Howling for the playoffs

By Etheria Modacure

The Chicago Wolves have endured a seven-game road losing streak, close defeats in the third period and battles with individualism. The team is now in the midst of a playoff push in a tight West Division, where seven of the eight teams were separated by seven points as of  Feb. 26.

After climbing back above .500 on Dec. 18, the Wolves went 14-9 through Feb. 23 with a win against the Rockford Icehogs. The team will play a majority of its upcoming games against West divisional opponents and controls its destiny heading into the season’s end.

There is a month and a half remaining in the American Hockey League’s regular season, and every game will be important for each team. The Wolves will play 12 of their 19 remaining games at the Allstate Arena, where they amassed a 14-11-0-4 record as of Feb. 26.

“We can gain on people if we beat them,” said Wolves Head Coach Don Lever after the team’s victory against the Icehogs on Feb. 23.“They’re in our division, and if we can win divisional games, then we can climb the ladder.”

The Wolves have not beaten the Texas Stars in the West Division this season. The Milwaukee Admirals lead the division. Chicago is 18-17-1-2 against divisional opponents as of Feb. 26.

The West Division comprises of seven teams in position to make the postseason. The Wolves have 70 points after defeating the Admirals on Feb. 25 and the Peoria Rivermen on Feb.26.

“It’s incredible how tight this [division] is,”Lever said.

To qualify for the playoffs, the Wolves must finish in the top eight of the Western Conference. Last season, they won the West Division but were ousted by the Stars in seven games in the quarterfinals of the Calder Cup playoffs.

The Wolves last won the Calder Cup in 2008. Veteran right winger Darren Haydar, who was part of the Wolves’ last championship team, said without a lot of games left, the team can’t keep giving up points at this crucial time of the schedule.

“Our penalty kill needs to get better,” Haydar said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re a little more disciplined and don’t take penalties so we don’t give up penalty killing goals.”

Before Feb. 23, the Wolves were 19-20-2-1 when they allowed a power-play goal to their opponents and 1-3-2-0 when they gave up a short-handed goal.

Working in the Wolves’ favor this season is their 20-plus wins when they’ve allowed fewer than three goals and scored four or more goals.

The Wolves haven’t missed the playoffs since the 2008–2009 season when they finished 38-37-3-2 and had 81 points.

With the team using two goaltenders in Drew MacIntyre and Patrick Mannino, Haydar said they have to do a better job of limiting opponents scoring opportunities.

“We definitely have to help them out,” Haydar said. “We have to make sure we’re limiting the chances against [them]. They’re both playing really well for us, and we’re letting them down as a team.”

Against the Stars on Feb. 19, the Wolves gave up a critical third–period power-play goal in the last five minutes, which ultimately cost them the game. They were able to bounce back on Feb. 23 with a victory against the Icehogs. Mannino started against the Stars, and MacIntyre started against the Icehogs.

Beginning on March 1, the Wolves will have ample opportunities to gain ground against divisional opponents with five contests against the Rivermen. They have two games remaining against rival Milwaukee Admirals, the Oklahoma City Barons and the Houston Aeros. They finish the season against the Icehogs on April 10.

Lever said the team plays differently on the road than at home. He has observed an acute attention to detail when the Wolves are away.

“I don’t know what the issue is at home,” Lever said. “On the road we care more about our system and the way we play. At home we want to run and gun, we want to get points, we want to score goals and we forget [that] we want two points. I think that’s an issue when you have of offensive players”