Playoff position in the Central Division is still very much up for grabs with just seven points separating spots two through five as we head into the New Year. Iowa managed to continue their trend of not surrendering back-to-back losses, but were unable to get a better grip on that second seed as they split a home-and-home with the IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks) with a 6-3 loss and the 5-3 victory.
There was a lot of buzz surrounding Thursday night’s contest with Zach Parise playing in his first game of the season before returning to the Minnesota roster. The St. Paul media was in town, braving the elements to enjoy the sights and sounds of Des Moines, and on dollar hot dog night no less.
The first night saw a similar trend that Iowa hasn’t been able to buck all season: being unable to maintain the lead. They got off to a hot start, scoring three first period goals on just eight shots. However, Steve Michalek (7-2-2, 2.80 GAA/.919 SV%) gave up two goals of his own on just nine shots from the Hogs.
In the three goals, Parise tallied an assist on Luke Kunin goal, Sam Anas continued his point streak to 10 games with the primary helper of Justin Kloos’ 9th goal of the season (4th on the power play), and Pat Cannone continued his scoring ways with his 11th goal of the season.
Kunin's tally with the assists from Parise and O'Reilly! pic.twitter.com/xFh2ZdVBXL— Iowa Wild (@IAWild) December 29, 2017
(sorry, no tweet for the Kloos goal)
Because a replay on that @Pistolpat20 goal is definitely necessary. pic.twitter.com/b5JseWV7cU— Iowa Wild (@IAWild) December 29, 2017
Unfortunately, Iowa was unable to get any more pucks past Collin Delia (1-2-0, 3.76 GAA/.825 SV%) who needed to make just 15 saves en route to his first AHL win of his career. He also stopped two penalty shots awarded to the Wild and taken by Mario Lucia and Sam Anas in the third period.
It should come as no surprise that Michalek earned another win in a game where he faced over forty shots. His only regulation losses this season have come in games where he faced under thirty shots.
Lucia continued to have a better December, opening the scoring for the Wild and tallying a point in back-to-back games for the first time all season.
During this intermission, take a quick peek at Lucia's fourth goal and Murphy's 12th assist of the season. #IAvsRFD pic.twitter.com/9p1EJwhMzI— Iowa Wild (@IAWild) December 30, 2017
The youth continued to shine in the second period as Kunin also scored a goal in back to back games with this laser
LUKE KUNIN WITH THE CLAPPER! IT'S HIS SEVENTH OF THE SEASON AND THE WILD LEAD 2-1! pic.twitter.com/PewjhrziWn— Iowa Wild (@IAWild) December 30, 2017
Lucia wasn’t done scoring either, as he was able to score about seven minutes after Kunin with some great passing in the offensive zone:
Anyone want to play some tic-tac-toe? #IAvsRFD pic.twitter.com/4wHoKm0eAM— Iowa Wild (@IAWild) December 30, 2017
Landon Ferraro was able to close out the period and his own seven game scoring drought with assists from Christoph Bertschy and Cal O’Reilly. In the end, Kyle Rau also returned to the score sheet as he battled and earned an empty net goal to get Iowa those two points and their 16th win of the season.
Kyle Rau adds the empty-netter for the 5-3 lead! #IAvsRFD pic.twitter.com/wcoc0nPllt— Iowa Wild (@IAWild) December 30, 2017
With three goals on the power play in two games, Iowa has worked their way up to the fourth best efficiency in the entire AHL.
The only low point has to be the end of Sam Anas’ scoring streak, which stopped at ten straight games. During the streak, the Potomac, Mary., native hit the scoring sheet 16 times with eight goals and eight assists.
The Wild will get another short break before playing a New Years Day game against the upward trending Chicago Wolves (Vegas/St. Louis) who have earned points in four of their last five games. It’ll be a noon puck drop at Wells Fargo Arena.