Before the Chicago Wolves embarked on their annual circus trip—totaling eight games away from home—the team was solid with a good goaltending tandem in Edward Pasquale and Drew McIntyre, and good plays from centers Jason Krog and Jared Ross and right wing Spencer Machacek.
After dropping a season-high seven consecutive games on the trip, the Wolves returned home on Nov. 20 for a brief three-game homestand to try to turn their season around after they were dropped to five games under .500 on the road trip.
The Wolves proceeded to trounce the Houston Aeros on Nov. 20, 5-2 and beat the Lake Erie Monsters 5-2 the next day.
After their game on Nov. 20, Head Coach Don Lever said it was nice the team was finally playing a home game after the brutal road trip.
“We had a long trip and frustration mounts [where] you think you’re not going to win again,” Lever said.
The team’s worst loss of the season came on Nov. 16 against the Texas Stars losing 8-2 after leading 2-1.
Other than their 6-5 overtime win against the Lake Erie Monsters to start the road trip on Nov. 5, the Wolves never scored more than two goals during their seven-game losing streak.
The last time the Wolves endured a seven-game losing skid was from Dec. 31, 2008 to Jan 11, 2009.
In order to become contenders for the Calder Cup this season, a few problems will need to be addressed to build consistent good play.
Lever said one of the problems with the team on the road was penalty killing. When an opponent has the advantage of a power play, its up to the team to ensure no goals are scored when it is disadvantaged.
Before their return to the Allstate Arena, the Wolves had a record of 3-10-1 when allowing a power-play goal.
The Wolves defense also had problems on their road trip. They were outshot 281-229 by their opponents.
The biggest discrepancy came against the Milwaukee Admirals on Nov. 7 when they were outshot 40-27 in a 4-1 loss to their longtime rival.
“[We weren’t] playing for 60 minutes, that’s probably the biggest thing,” Lever said. “Our defense is getting better. There are some [players] who are playing a lot more ice we didn’t think they would get.”
In their two games on Nov. 20 and Nov. 21, goaltender Peter Mannino, who was reassigned from the team’s affiliate, the Atlanta Thrashers, was able to hold the Aeros and Monsters to one goal apiece while the offense erupted for five goals in each game.
Lever said Mannino’s solid play has been surprising given he didn’t get a lot of playing time when he was with
Mannino was recalled by the Thrashers on Oct. 11 and saw game action in one contest. He stopped 15 of 16 shots in under 40 minutes of relief duty on Oct. 22 against the Tampa Bay Lightning before returning to the Wolves on Oct. 25.
Last season, Mannino was tied for third in the AHL with a .921 save percentage and ranked sixth with a 2.34 goals against average. His record with the Wolves was 26-5-1 in 38 appearances.
“The biggest thing was to know it was going to [turn over] and hopefully it has,” Mannino said. He said some of the team’s veterans told the team enough was enough with the losing skid before its contest against the Aeros.
With the team feeding off the home crowd’s energy, it was able to keep its intensity and aggressiveness constant throughout its game against the Aeros.
“We want the consistency now of winning,” Mannino said. “[It’s] just frustrating, your objective is you want to win every game you can and that wasn’t happening.”
Center Jared Ross acknowledged the Wolves have to come out starting the game with a lot more energy than they did when they were on their eight-game road trip.
Ross said the team didn’t perform like it wanted to on its road trip, and it was hard to get up for some of the away games. Given the team continued to lose, Ross said it still wasn’t excusable for it to get discouraged because breaks were going for the other team.
With the Wolves looking to climb back to .500, winning games at home can help build momentum before going on three-game road trip beginning on Dec. 3.
“Hopefully we can turn it around with this homestand and get things going,” Mannino said.