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Derek Lalonde and the Iowa Wild look to stay hot against Milwaukee tonight

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Milwaukee (10-8-0, 20 pts) comes into town just a few points behind Iowa (10-7-2, 22 pts), but the Wild are on a bit of hot streak as of late

Kyle Rau (42) redirects a puck in front of Michael Leighton (30) in Iowa’s 6-4 win over Chicago on Sunday
Chicago Wolves/AHL

I’ve been slacking a little bit, but the Thanksgiving weekend does that to as family and libations take hold. Iowa went 2-1 last week and now find themselves in second place on the Central Division table; eight points behind the Manitoba Moose (14-6-2, 30 pts). It’s a rare position for Iowa to be in, even if it’s just a little south of a quarter through the season and by virtue of winning percentage alone.

But second place is still second place, and Iowa has turned it on as of late. They may have missed out on tying the franchise record in wins, but they are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games. A stretch that is fourth best in the league.

Milwaukee (Nashville Predators) went 5-2 in the month of October, including taking the first two games of the season in Iowa. Since then, they’ve been middle of the road, going 5-5-0 in their last 10 games.

Top Performers

Milwaukee - Points

  1. Emil Pettersson (C) - 16 pts (5G/11A)
  2. Harry Zolnierczyk (LW) - 14 pts (8G/6A)
  3. Bobby Butler (RW) - 14 pts (7G/7A)
  4. Tyler Kelleher (RW) - 9 pts (5G/4A)
  5. Trevor Smith (C) - 9 pts (2G/7A)

It’s not a completely different roster from their meeting back in October, but notables missing from this roster are Frederick Gaudreau, who played in the Stanley Cup Final last season; and Vladislav Kamenev, who is now in Colorado (though has a broken arm).

Every player on this list scored at least one goal against Iowa in their first two meetings, and all but Kelleher also added an assist.

Pettersson looks to be adjusting just fine at the AHL level after playing his last few seasons in the Swedish league where he was a point-per-game producer. He’s looking to do the same in his first year of North American hockey as a 23-year-old. The Sundsvall, Sweden, native is a tad undersized though, which does make a difference in the A (6’1”/176). I wouldn’t expect him to be out-bodying Iowa defenders behind the net.

He started the season hot, tallying a multi-point performance in five of his first six games, but hasn’t done so since. However, he’s still been a consistent scorer. Of the seven games he hasn’t earned a point, only once has that happened back-to-back.

Kelleher is an interesting prospect, and what he has most is speed. He’s a USNDP alum, played four seasons in Hockey East where he scored 63 points (24G/39A) in his final season with New Hampshire, . His upside is that he’s scoring as a 22-year-old rookie, but how well against tougher competition?

He is listed at 5’6”, 154, which is probably why he went undrafted. In just 16 games played, the Longmeadow, Mass., native has two stretches of four games without garnering a point; one of which he’s in the middle of right now.

Iowa - Points

  1. Pat Cannone (C) - 13 pts (8G/5A)
  2. Cal O’Reilly (C) - 12 pts (4G/8A)
  3. Colton Beck (LW/C) - 11 pts (6G/5A)
  4. Kyle Rau (LW) - 11 pts (5G/6A)
  5. Justin Kloos (C) - 11 pts (4G/7A)

Before Zack Mitchell and Ryan Murphy got their calls to join the big club in St. Paul, Iowa had seven players with double digit points. Sam Anas is just one quick-handed goal, or well-crafted assist away from joining that group. The team is scoring this year, averaging 3.05 goals-per-game after averaging 2.39 goals-per-game all of last season. They’re also a +1 in goal differential; Iowa has never finished on the plus in their previous four seasons.

Rau finally finds himself on this list. He was in and out with injuries to start the season, but he has 5 pts (2G/3A) in his last four games. In looking at his trends though, he generally goes back-to-back games before earning another point, including that four game stretch. However, the last three times he’s earned a point in a game, it’s also been a multi-point performance.

Another former Gopher, Kloos, still hanging around the top five in scoring for the Iowa. He’s not getting the goals I was hoping while being lined up with Anas and Beck providing a microcosm of Iowa hockey on one line. Had he not gotten that assist on an empty net, power play goal on Sunday, it would’ve been his fourth straight game without a point.

Iowa scored six goals in two games the last time they danced with Milwaukee (and Ryan Malone broke Cody Bass’ face). Of those goals, Pat Cannone scored two of his eight goals, Brennan Menell earned two of his seven points, and Gerry Mayhew had nearly half of all of his points this season.

Milwaukee - Goaltenders

  1. Anders Lindback (10-4-0) - 2.35 GAA/.923 SV%
  2. Matt O’Connor (0-2-0) - 3.58 GAA/.891 SV%

Lindback has been in net for all of Milwaukee’s wins to start the season and half of their losses. He’s almost 30, played in over 130 NHL games, and his lowest save percentage this season (.846) came in the Admirals’ second win against Iowa. When ranked against all the goalies in the A, he’s 13th in GAA (with the most starts) and 11th in overall SV% (also with the most starts).

In his last ten starts, Milwaukee has gone 6-4-0 and had a 2.29 GAA/.930 SV%.

O’Connor is an undrafted, 25-year-old netminder with 1 career NHL start. In his two previous minor league seasons as the No. 1 in Binghamton (then, Ottawa Senators), he couldn’t get his save percentage above .900. With Jusse Saros up in Nashville behind Pekka Rinne, it’s looking like O’Connor isn’t getting much attention as a prospect. You need starts to develop in net.

Iowa - Goaltenders

  1. Niklas Svedberg (6-7-1) - 2.73 GAA/.908 SV%
  2. Steve Michalek (4-0-0) - 1.72 GAA/.947 SV%

Svedberg is still getting the majority of the starts for the Wild, and has been in net for more than half of Iowa’s wins but has also been in net for all but one of their losses (Adam Vay holds the other OT loss after giving up a two goal lead late against Tucson in his only start).

However, with goalies you need to look at quality of wins. For example, the offense can bail you out of a difficult situation. In the Wild’s win over Chicago on Sunday, Svedberg gave up four goals on 29 shots for a save percentage of .862.

Michalek is off to a great start to the season having won his first four starts with great glove work and not giving up the easy goal early on. He’s been dialed in. Save being pulled in his second start of the 2016-17 season, The Glastonbury, Conn., native had a similar GAA through his first five games.

Game Plan

A fresh start is key. Early on this season, there were plenty of games where it felt like Iowa couldn’t get out of the neutral zone early on and had to play a sort of “catch-up” offense. Pucks thrown in deep weren’t being collected, and Iowa was spending too much time in the defensive zone. All things that lead to no goals and little opportunities to generate them. Milwaukee’s last few losses, they either trailed after the first or conceded the first goal.

Stay out of the box, and don’t rely on the power play to generate scoring chances. Milwaukee is third in the Central in both power play efficiency (17.0%) and penalty kill (86.7%). Iowa is still elite on the penalty kill, but they’re having enough trouble scoring in 5-on-5; playing down a man definitely does not increase those chances.

Milwaukee is a very different team this time around, particularly in their top lines. Last meeting, there was a lot of speed taking advantage of an Iowa team still learning to play together. Kamenev is gone, as is Gaudreau, but Yakov Trenin is still a dangerous player on the offensive end.

Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 CST at Wells Fargo Arena. Two tallboys for $10 on “Tacos, Trivia, & Tallboys Night”.