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The Chicago Wolves lose to Eric Staal and the Iowa Wild

Game 30: Wolves 4, Griffins 0

Both teams fired in the first half, with Wolves firing 17 shots at Griffins goaltender Calvin Pickard. Stefan Noesen continued his strong streak of recent games by scoring two goals for the team, including the game opener.

Joey Keane and Jack Drury teamed up for Wolves’ second goal, with Drury redirecting a huge shot from Keane to the blue line.

Goaltender Daniel Mannella, who made his unexpected AHL debut during last weekend’s game, had one more big hooray in the league ahead of Alex Lyon’s return. Against the Grand Rapids Griffins, Mannella stopped all 23 shots for his first professional shutout.

This victory temporarily gave the wolves the best record in the AHL; They were quickly overtaken again by the Utica Comets, who have dominated the league’s Eastern Conference.

Rating: Stefan Noesen, 2G; Andrew Poturalski, 1G, 1A; Jack Drury, 1G; Joey Keane, 2A; CJ Smith, 1A; Eric Williams, 1A; Sam Miletic, 1A

Net: Daniel Mannella, saved 23 of 23, 1,000 Sv%

Game 31: Wolves 3, Wild 4

Chicago Wolves, meet Eric Staal. The veteran forward signed a try-out contract with the Iowa Wild in preparation for his likely role on Canada’s men’s ice hockey team at the upcoming Olympics. Staal had yet to play professionally this season, so this was his first time back in action since the Montreal Canadiens’ playoff run. And while Staal may be the team’s elder statesman, he was a crucial factor for the Wild in both games this weekend.

Wolves did open the scoring at the end of the first period after a Max Lajoie snap, but momentum in the second period belonged to the Savages. Two goals in about 13 seconds turned the game in Iowa’s favor. Staal’s goal, the second from the Wilds that night, was his first goal in the AHL since the 2004-05 season when he scored 26 goals with the Lowell Lock Monsters.

Wolves hit back thanks to strong play from their veterans, with CJ Smith making a power play less than a minute after the Wilds’ third goal. Captain and top scorer Andrew Poturalski ended the game with a breakaway goal in the third period, shorthanded (even on his birthday).

Less than 10 minutes later, the Wild countered with their own underman goal and took the lead again. Fierce keeper Zane McIntyre held off a volley of shots from Wolves in the third minute, including several strong chances in the final minutes. Wolves were ultimately unable to capitalize on this, handing goaltender Alex Lyon a loss in his first return game with the team after being called up to the NHL.

Scoring: CJ Smith, 1G, 1A; Andrew Poturalski, 1G, 1A; Max Lajoie, 1G; Stefan Noesen, 2A; Jack Drury, 1A

On the net: Alex Lyon, saved 25 of 29, 0.862 Sv%

Game 32: Wolves 2, Wild 3 (OT)

Apparently Eric Staal only scores for the wild. This time he gave the Wild the winner in overtime in a two-on-one match.

Wolves led that game by a goal for less than 30 seconds. After the wolves failed to score in either the first or second period, Stefan Noesen and David Gust scored 86 seconds apart. Both sequences included long periods of possession for the visitors and helped Wolves overcome the one-goal deficit.

Marco Rossi, one of the Minnesota Wild’s top prospects, scored shortly thereafter and sent the game into overtime where, well, Eric Staal ended things.

This was the third game in a row in which the outnumbered Wolves did not concede a goal. Their penalty shootout has improved a lot lately; In the last 10 games they have only conceded four goals in 35 penalty shootouts. In six of those ten games, Wolves were perfect on penalties.

Over the last 10 games, Wolves’ power play has been only marginally better than their season average, with a win rate of 18.9%. However, the penalty kill averages 88.6%, which would put them top of the league if this continued throughout the season. It’s a drastic improvement from the early days of the season when Wolves’ penalty shootouts were among the worst in the league.

After this weekend’s action, the Wolves are 4-1-1-0 against the Iowa Wild this season. This is only the third time this season that Wolves have lost games in a row (they also did it to Toronto on November 13-14 and Rockford on November 19-20).

Rating: Stefan Noesen, 1 G; David Gust, 1G; Max Letunov, 1 A

On the net: Alex Lyon, saved 26 of 29, 0.897 Sv%

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