The Griffins and Wolves met in Chicago on Friday night and the Griffins won 3-0, as Thomas McCollum posted a shutout and helped extend the Griffs' road winning streak to six. The Griffins remained one point out of the division lead despite the victory. In anticipation of this Midwest Division battle, I asked Daniel Wagner of the Vancouver Sun's Canucks blog Pass It to Bulis a few questions about what to expect from the Canucks' AHL affiliate. Below his answers are my analysis based on how the game played out.
1. How have the Wolves done this year?
D-The Wolves got off to a great start, winning their first 4 games, but they haven't been able to string 2 wins together since. When they win, it's usually just by 1 or 2 goals, which doesn't give me much confidence. The main problem right now is their special teams, which have struggled all season. They're capable of much better and they're still above .500.
J-Well they're 10-9-2-1 right now. They still have a winning record. Not much analysis required here.
2. What are their strengths/weaknesses?
D-I got into their major weakness above, which is their special teams. Their powerplay is ranked 28th in the AHL and their penalty kill is ranked dead last. One of their strengths should be in net, but Eddie Lack has struggled recently and is now injured. They have a good mix of prospects and AHL veterans on both defence and at forward.
J-That powerplay got only one chance Friday night and did not convert. The penalty killers went three-for-four, but the goal they allowed (Adam Alquist's) turned out to be the game-winner.
3. Who are the Wolves with NHL experience or who have NHL potential?
D-The Wolves have a few players with NHL experience who would be with the Canucks if not for the lockout. Andrew Ebbett has bounced between the AHL and NHL for awhile, but he established himself as a useful utility forward last season. Zack Kassian is definitely NHL-ready and played most of last season in the NHL. Jordan Schroeder is borderline, but would have likely started the season with the Canucks thanks to Ryan Kesler's recovery from off-season surgery. On defence, Chris Tanev has played parts of the last 2 seasons with the Canucks and was pencilled into the top-six this season and Kevin Connauton is getting close, but still needs to develop the defensive side of his game. In net, Eddie Lack is arguably NHL-ready, at least as a backup. If not for the lockout, Roberto Luongo would probably have already been traded, with Lack potentially getting the call to backup Cory Schneider. Derek Joslin also has NHL experience, with 114 games under his belt, but is a bit of an adventure in his own zone sometimes and won't get called up unless there are serious injury problems.
J-Ebbett was held to two shots on goal, while Joslin, Kassian, Schroeder, and Tanev managed one apiece. Connauton took a team-high four shots, but was a minus-one. Eddie Lack is injured right now; Matt Climie got the start and did pretty well, stoppng 34 of 37 shots.
4. The Griffins are top-ten in goal-scoring this season and have allowed the third-fewest goals in the conference. Their first trip to Chicago this season ended with a 3-2 OT win. Predictions for this one?
D-It will be close, but I'm predicting a win by the Wolves. The Griffins have beaten them twice this season, but I have a feeling that Schroeder and Kassian will be hungry after they were both healthy scratches last game despite being tied for 2nd on the team in scoring.
J-Daniel was way off here. Grand Rapids dominated this one, outshooting Chicago 37-20 (26-9 through the first two periods). The Griffs did not have a single minus-player. Landon Ferraro recorded two assists, Tomas Tatar scored his team-leading 11th goal, and Thomas McCollum posted a shutout.
What's next? The Griffins return home to Van Andel Arena to take on the division-leading Rockford IceHogs (the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate) this afternoon. I'll have a recap posted by Monday morning. Follow me on Twitter @jeremyberen because you can. Go Griffs!