At the end of November, the Chicago Wolves ended their losing streak with a big win over the Rockford Ice Hogs. This losing streak had gone on for eight games, with five in regulation. But as part of a string of games where the Wolves had gotten at least a point, walking away with a win was huge.
And then the team lost the next day as part of a 3-in-3. Three games in three days. “That’s the American Hockey League,” said coach Rocky Thompson.
Says Thompson of whether or not the loss disrupted momentum: “No. I don’t think so. I think it could have been a really good step in the right direction, had we won this game, it would have been a different feel coming out of this weekend. It’s always tough to end on a lost. Not all is lost though, there’s still a lot of hockey left.”
There is. More than 50 games now stand between the Wolves and the end of the season, games in which the Wolves have the potential to turn things around and get back into playoff contention.
The first step?
“Fight to get traffic in front of the goalies and that will help,” Thompson said. This has been something the coach has stressed the entire second half of the month—getting screens and bodies in front of opposing goaltenders, making it harder to make a save.
The other big factor that can help the Wolves in the future is a better power play. After the loss to the Iowa Wild, a loss in which the Wolves’ power play failed to convert on a two-minute 5-on-3, coach Thompson made that clear. “We needed to execute. We were fighting the puck, we had plays that we could make, but we weren’t executing the passes. we had so many opportunities that we should have done a better job and those guys know it.”
Still, there’s more hope now than there was at the start of the month. “We gotta look at this and we gotta take some of the positives,” Thompson said. “We have five points out of our last 10, so it’s like kind of playing .500 in a sense, we had an opportunity here to get five points out of six, in a three in three which wasn’t an easy schedule against some good opponents and this opponent in particular. We had a great opportunity to win this hockey game but we let it slip through our fingers.”
3. Jason Garrison
After a rough start to the AHL season for Jason Garrison, he’s turned it around in a big way, especially offensively. Over the past seven games, Garrison has scored two goals and added four assists.
On his offensive production going up, he said: “Sometimes you don’t complicate things, you make the the easy plays. When there’s a lane, you shoot the puck, guys can screen the goalie really well it seems, shots can find their way through, just keep it simple.”
“It took him a little bit of time just to get comfortable,” says Thompson of Garrison’s transition. “He’s a pro, he’s been around for a long time, he’s great with our players, he works hard in practice and he tries to get better every day.”
Garrison has become the number one defensemen for the Wolves, playing large minutes against difficult opponents. Despite rough matchups, he has found a way to make a positive, meaningful impact on the ice. He’s now got a plus-two goal differential overall, with a three-game positive streak.
On his role with the Wolves, Garrison said: “Definitely no complaints, just try to fit and fill a void if there is one. Stick to how I’ve been playing throughout my whole career. The coaches have been doing a great job showing me what they want from me and what they expect from me.”
2. Brandon Pirri
Over the past seven games, Brandon Pirri has posted a stat line of 2-6—8. That includes a streak of three games with a point and a three-point effort in the most recent loss to the Wild. Pirri has become one of the most important players on the Wolves’ roster, and makes an impact every game.
Pirri on his teammates: “We have quality players, you just get them the puck and let them do what they do. Certainly Wade Megan and Teemu Pulkkinen, they’ve both been goal scorers, and they’ve both been dry. There’s been a lot of opportunities where we could have been better, myself included, but them getting one or two [goals] gives them the confidence to maybe not grip the stick so tight. Moving forward, our line can become the dominating line I know we can be.”
Pirri has also been one of the best players in the faceoff circle for the Wolves. “I’m confident, I’ve been around a little bit, he said. “I’ve got good rapport with the linesmen, so I know give and take, and you’ve gotta respect them and they’ll respect you. It’s just a matter of going in confidently and seeing what happens.”
If there arises need for another forward in Vegas, with David Perron and William Carrier on the injured reserve and other forwards banged up here and there, don’t be surprised to see Pirri’s name called.
1. Stefan Matteau
Over the final two weeks of November, Stefan Matteau scored four goals. That includes a crucial one that turned the tide against the Ice Hogs. It’s a part of why Matteau has been recalled to the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster, where he already has a primary assist and strong puck possession numbers.
On scoring his first goal of the season, Matteau said: “[It] feels like I got the monkey off my back, definitely a boost of confidence. It makes the game more fun when you score.”
Matteau has been playing with the same linemates for much of the season in Chicago: captain Paul Thompson and alternate T.J. Tynan, a line that built chemistry quickly. “Thompson and I played together a little bit when we were in Albany, so I know him from way back and he’s a hard player,” Matteau said. “Tynan can make plays. I think the three of us use our strengths together and it meshes it well.”
A strong defensive game and determination and desire to block shots shows why Matteau made a good candidate for a fourth-line call-up.
Another reason is his speed, which has been already visible with Vegas. On the same night that Matteau put his body on the line on the Wolves’ penalty kill, he was chasing opposing forwards down to stop chances and turning around to get ones going the other way. That includes finding creative ways to enter the offensive zone. “I’m trying to find a way to win,” said Matteau. “I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.”
Generally speaking, being a part of something new was on the young forward’s mind in the offseason when he signed with Vegas. Said Matteau: “I thought that was the best opportunity for me to get back in the NHL. New team, a new franchise and good development year. I had a couple options, and I thought Vegas would be the best fit for me.”
It looks like he was right.