WITOSKY'S NOTEBOOK: BUILDING CONFIDENCENov 8, 2019
By Tom Witosky
Despite the best start in franchise history, the Iowa Wild needs to improve its scoring, particularly when both teams are at full strength.
That was the word from Head Coach Tim Army after the Wild were shutout 3-0 by the Chicago Wolves before 11,264 fans at Thursday’s School Day Game. That was Iowa’s first time being shutout in 92 games and the first for an Iowa team coached by Army.
“We battled hard and I thought we competed,” Army said after the game. “We’ve got to find a way to score more goals five on five.”
Army complimented Chicago’s defense, which prevented the Wild from getting much penetration in the offensive zone and limited the Wild’s shots from close range for most of the game. Going into the third period, the Wild had only 11 shots from within the circles, but that total jumped to 21 by the end of the game.
“We probably didn't penetrate as much as we should and part of it was to their credit,” he said. “They kept us to the outside and when they got the lead, it is always an advantage.”
At the same time, Army acknowledged some structural changes may be coming now that the Wild has averaged only 1.5 goals over its last six games.
“There are some things that we can do better,” Army said. “We can execute better as a group and how we go about it.”
At the top of the list, he said, was to find ways to penetrate close to the goal with more players who are in good positions to score.
“We got to get in and you got to get inside with better numbers,” he said.
The loss put a damper on the Wild’s return to home ice after the club went 4-1-2-0 on its recent road trip, but it doesn’t diminish the team’s 7-2-1-1 record going into weekend games against the Ontario Reign.
“We have to be committed to earning it each and every day,” Army said. “You have to be committed to winning and committed to creating a winning environment.”
The club plays Ontario at 7:00 p.m. Saturday and 3:00 p.m. Sunday at Wells Fargo Arena.
“We got 10 of a possible 14 points and that’s outstanding,” Army said of the road trip. “One of our focus points over the summer was we need to be a better road team. We needed to be better and I thought this was a very good start.”
The Mayhew burst
When Gerry Mayhew rejoined the Iowa Wild prior to last week’s game in Grand Rapids, Army saw exactly what he hoped to see – a player determined to get back to the National Hockey League
“He came back encouraged, not discouraged,” he said. “Gerry's a great kid and he loves to play and compete. Gerry wants to take advantage of the situation so he came down with a great, great attitude.”
Nothing showed that attitude more than when the 26-year-old forward scored two goals and had a primary assist in the Wild’s 4-3 overtime win over the Griffins. Mayhew used his speed twice to burst past Griffin defenders; first to set up Gabriel Dumont with the club’s first shorthanded goal of the season and then 3:28 later to tie the game 2-2 on a wraparound goal.
Then Mayhew closed the game with a steal and breakaway goal to win it in overtime.
“That's a guy who is playing with confidence and self-trust. He feels that he's an NHL player,” Army said.
Mayhew agreed his confidence in his ability to play in the NHL grew in his six games with Minnesota. The Wyandotte, MI native scored two goals and drew praise for his hustle.
“Honestly, I had three days off so I felt fresh,” Mayhew said. “And, my confidence was high. I was playing a lot with a lot of confidence. And when you do that, it's tough to stop.”
Beck gets the first of the season
Wild forward Colton Beck ended his scoring drought against Rockford and was more than relieved to see the red light go off.
“I think I hit every post on the net a number of times so it was nice to see that one finally going,” Beck said. “You just want that one to get it out of the way and forget about it. I had my chances but it just didn't seem to go in.”
Beck has been a solid forward on a line with center Kyle Bauman and forward Sam Anas.
“We’ve been doing a lot of good things that have helped the team so far,” Beck said. “We just have to keep that going.”
Kahkonen’s win streak
Kaapo Kahkonen set a club record with his 1-0 shutout of Milwaukee last Friday as he racked up his sixth consecutive win. The streak ended on Thursday, but Kahkonen gave a lot of credit to his teammates.
“It was a good shutout and to do that it has to be a good effort by the entire team,” the 23-year-old goalie said. “There were a couple of posts and I played well. But I also think that's what matters the most is just staying on top of your game and playing well every game.”
With a 6-1-0-0 record, Kahkonen ranks among league leaders with most wins and has a 2.41 GAA and a .911 save percentage. But Army said the one statistic that matters is winning.
“He's making the right save at the right time to give us a chance to win a game,” Army said. “He was very good in Grand Rapids because we fell behind 1-0, but he made a couple of saves when we had a breakdown in coverage. He kept us in the game early and it mattered.”
Kahkonen returned to the Iowa roster after spending two games backing up Iowa alum Alex Stalock on an emergency call-up in Minnesota.
Although he didn’t see any time on the ice, Kahkonen said it was time well spent.
“You always have to be ready, that's the way it is,” he said. “And you know, it's also great to be able to practice with the team. The tempo is a little higher and so you get a good reminder of how fast they play.”
The Wild’s fourth-round draft choice in 2014 also said he noticed how the Minnesota roster is growing with former teammates from Iowa like Carson Soucy and Luke Kunin.
“It's good for everybody to see whenever guys play well down here, they get opportunities up there. It's good for everybody to see that it's possible because it motivates you to work hard every day.”
On the mend
Center Luke Johnson and defenseman Keaton Thompson skated with the club in Tuesday’s practice, but Army indicated the two may need a little more time before they can play.
“They are really close, but they need to practice and build up conditioning,” Army said. “We're not going to put them in until they're ready. It is still early in the season.”
Johnson, who signed a free-agent contract after three seasons with Rockford, has yet to play a game for Iowa because of a lower body injury. Thompson, who played last season for San Diego, has missed eight games with an upper body injury.
“Possibly they could play this weekend, but we want all the boxes checked before we put them in,” Army said.
Iowa recalled forward Dmitry Sokolov from the ECHL Allen Americans on Tuesday. Sokolov played in two games and scored one goal.
“He needed to play,” Army said. “We knew he wasn’t going to play last weekend and he has played in only one game so far. It was a chance to get him some games.”