AFTER WEEKEND SPLIT, WILD LOOKING FOR POWER PLAY IMPROVEMENTNov 18, 2019
By Tom Witosky
It’s always something.
That’s Iowa Wild Head Coach Tim Army’s assessment of the club’s split of its back-to-back, home-and-home series with division rival Chicago Wolves this past weekend.
On Saturday, the Wild were close to flawless in a 3-0 shutout at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL. Dmitry Sokolov scored two goals to break into the scoring column in his third game of the season while Kaapo Kahkonen collected his second shutout of the season, turning back 22 shots.
On Sunday, the Wild’s return to Wells Fargo Arena with an overnight five-hour trip back from the Chicago suburbs wasn’t as immaculate. The Wolves took an early 1-0 lead with a shorthanded goal by Curtis McKenzie and parlayed that into a 4-3 come-from-behind win that frustrated Army and Wild players.
The Wolves broke a four-game losing streak in which the club was outscored 16-4. The loss kept the Wild from gaining ground on first-place Milwaukee, but the club remained in second place by three points, ahead of Manitoba and Grand Rapids.
“Every night I love our compete and our effort, but our execution could have been a bit better,” Army said after Sunday’s game. “We had great possession time, but they just happened to capitalize and we didn't on some of our chances. It's that tight.”
Defenseman Louie Belpedio thought the same way.
“We went in there and beat them 3-0 and they are good at home. Obviously, today we made a couple of mistakes and they capitalized on it. They are a good team so we give them credit,” Belpedio said.
With Milwaukee coming to town Tuesday and a weekend back-to-back against the Bakersfield Condors upcoming, the Wild will be looking to make adjustments, particularly to improve its power play, which has scored only two goals in its last 23 opportunities. The Wild, in its three games against Chicago, has failed to notch a power-play goal on 11 attempts even though the Wolves rank 24th in the league with a 78.3 percent success rate.
“They've given us trouble this year and in the three games we played on they've given our power play a lot of trouble even though their numbers aren't great,” Army said.
It was on Iowa’s first power play that McKenzie scored his shorthanded goal after a Wild turnover at the Wolves blue line. The score also dredged up the memories of two shorthanded goals in last season’s playoffs that were key to the Wolves prevailing in the series.
“They are very aggressive and that’s given us trouble this year,” Army said. “If you get sloppy with the puck, you play into their hands.”
What did clearly improve, however, was the Wild’s scoring when both teams are at full strength. During the Wild’s recent three-game losing streak, Iowa’s inability to score five-on-five drew the coaching staff’s concern.
With nine goals in the most recent three games, Army said the improvement was the result of getting more second and third chances after an initial shot.
“We are leading the league with shots on goals and had over 30 Sunday,” he said, adding the lines are doing a better job getting to the net as a unit. “We're doing a better job off the puck, which means we're getting into the guts of the ice and we're collecting more second, third opportunities. We're in the areas where you going to score.”
Connor Dewar’s first AHL goal in the third period was an example of that. Dewar tied the game at 3-3 on a rebound shot that eluded Wolves goalie Oscar Dansk.
Dewar credited linemate Cody McLeod with providing space for him near the goal to get his stick on the puck.
“Cody kind of boxed the guy as the rebound came my way,” the 20-year-old rookie said. “I just put it in.”
Army said Dewar has earned his time on the ice after a relatively slow start. The center has settled into his role with Wild’s most physical players Mike Liambas and McLeod – as well as players like Colton Beck and Brandon Duhaime.
“He's playing really well,” Army said of Dewar. “He works hard and he does things right.”
Army said Dewar’s speed and physical play has tipped the scale to favor him in some tough lineup decisions. “He's battling hard and he's been really good with either Bus or Cody or both of them.”
Those are the kinds of changes that will have to be made as the season progresses, as nothing stays the same in the AHL. Army said making adjustments in the middle of a heavy week isn’t easy, but that’s the job.
“Nothing is ever resolved,” Army said. “It's a humbling gig. Coaching is humbling, the sport is humbling, playing is humbling. Nothing's ever resolved.”