The Chicago Wolves got back to business over the past six games, winning five of them and getting to overtime in the other. The Vegas Golden Knights' AHL affiliate is continuing to excel under the leadership of head coach Rocky Thompson, and they're figuring out their road problems.
After a rough California tour ended their 14-game point streak, the Wolves were back on the road two weeks later. This time, though, they took one game from the Pacific Division-leading Tucson Roadrunners and took them to overtime in the other.
“We’ve had a good week of practice, something we haven’t had in a long time," said Thompson. "We feel comfortable that the areas of our game that we needed to tighten up were addressed. Our guys got energy, had a little bit of rest, which is nice. We want to get off to the right start at the drop of the puck.”
Get off to the right start they did, as they took three of a possible four points.
The Wolves are back, and they're back in a playoff spot, currently the second seed in the Central Division. The Manitoba Moose continue to move further away, but the Wolves are solidifying their ground in the playoffs, and have some space between themselves and the Iowa Wild.
In part, that's been because of excellent play by the St. Louis Blues' members of the team. That includes Wade Megan, who has scored two goals and two primary assists over the past six games. Jake Walman, who's also been terrific for the Wolves this season, has been re-assigned to the Binghamton Devils. That was an unfortunate event.
Another unfortunate event: Tomas Hyka got re-injured because of course, he did. Before he got hurt, he had 1-3—4 in two games. Hyka is made of fiberglass, but it's quality fiberglass.
It's also unfortunate because, from talking to him, it's clear Hyka isn't going to put himself out of the way of danger. While that's an admirable trait, he needs to stay healthy long-term.
If he can stay healthy at any point in the future, he continues to be the best NHL-ready player in the AHL for the Golden Knights.
The other NHL-ready player, Brandon Pirri, was also injured against Tucson. He took a slash to the hand, which brought the Wolves a crucial power play. But his absence is felt and has affected the Wolves' lineup.
3. Stefan Matteau
Matteau has had a terrific six-game stretch, with 5-2—7 in these games. That includes two game-winning goals and a power-play tally. Matteau has been the most important goal scorer for the Wolves over this stint and leads all goal scorers by two. The closest to him, Brandon Pirri, scored three in four games.
Matteau's five goals have included a natural hat trick against the Milwaukee Admirals in a 4-1 rout. All three goals were scored in different ways, with a beautiful snipe, a secured rebound, and a puck forced into the net. Matteau doesn't lack variety in his goal scoring.
"I think even when you have none, you try and get a hat trick every game," said Matteau. "Guys were getting me the puck and I tried to get as many shots as I could. Luckily, a few went in." It was Matteau's first hat trick.
Commenting on his recent line with T.J. Tynan and Beau Bennett, Matteau said: "They're both great passers. I know if I get open, they'll find me, and good things will happen."
2. Kasimir Kaskisuo
Kaskisuo might have been the most important player for the Wolves over this six-game stretch. With Max Lagace injured and Oscar Dansk working his way back into the lineup, Kaskisuo stepped up big, starting each of the six games. He posted a .920 save percentage and 1.98 goals against average over that time.
Everybody had praise for Kaskisuo when asked.
"We didn't belong in that game, Cleveland was outplaying us," said Thompson after a rough game against the Monsters. "But Kaskisuo kept us in, and I think the guys kind of realized in between periods what he was doing and how hard he was playing, and I think he kind of inspired them. He, in my opinion, is the reason we won this hockey game."
"‘Kas’ played solid," said Pirri. "He made a lot of saves when we needed him to, and I think we didn't really give them a whole lot after that."
Considering Kaskisuo was the guy loaned out by the Toronto Maple Leafs, in part to make room for Calvin Pickard (remember him?), they're quietly stacked at the goaltending position.
1. T.J. Tynan
Tynan has scored 1-11—12 over the past six games. 10 of the 11 assists were of the primary variety. He has a point on the power play and a point on the penalty kill. Tynan continues to do it all for the Wolves and attended the AHL All-Star Game for Chicago.
What’s been the biggest factor in his playmaking this season?
"I think just coming in every day, working hard, and the players around me," Tynan said. "When you have great players like we do in this locker room, they make it easy. They get open, they have great shots, they're smart, and they're making it easy for me."
Tynan started the six-game span off with four primary assists in one game versus the Bakersfield Condors.
"I didn't really have to do much," Tynan said. "Pirri had two great goals, which gave me the first two assists, and guys made great plays on the other two as well. MacKenzie [MacEachern] made a great move on the fourth one to score a shorthanded goal. I was fortunate to play with some great players tonight."
Tynan has been brilliant this season with the Wolves and is under contract next season for Chicago as well. With young players coming in, Tynan should provide excellent veteran leadership.