same thing in Rockford as the IceHogs iced their third-string goaltender (and former Wolf) Dylan Wells.
In both games, the Wolves were dominant in terms of puck possession, outshooting their opponents. Against Rockford, the Wolves outshot the home team by a 15 shot margin. That was just the third time this season that the shot differential was in double digits in the Wolves favor, and the biggest differential since December 3 against Iowa. The Wolves have had the advantage in shots for the fourth consecutive game; this is the first time since a stretch of three games in late October that they’ve managed to have the advantage in more than one game.
The Wolves may not intentionally be playing differently in front of Kochetkov, but they are playing with confidence, particularly late in a game. For many stretches earlier in the season, the Wolves would fade down the stretch. But in both games that Kochetkov started, the Wolves outshot their opponents by a combined shot total of 22 to 12 in the third period.
And more importantly, when the Wolves have needed big saves, they’ve gotten them from Kochetkov. The IceHogs had the upper hand in the second period on Saturday, outshooting the Wolves 14-11, but only scored one goal, a 5-on-3 power play goal early in the period from IceHogs defenseman Adam Clendening. From there on out, Kochetkov shut the door in the IceHogs in that period, and a four-goal outburst from the Wolves in the third put the game out of reach for Rockford.
The Wolves have games in hand on every other team in the Central Division and while it’s a long way back up from the basement - 11 points separate the Wolves from the fifth place Iowa Wild - it’s a little easier to see the Wolves finally stringing together a series of wins now that their lineup is healthier and they have a bona-fide NHL-caliber goalie in net.
Game 34: Chicago Wolves 0, Manitoba Moose 2
In net: Zach Sawchenko, saved 22 of 24, 0.917 sv%
Game 35: Chicago Wolves 6, Manitoba Moose 2
Tuukka Tieksola’s first goal since December 22:
The power of the Finns = Tieksola goals pic.twitter.com/e29wATvJim— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) January 19, 2023
Perlini making it look easy pic.twitter.com/xvJEYkRIl4— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) January 19, 2023
Joseph LaBate earned himself a Gordie Howe hat trick with this goal:
Scoring: Joseph LaBate, 1 G, 1 A; Jack Drury, 1 G; Ryan Suzuki, 1 G; Nathan Sucese, 1 G; Tuukka Tieksola, 1 G; Brendan Perlini, 1 G; Anttoni Honka, 2 A; Noel Gunler, 2 A; Griffin Mendel, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A; Alexander Pashin, 1 A; Ronan Seeley, 1 A; Malte Stromwall, 1 A
In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 19 of 21, 0.905 sv%
Game 36: Chicago Wolves 6, Rockford IceHogs 2
Ryan Suzuki has five points in seven games since the start of 2023, and now has goals in consecutive games for the first time this season.
Jack Drury’s assist on this goal was his eighth point in nine games.
Scoring: Jamieson Rees, 2 G; Brendan Perlini, 1 G, 1 A; Vasily Ponomarev, 1 G; Ryan Suzuki, 1 G; Noel Gunler, 1 G; William Lagesson, 3 A; Tuukka Tieksola, 2 A; Josh Melnick, 1 A; Jack Drury, 1 A; Griffin Mendel, 1 A; Anttoni Honka, 1 A; Malte Stromwall, 1 A
In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 22 of 24, 0.917 sv%