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Wolves recent strong play makes fans wonder “what if”

What if.... Pyotr Kochetkov had been with the team all season?

Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

Imagine the Chicago Wolves with this roster on opening night, or through the first few months of the season; a healthy Ryan Suzuki, Cavan Fitzgerald and Mackenzie MacEachern, Pyotr Kochetkov stopping pucks in Rosemont rather than Raleigh with the Carolina Hurricanes, Jack Drury, just, like, in general, players slotted into the lineups in positions they can thrive in, rather than being forced to play up in roles they’re not ready or suited for.

While no one exactly expected this version of the Wolves to match the dizzying heights of last year’s Calder Cup-winning squad, it’s safe to say that no one expected them to be fighting to claw out of the basement of the league’s standings.

Their recent run of play — with a mostly healthy roster and a top goaltender — has shown what the Wolves probably could have been all season long, had the roster worked in their favor. Still a flawed team, sure, but one that was strong enough to compete with the rest of the bubble teams in their division.

The current version of the Wolves has won five of their last 10, with points from a shootout loss in a sixth. Seven of the last 10 have been one-goal games.

They’ve scored three or more goals seven times in this stretch; and more importantly, they’ve allowed three or more just four times. Compare that with the first 10 games of the season, where the Wolves allowed three or more goals seven times. Four of those seven were games in which the Wolves allowed five goals against. In their last 10 games, the Wolves have allowed five goals only twice, and won one of those games.

The absence of Kochetkov from early November through late January looms especially large for the team as a “what if” scenario. His 906 minutes played aren’t enough to count him as “qualified” per the League’s standards (“qualified” goalies currently must have played at least 960 minutes — the number grows as the season progresses). But if he met that minimum, his 0.919 save percentage would have him tied for sixth in the league, sharing a spot with Cory Schneider and just behind Dustin Tokarski, two experienced veterans. Rounding out the top five are Brandon Bussi, Dustin Wolf, Hugo Alnefelt, and Vadim Zherenko, all young goaltenders who are helping propel their teams to successful seasons.

Similarly, Kochetkov’s 2.32 goals against average would put him at fourth in the league, behind Wolf, Bussi, and Hunter Shepard.

Maybe the Wolves’ offense still would have struggled with inconsistencies this season — after all, Kochetkov just recently lost a game where he allowed one regulation goal and was perfect through overtime and eleven out of twelve rounds of a shootout.

You can’t win games if the skaters aren’t going to put pucks in the opponent’s net. But relying on Kochetkov in net rather than the combination of Zach Sawchenko (10-15-1-1, 3.37 GAA, 0.890 sv%) and Cale Morris (1-4-2-0, 5.21 GAA, 0.843 sv%) likely would have resulted in a much higher position in the standings than what the Wolves are faced with now.

Also having a notable performance recently is Ryan Suzuki. The young forward, who has dealt with a series of injuries over the past few years, is finally a regular in the lineup and currently has an active six-game point streak. Suzuki has 11 points over his last 10 games, including three goals.

While Suzuki is currently shooting at an unsustainable 34.6% — out of skaters who have played more than 10 games, that is second best in the league — the goals he’s scoring are legitimate, repeatable goals rather than lucky accidents. Suzuki doesn’t shoot the puck often, with just 26 shots in 26 games. But he does know how to make the most of the opportunity he’s been given.

Game 45: Chicago Wolves 1, Milwaukee Admirals 2

Scoring: Jamieson Rees, 1 G; Ryan Suzuki, 1 A; Josh Melnick, 1 A

In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 24 of 25, 0.960 sv%

Game 46: Chicago Wolves 4, Cleveland Monsters 3

Scoring: Vasily Ponomarev, 2 G; Mackenzie MacEachern, 1 G, 1 A; Alex Green, 1 G; Anttoni Honka, 1 A; Ryan Suzuki, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A; Jack Drury, 1 A; Logan Lambdin, 1 A; Nathan Sucese, 1 A; Malte Stromwall, 1 A

In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 24 of 27, 0.889 sv%

Game 47: Chicago Wolves 2, Cleveland Monsters 3

Scoring: Jamieson Rees, 1 G; Malte Stromwall, 1 G; Mackenzie MacEachern, 1 A; Ryan Suzuki, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A; William Lagesson, 1 A

In net: Zachary Sawchenko, saved 12 of 14, 0.857 sv%

Game 48: Chicago Wolves 4, Iowa Wild 1

Scoring: Ryan Suzuki, 1 G, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 G, 2 A; Malte Stromwall, 1 G; Josh Melnick, 1 G; Mackenzie MacEachern, 2 A; Joseph LaBate, 1 A; Jack Drury, 1 A: Anttoni Honka, 1 A;

In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 23 of 24, 0.958 sv%