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The streaking Iowa Wild host the Grand Rapids Griffins tonight; their first of ten meetings

It’s been four straight for Iowa (7-6-2, 16 pts) and a win over Grand Rapids (8-7-1, 17 pts) would vault them to second in the Central Division

Netminder Niklas Svedberg (35) at the center of a scrum with Rockford on Wednesday. Iowa has been upping the intensity as of late.
Todd A Reicher/Rockford IceHogs

Following their win against the Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks) on Wednesday, the Wild have now won four straight and points in five of their last six. Zack Mitchell can’t stop scoring, and the penalty kill has been nothing short of dominant. The Central is up for grabs, as the fifth place Wild are just four points behind the first place Manitoba Moose.

With the Griffins (Detroit Red Wings) coming in as the reigning Calder Cup Champions, a full month of hockey is just what the Wild needed to prepare for a squad that returns four of their five top scorers from last season (Martin Frk was promoted to Detroit).

The start of the year for some has not been fortuitous for the “players to watch” I touched on in my schedule breakdown. Evgeny Svechnikov, the team’s third leading scorer last season, has just three points (2-1--3) in eleven games to start the season. In looking at last seasons stats, however, he is prone to a slow start, as he only had four points (2-2--4) in the first eleven games of 2016-17 before going on to tally 51 (20-31--51).

I also thought Vili Saarijärvi had a legitimate chance to challenge Filip Hronek on the Griffins’ blueline to start the year after winning the Max Kaminsky trophy last season as the OHLs top d-man. It’s safe to say the professional jump has been a bit of an adjustment, as he has just three appearances for Grand Rapids and his splitting time in Toledo (ECHL) while Hronek has seven points (2-5--7) in twelve games.

Coming into Wells Fargo Arena, the Griffins are in roughly the same boat as Iowa, owning just 17 points (8-7-1) to start the season, though they’ve been 6-4-0 in their last ten games. Where Iowa has the best penalty kill in the league, Grand Rapids is top four team in power play efficiency, having converted on 22.1 percent of their opportunities with 17 goals scored on the man advantage.

Leading Scorers

Grand Rapids - Points

  1. Matt Puempel (LW) - 16 pts (6G/10A); 13 pts (5G/8A)
  2. Matt Lorito - 13 pts (6G/7A)
  3. Eric Tangradi - 11 pts (5G/6A)
  4. Dominic Turgeon - 11 pts (5G/6A)
  5. Turner Elson/Matthew Ford - 10 pts (5G/5A)

Save Turgeon, none of the top point producers for the Griffins were drafted by the Red Wings, which isn’t a good look from an amateur scouting perspective. Puempel was a first rounder for the Rangers back in 2011, Lorito was undrafted, Tangradi was a Ducks second rounder in 2007 that never played a game in their system, Elson was also undrafted, and Ford was a Blackhawks selection...in 2004 in the now non-existent eighth round.

It appears as if the move to Grand Rapids from Hartford has been beneficial for Matt Puempel, who was traded to Detroit for Ryan Sproul on Oct. 21st. A native of Windsor, Ont., Puempel had one goal and two assists for the Wolfpack before the trade, but has added five goals and eight assists in ten games for the Griffins. He’s the owner of one of the seventeen power play goals, holds a 15.6 shooting percentage, and five multi-point games for the Griffs.

Elson is on the top five list, but his ten points to start the season have only come in five of his sixteen games played. In the last ten games for the Griffs, the New Westminster, B.C., native has just three points (1-2--3).

Lorito, the team’s leading scorer last season, is on pace to be one of the leaders again this season if he doesn’t get the call from Detroit. His scoring pace is a peculiar one, as he tends to score his points in bunches, having tallied a point in only six games this season; all multi-point performances.

The rookies spearheading the scoring are the aforementioned defenseman Filip Hronek, and 2014 seventh-round pick Axel Holmström, who is playing in his first full professional season with the club after spending three seasons with Skellefteå AIK in the Swedish Hockey League. Both have seven points to start the season in the same manner (2-5--7). It was a slow start to Hronek’s season, but the right-hander from Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic has scored all of his points in the last eight games.

