The first Amtrak Rivalry game of the 2016-17 season is upon us. Last season saw the Amtrak Trophy awarded to the Milwaukee Admirals after a successful 9-3-0-0 record over the Chicago Wolves. It was the first Amtrak Trophy the Admirals secured over the Wolves since the 2012-13 season when they were AHL affiliates to the Vancouver Canucks.
With such success against the Wolves last season one wonders what a difference a year makes? The Admirals scored 32 goals in the 12 games against the Wolves last season. There are 19 goals worth of offense not returning to the Admirals lineup from that Amtrak Trophy winning group, namely Max Reinhart (8 goals) and Kevin Fiala (5 goals).
A similar painting can be made on the flipside of the canvas. The Wolves scored 23 goals against the Admirals last season. 14 goals of that aren’t back with sniper Ty Rattie‘s 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) in 10 games worth of offense no longer at the AHL level this season in the St. Louis Blues organization.
When looking in net for last season’s match up it also sets up a good picture. Juuse Saros made 9 starts out of 12 games against the Wolves and he earned 7 wins with a 1.98 goals against average, 0.934 save percentage, and a shutout.
As for the Wolves, last season it looked like the goaltending position was meant to be their strongest asset after such great 2014-15 seasons for both Jordan Binnington and Pheonix Copley. It looked like Binnington was primed to be the go-to with Copley in camp to really push hard for net time to keep the two razor sharp throughout the season. But that rarely, if ever, manifested itself. It’s probably why 21-year old Ville Husso is still knocking about at the start of this season on their AHL roster as a third choice option in net.
The fall of Binnington last season was one of the more eyebrow raising stories I followed from an outside perspective. It felt like he was one of those glorified Admirals Killers in net and specifically followed in the path of former Wolves goaltender Jake Allen in that respect. In Binnington’s 2014-15 season he was a perfect 7-for-7 against the Admirals and pitched a 1.94 goals against average and 0.930 save percentage. Last season though? 3 wins from 8 appearances with a 2.49 goals against average and 0.915 save percentage. His overall numbers year-to-year fell: 2.35 goals against average, 0.916 save percentage in 2014-15 to 2.85 goals against average, 0.907 save percentage in 2015-16.
I feel if the Wolves are going to amount to anything this season the stability between their pipes is everything. Binnington was very spotty a season ago and Copley, for the lack of a better term, was not good enough nor who he was thought to be when the Blues organization acquired him in a package deal when they sent T.J. Oshie to the Washington Capitals.
Elsewhere on the Wolves roster this season you find noteable losses from a season ago as well as returning or familiar names. Pat Cannone, who I felt was one of their most consistent and polished players the last three seasons, is now a member of the Iowa Wild. His absence, along with prospects that have migrated to St. Louis, left a rather big hole to fill. That’s where I suppose all these blokes step in: Brett Sterling (former member of the Wolves), Landon Ferraro (former member of the Grand Rapids Griffins), Kenny Agostino (Stockton Heat), Andrew Agozzino (former Lake Erie Monsters and of getting shown up by Fiala after an overtime winning goal fame), Wade Megan (former Cincinnati Cyclones product), and Brad Hunt (former Wolves, Barons, and Condors defenseman).
Long story short, too late, it is very much hit the nuke and reset button for the Chicago Wolves AHL roster. It is rather remarkable, really. How has it fared in their first two-games of the season? Well, not being a hard judge here, they lost two straight games to the Grand Rapids Griffins in a home-and-home series. They lost 3-1 on Grand Rapids followed by a 4-2 loss on home ice in Chicago. They were outshot 62-53 by the Griffins, went 7/10 on the penalty kill, and 1/7 on the power-play.
Much like the Admirals, the Wolves will be looking to improve off of those season opening mistakes and tightening up the details in their play. My hope is for minimized trips to the penalty box for the Admirals as well as making better use of their chances on the power-play. For all the Admirals looks on the power-play in San Antonio, which included some extended five-on-three time, they still only scored on their first power-play opportunity of the season. They went on to squander the next 12 power-play opportunities. That’s something that just can’t be allowed to fester on and on with a group of skilled scoring talent that the Admirals possess.
Expectations for tonight’s game? What do you think of the Chicago Wolves massive overhaul for the 2016-17 season? Do you feel like the Wolves have progressed or degressed because of those changes?
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