Wolves: Scouting the Enemy

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)
The Chicago Wolves 2015-16 season in one photo. (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Tonight and tomorrow the Amtrak Rivalry resumes after what has left like an ice age. When the Milwaukee Admirals and Chicago Wolves last played it was the end of December. That’s right. They’ve yet to buddy up and rival it out in 2016. That almost feels crazy to say -but- the Admirals will be seeing more than their share of the Wolves from here on out. Including tonight, the Admirals see the Wolves a total of seven-times from their last twenty-four games of the season.

In short, we’re all about to get to know one-another a lot better and remember that one-and-only reason to hate “Kickstart My Heart” by Mötley Crüe. [/joke made for the not casual Admirals fan]

~The Amtrak Rivals~

The Chicago Wolves enter tonight’s game with a record of 24-24-3-2 (53 points) Their 0.500 points percentage has them sitting in sixth place of the Central Division and twelfth place in the Western Conference standings.

To say that the Wolves season has been a disaster would be an understatement. The team has so much quality on it and features many players that were part of a playoff team a season ago or the year prior. This comes down to two simple realities: (1) the injuries that the St. Louis Blues have suffered throughout the season making for an inconsistent hodge podge of a lineup for their AHL affiliate and (2) players who are clearly under-performing.

When I think of the Wolves my mind shifts to Admiral Killers in net such as Jake Allen or his Admiral Killer successor Jordan Binnington. Allen? He’s doing his thing in the NHL now. Binnington? He is playing nowhere close to the high level he displayed a season ago and the goaltending battle between himself and Pheonix Copley has Binnington’s battery-mate up in the NHL while Brian Elliott sits out with injury. The goaltending has been a hot mess for the Wolves all season. Pair that with an erratic offense and you get the goal differential that the team has on the season: -19 (143 GF, 162 GA).

Let’s focus on Binnington for a moment though because I really think he drives home the struggles of the 2015-16 Wolves season. In his career against the Admirals, from when he turned pro to his first start made in the Amtrak Rivalry this season, he made 8 appearances (all starts) for a perfect 8-0-0-0 record while stopping 202/217 of the Admirals shots on goal for a 0.931 save percentage to go along with a 1.82 goals against average. Perhaps it’s surprising in that stretch he actually never recorded a shutout but, hey, he did rather well outside of that didn’t he? Since, Binnington has gone 0-2-0-1 against the Admirals stopping 78/88 for a 0.886 save percentage and a 3.31 goals against average.

Last season’s AHL stats for Binnington: 45 games played, 25-15-4-1 record, 0.916 save percentage, 2.35 goals against average, and 3 shutouts.

This season’s AHL stats for Binnington through 53 games played for the Wolves: 26 games played, 11-11-3-2 record, 0.900 save percentage, 2.95 goals against average, and a single shutout.

Call it a sophomore slump if you must but the regression in Binnington has been rough and it’s not helped the Wolves this season. When you compare the stability and reliability out of the Admirals tandem of Marek Mazanec and Juuse Saros this season you understand why the Admirals are where they are in the standings. They have a foundation from which to build every game upon because there is a confidence that the men in net can hold the fort. The Wolves this season? No confidence.

As this game approaches Binnington’s month of February reads 7 starts, 2-4-1-0 record, 0.891 save percentage, and a 3.49 goals against average. He has allowed 5 goals in both of his last two-starts in net. This team is ripe for the picking.

~The 2015-16 Amtrak Rivalry So Far~

So, what of the Amtrak Rivalry this season? It’s been so long that I nearly forgotten who did what at the start of the season – to be completely honest. Fret yet not, the Admirals have done very well this season against the Wolves:

10/10/15: Admirals lose 5-1 @ Chicago
11/18/15: Admirals win 5-3 vs. Chicago
12/5/15: Admirals win 3-2 (SO) @ Chicago
12/15/15: Admirals win 2-1 vs. Chicago
12/28/15: Admirals win 4-1 vs. Chicago

That’s correct. The Admirals have won four-straight in the Amtrak Rivalry. Should this trend last the weekend the Admirals would have six of the twelve wins in the fight for the Amtrak Trophy against the Wolves this season. That trophy could get handed to the Admirals as early as March 5th in Milwaukee on Colton Sissons bobblehead night (bobble bobble).

~Who What Now?~

The Wolves leading scorer this season is veteran and team captain Pat Cannone who leads in all major offensive categories on the team with 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists). He’s followed by Danny Kristo with 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists).

As far as the top scorer in this head-to-head goes this season it falls to defenseman André Benoît who has 7 points (0 goals, 7 assists) in 5 games against the Admirals. Benoît is among the AHL’s Top 20 Scoring Defensemen this season with 27 points (5 goals, 22 assists) in 49 games.

There will be at least one bruiser out of action for the Wolves tonight and he has only himself to blame for that. Cody Beach was suspended for both games this weekend against the Admirals after being assessed a match penalty against the Grand Rapids Griffins. The specific ruling was Match 21.1. What is that you ask? This:

21.1 Match Penalty – A match penalty involves the suspension of a player for the balance of the game and the offender shall be ordered to the dressing room immediately.

A player incurring a match penalty shall incur an automatic fine of two-hundred dollars ($200) and the case shall be investigated promptly by the President who shall have full power to impose such further penalty by way of suspension or fine on the penalized player or any other player involved in the altercation.

A match penalty shall be imposed on any player who deliberately attempts to injure an opponent in any manner.

In addition to the match penalty, the player shall be automatically suspended from further competition until the President has ruled on the issue. See also Rule 28 – Supplementary Discipline.

Well, golly. That sounds fun. There isn’t any video of the incident in question that I can find but I simply take this as the Wolves taking Kevin Fiala‘s school day game antics up to the AM start time – eleven. For everything else scrappy just keep your eyes glued to #28 Jacob Doty who has amassed 127 penalty minutes in 38 games this season.

What are your expectations for the Milwaukee Admirals after coming off of that disappointing loss to the Rockford IceHogs on Wednesday? Do you think that the Admirals seeing the Wolves twice, the way the Wolves are working a three-in-three weekend, might set themselves up nicely for a return to form?

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