Five Takes Coming Out Of The All-star BreakFeb 3, 2017
By Tom Witosky | Follow @toskyAHLWild
The Iowa Wild went on the AHL All-Star break with its best midseason record in franchise history, a seven-game road winning streak, a four-game winning streak, points out of 10 of its last 11 games and definitely in the hunt for a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs. Here is a look inside the numbers to explain how this happened.
It’s the goaltending: Top goalie Alex Stalock, despite a rocky start at the beginning of the season, has become the rock on which the Wild’s defense is built. Stalock began the season at 1-5-0-0 with a 3.66 GAA and .871 SV%. But after Derek Lalonde, the Wild’s head coach, ordered Stalock off the ice and out of the locker room to recover from an insidious sinus infection, the veteran goalie has done an outstanding job. In the next 20 games, Stalock’s record is 13-5-4 with a 2.13 GAA and .925 SV%. Meanwhile, back-up Steve Michalek, who kept the Wild from falling too far behind in the early season during Stalock’s illness, has been a steady contributor, particularly lately. An overall record of 8-9-1 belies three wins in his last four.
It’s the young guys: With Tyler Graovac and Jordan Schroeder up with Minnesota, Iowa’s roster also got hit hard with injuries to Zach Dalpe, Alex Tuch, and Grayson Downing. But rookies Mario Lucia, Sam Anas, Adam Gilmour and second-year forward Christoph Bertschy took up a lot of the slack over the last ten games. Lucia led the group with eight points (3 goal and 5 assists), Anas collected seven points (3 goals and 4 assists) and Bertschy, five goals. Gilmour didn’t score a goal, but as the center on the Wild’s fourth line, he’s +4 in the last 10 games and has two assists. Tuch, the fourth rookie, returned to the ice for the final two games against Rockford in a big way, scoring three goals. Tuch has since been recalled to Minnesota.
It’s the defense: Stalock and Michalek are getting substantial amounts of help from the Wild’s backline, which had been pretty porous early in the season. Since giving up 18 goals in four games during the holidays, Wild opponents have scored 18 goals, but in 11 games. Veterans Mike Weber and Max Fortunus have been matched-up for most of those 11 games with Mike Reilly and Gustav Olofsson, respectfully. In addition, Zach Palmquist, who has a -11 rating for the entire season, is a -1 in the last 10 games.
It’s the veterans: The decision to sign veterans Jeff Hoggan, Mike Weber, Pat Cannone and Stalock illustrates clearly that the Wild front office and coaching staff have improved its ability to judge veteran talent. Ask a guy like Anas about the contribution the veterans make and it’s unequivocal. “We have a great spread of knowledge in the locker room. We have guys who you are comfortable talking to about anything. Hoggan and Cannone can help you out a lot. You have options and everyone is so open to those conversations. “ Other veterans have made huge contributions – Teemu Pulkkinen is now the team leader in scoring with 13 goals and 15 assists and could be the Wild’s first 50-point season scorer.
It’s the coaching: When Derek Lalonde took over as head coach, he knew that two things had to be developed – depth and a winning attitude. In the off-season, the Wild front office did its best work by signing veterans to go along with the best crop of rookies that the franchise has had and maintaining the stability of the second year players like Bertschy, Olofsson and Reilly. Like last season, the Wild has struggled through two losing streaks – one was three games and the other four games. Unlike last season, the club battled back with two four-game winning streaks. Lalonde and associate coach David Cunniff deserve a lot of credit for setting up the rest of the season to be a potentially exciting one.
The Wild’s first big test will be the next three games against Cleveland Monsters, which have a .004 lead over the Wild for fourth place, but five games in hand. The Wild opens this weekend in Cleveland, but finish the three game stretch on Wednesday Feb.8 in Des Moines.