Iowa - Points

  1. Zack Mitchell (C/RW) - 13 pts (4G/9A)
  2. Colton Beck (C/LW) - 11 pts (6G/5A)
  3. Pat Cannone (C) - 10 pts (6G/4A)
  4. Justin Kloos (C) - 10 pts (4G/6A)
  5. Cal O’Reilly (C) - 8 pts (3G/5A)

Mitchell continues his scoring ways and continues to knock at the door of a chance at the NHL having tallied nine points in his last five games; including two multi-point performances. The Orangeville, Ont. native is everywhere - playing down low or banging around near the crease, and the hard work has paid off. When he’s not centering the power play, he’s a regular member of Iowa’s stifling penalty kill that is the only one in the league with a 90+ percent efficiency.

Beck has seen his goal scoring well dry up a bit, but his move to the wing has yielded assists. He has a point in each of the last two Wild games, the most recent being a short-handed, primary assist on a Zack Mitchell goal.

When Justin Kloos and Sam Anas are on the ice together, you sit a little bit taller in your seat. Though Anas isn’t getting the goals, Kloos’ last two have looked nearly identical. Anas draws in the defense with the stickwork, and gets a sweet centering pass to Kloos skating towards the crease at the far post with a wide open net. Expect more of that.

Grand Rapids - Goaltenders

  1. Jared Coreau (5-3-1) - 2.80 GAA/.907 SV%
  2. Tom McCollum (3-4-0) - 3.20 GAA/.899 SV%

Coreau has been a regular starter for the Red Wings’ AHL-affiliate since 2014 after going undrafted in 2009 out of the OJ. The last two seasons he’s been the starter and earned a call-up with Detroit last season.

This season, he’s one of only seven goalies with double-digit starts, and of those netminders he’s in the middle of the pack in terms of GAA, save percentage, and wins/losses. The Perth, Ont., native has made two relief appearances for his counterpart, and two of his three losses have come after giving up four goals; the other was a 1-0 duel with Kasimir Kaskisuo, a Maple Leafs prospect on loan with Chicago.

McCollum returns to the organization that took him in the first round of the 2008 draft after spending the last few seasons bouncing around the AHL and ECHL. He was traded back to the Red Wings from Calgary in exchange for a seventh rounder this past summer. The Amherst, New York-native made just eighteen starts in the A last season, and has just three NHL starts to his name after turning pro in 2009.

What is peculiar about him is that three of his four losses have come with less than 25 shot attempts from opponents (the other was a 28 shot effort by Stockton).

Iowa - Netminders

  1. Niklas Svedberg (5-6-1) - 2.60 GAA/.910 SV%
  2. Steve Michalek (2-0-0) - 2.00 GAA/.940 SV%

Since returning to North America, it appears as if Svedberg is finally starting to settle in. He’s aggressive, we’ve seen more than a few blockers to the heads of opponents. More noticeable than his tenacity, has been his actual play between the pipes. Since giving up five goals against the IceHogs on Oct. 14th, Svedberg hasn’t given up more than three goals in a game. In his last five starts, he’s had a save percentage of .918 and a GAA of 2.19.

He’s made 12 starts for Iowa, and is one of only eleven goalies to have double digit starts. Of those eleven netminders, Sveds ranks tied for fourth in overall GAA and sixth in overall save percentage. It doesn’t sound impressive, but he’s also seen the most shots on net out of any of those goalies.

Michalek will most likely get the start after spending the last two games on the bench. Controversy may not be the right word, but he’s shown that he has the stuff to be a reliable option whenever Lalonde needs to give Svedberg a break, something that was, unfortunately, not an option when Adam Vay was in town.

Game Plan

Stay out of the box. It’s an easy enough assignment, but the Griffins haven’t shown that they’re particularly adept at scoring at even strength. Over half of Lorito’s points have come on the power play (4-3--7), and the same can be said for Tangradi (2-4--6) and Ford (3-4--7). Compared to their other Central Division members, the squad for Todd Nelson has ten more opportunities on the man-advantage (77) than the next closest team. Only the Hershey Bears and the San Diego Gulls have a better efficiency with at least seventy looks on the power play.

If you’re looking at it through the lens of a development staff, a few power play opportunities for one of the more successful offenses out there would be a great test for the Wild, who have the best penalty kill in the entire AHL and the only PK with an efficiency over 90%.

Keep up with the pressure. Against Rockford, the forwards for Iowa were everywhere, keeping the high flying IceHogs from getting a real charge on offense. It was only the third time all season long that the IceHogs had been held under 30 shots on goal; good for Svedberg, good for Iowa’s defense. The Wild also saw what happens when they can get a team to play over-aggressively: turnovers happen, and Grade A chances will follow as seen with their second short-handed goal of the season.

Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 CST at Wells Fargo Arena on $2 beer night and it’s also the annual Red Kettle Game with the Salvation Army.