The Grand Rapids Griffins handed the Chicago Wolves their first loss of the regular season Saturday. The return of defensemen Libor Sulak and Brian Lashoff seemed to add much-needed defensive confidence overall. Though the Griffins faltered in the second period, allowing three goals by the Wolves, they took control of the game back and finally added another win to their record.
Player of the Game: Vili Saarijarvi
Vili Saarijarvi was consistently on the puck and playing a solid two-way game in the Grand Rapids Griffins home win against the Chicago Wolves. Finishing the night with his first AHL goal and having four shots on goal to his name, Vili is ramping up his offensive game. It’s apparent that he’s been working overtime this season on his strength and puck handling. Though still small compared to guys like Dylan McIlrath, Libor Sulak, and Brian Lashoff, Vili is learning how to use what frame he does have to his advantage. His skating ability has always been phenomenal, but he is adding tricky dekes and handling to his increasing resume. He was, in my opinion, among the hardest working defenseman on the ice Saturday night. If you haven’t been paying attention to him yet, I’d suggest doing so.
Play of the Game: Chris Terry Reclaims Lead in 2nd Period
The Griffins fell apart in the early part of the second period. Alongside a few questionable calls, Grand Rapids defense stumbled a few too many times. This allowed the Wolves to tie up the game in only a few minutes.
Thankfully, veteran Chris Terry made a smooth-as-silk play along the right-wing boards and hammered one past Chicago goaltender, Maxime Legace (no relation to Manny Legace). Terry’s smooth moves beat three Wolves chasing him down and put the Griffins up by one, which eventually became the game-winner.
Regrettable: Miss-Firing Penalty Kill
The penalty kill was a little concerning. The standout skater (in a good way) was Dominik Shine who almost single-handedly killed a penalty, but beyond that, it was iffy. Though they didn’t allow any goals on the penalty kill, the inability to get the puck out of the zone was frustrating – likely more so for Griffins’ goalie Harri Sateri. With Colin Campbell, the best penalty killer on the team, suffering from a concussion the special teams have taken a hit. With no known time of return for Campbell, Simon will have to continue to adjust the current groupings.
Quotable: Locker Room Talk
“It was a grind to get back from this injury. It’s a tough injury to come back from…Any time you can learn your lessons while winning is the best way to go about it…we’ve got guys in here that have won, and I think that’ll help us going forward.” – Brian Lashoff
“It’s huge obviously (to win). You gotta take advantage of playing at home… I think the home opener had a lot of excitement…I thought the guys played a strong third period to kind of guarantee two points. Any time you go into a third period leading, it should be two points.” – Chris Terry
“First period, they (defense) did extremely well. Second period, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot with turnovers but I think just the confidence from the backend out, that feeds our forwards. Very positive with their game and I thought they stepped up and contributed well.” – Coach Ben Simon on Libor Sulak and Brian Lashoff
Keys for the Future: Neutral Zone Control – Maintain Momentum
Grand Rapids came out of the gates blazing in the first period, scoring two of their four (not counting empty netter) goals. As has been the pattern of late, the second period saw a major downshift in momentum. Allowing three goals from Chicago, they struggled to control the puck and keep up with the Wolves. The momentum shift had much to do with their neutral zone struggles. Much of the second period was spent turning over pucks in neutral and in front of the net. Though they picked it up late in the second period and were able to regain control of the game, the damage done left Grand Rapids chasing their tails till Terry netted one.
The failure to complete passes and communicate on the ice likely is due to the very fresh group still getting to know each other. The team chemistry isn’t yet visible like it had been in seasons before however, it takes more than a handful of games to figure what makes each other tick.
Grand Rapids will hit the road next week for games the 26th and 27th. Hopefully, the energy wrought from their win Saturday night will finally ignite a winning streak.