Game 49: wolves 5, stars 3
Pyotr Kochetkov’s second AHL start of his career started just as unfavorably as his first, conceding a goal on his first shot. Just eight seconds into the game, Stars forward Josh Melnick smacked Wolves defender Josh Jacobs into the net and scored.
This goal set a new Wolves franchise record for fastest goal conceded. The previous record was 15 seconds, set by the Manitoba Moose’s Greg Pankewicz in 1998. The goal was also the fastest goal ever scored in Texas Stars history.
However, the rocky start for the wolves woke them up quickly enough as they began to get much more active. While the Stars continued to dominate in terms of shots, the Wolves did a better job sweeping away pucks than allowing a barrage of shots. Sometimes a minute or more would go by without the Stars having a chance to score. Wolves also had several near misses, with Stefan Noesen and Cavan Fitzgerald both nearly beating the goalie.
At 7:21, Noesen scored Wolves’ fourth shot of the game and their first shot in about three minutes. More appealing than Wolves leveling the game, however, was Kochetkov’s breakout pass to Max Lajoie, which gave Kochetkov his first North American point.
The Stars regained the lead shortly after Noesen’s goal and scored on the power play. This broke a five-game streak in which Wolves were perfect on penalties. Overall, Wolves struggled at times with puck control in this game, with many passes going awry or missing pucks or kicking off scoring chances.
In the second half, however, Wolves came out stronger and capitalized more quickly on the mistakes made by the Stars. Early in the second period, CJ Smith equalized again after lobbing a puck over a sprawling Matt Jurusik.
Ryan Suzuki added his fourth goal of the season later in the half, capitalizing on a perfectly placed rebound. Jack Drury extended the Wolves’ lead; Midway through the period, Drury bullied himself into the Zone while Wolves were undermanned. During a chaotic game, Jurusik lost his racquet, a referee went behind the net and Drury found a rebound to give Wolves their fourth goal of the night.
While the penalty kick quickly resulted in a goal on Drury’s tally, Wolves didn’t give up the lead. Maxim Letunov scored from a late penalty after picking up a loose puck in front of the Stars’ net, scoring the final goal of the game.
For Wolves, resilience was key in this game. They came from an odd game weekend in Manitoba where a potential game winner was recalled in overtime only to go into that game and score an immediate goal. Head coach Ryan Warsofsky was happy his team was able to bounce back from a shaky start.
“We talked about that,” Warsofsky said after the game. “We have to be resilient, we have to have some mental toughness because things are going to go wrong. Everything will go wrong in the playoffs. It’s gonna be a bad call. It will hit a prop. This is going to be a bad shot. So we have to have the mental awareness and mental strength to push through, to stick together as a group and to keep working.”
Scoring: Ryan Suzuki, 1G; CJ Smith, 1G; Jack Drury, 1G; Maxim Letunov, 1 G; Stefan Noesen, 1 G; Max Lajoie, 1A; Stelio Mattheos, 1A; Eric Williams, 1A; Spencer Smallman, 1A; Artyom Serikov, 1 A; Jamieson Rees, 1A; Jesper Sellgren, 1A; Pyotr Kochetkov, 1 A
In the net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 31 of 34, 0.912 sw%
Game 50: Wolves 2, Stars 1
Kochetkov started for the second straight Saturday and celebrated his third career AHL win with an outstanding performance, including stopping all 13 shots he faced in a frantic second third.
While the Stars opened the scoring in the first shot on goal and were largely the better team throughout the game, Wolves went away victorious thanks to goals in the second and third periods from David Gust and Stefan Noesen. Gust in particular continued his strong run of recent years. Including the next day’s game against Iowa, Gust has points in eight of his last 10.
In an attempt to breathe some life into the team, Warsofsky changed some of the lines that were largely constant throughout most of the season. Spencer Smallman and Stefan Noesen joined Jack Drury, while CJ Smith and Josh Leivo switched to play with Andrew Poturalski. These new look lines also stayed consistent throughout the weekend.
Warsofsky credited Kochetkov’s performance with helping Wolves remain competitive while the team struggled to get shots into the net. “We probably didn’t deserve to win this game, but I think Pyotr stole this hockey game from us,” Warsofsky said.
Stefan Noesen’s goal was the 30th of the season for the veteran striker, scored in 45 games. He is the fastest Wolf player to score 30 goals since Brett Sterling in the 2006-07 season.
Rating: Stefan Noesen, 1 G; David Gust, 1G; Ryan Suzuki, 1A; Eric Williams, 1A; Jack Drury, 1A; Spencer Smallman, 1A
In the net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 30 of 31, 0.968 sw%
Game 51: Wolves 5, Wild 3
The Wolves continued their homestand with another game against the Iowa Wild. Jack LaFontaine eventually clinched his second AHL win, but the spotlight once again belonged to Jack Drury, who scored his first professional hat trick. Drury’s first goal at 8:39 of the second half helped spark a comeback from Wolves from a 2-0 deficit. The home team scored five straight goals in the second and third halves to put the game out of reach for the Wilds.
Earlier in the week, Warsofsky had nothing but praise for Drury, who is currently on an 11-game point streak. “I think he’s raised his expectations as to what he’s going to be in the NHL, but I think the sky’s the limit just because he’s a smart player, he’s got great hockey instincts. You know, you show him something once and he picks it up. He sees the game very well, he gives you everything he’s got and I think he’s a Rod Brind’Amour type of player,” Warsofsky said. “He sort of sets the tone for how we want to play and he’s a winner through and through. I can’t say enough good things.”
Ryan Suzuki also scored to take a point in his third straight game. He had an almost empty net to shoot into after Max Lajoie won a faceoff and David Gust got all the attention at the edge of the net.
Scoring: Jack Drury, 3G; Ryan Suzuki, 1G; Josh Leivo, 1G: Max Lajoie, 2A; Spencer Smallman, 2A; Andrew Poturalski, 2A; Stefan Noesen, 2A; David Gust, 1A; CJ Smith, 1A;
On the Net: Jack LaFontaine, saved 25 of 27, 0.926 sv%