Sudbury Wolves statistician Dave Harrison is playing a big part in this week’s Battle Report as we take a closer look at the Wolves season prior to the holiday break.
The Wolves entered the break on an eight-game winning streak, tied for the fourth longest winning streak in franchise history. The Wolves can tie the record for third longest streak with a win over North Bay — on home ice — on Saturday.
They were anything but boring to watch.
The Wolves record for consecutive wins is 13, set during the 1999-2000 season. The game also marks the end of an eight-game homestand for the Wolves, a stand that has seen them offer little pity for the opposition. Sudbury has gone 7-0 thus far.
The first half of the season was solid.
The Wolves are first place in the Central Division and second overall in the Eastern Conference with a 18-9-3-3- record.
Not bad for a team that was playing poor team defence the first few weeks of the season and allowing goals at an alarming rate.
The Pack have righted the ship in terms of team defence, only allowing five goals against in the last four games before the break.
The Wolves ended October with a record of 5-3-3-3. They were giving up a lot of goals, but also scoring a lot of goals, and the havoc it wreaked showed on the team overall as they went 7-6. Sudbury started to turn things around at the end of November, and by the last game before the break, they were operating like an actual team.
When defenceman Craig Duininck recently said guys were buying in to the big plan, he meant it. In December, the chemistry showed on the ice as the Wolves went 6-0.
Sudbury was still prone to the odd turnover or bad pass, but at least they stopped running around in their own end for long stretches.
Discipline has, maybe, been the biggest factor. I’ve covered the Wolves for nine seasons and I can tell you, penalties have been a real sore spot for the franchise.
The Wolves had the worst penalty-killing unit in the league this season at one point and they are still near the bottom. Thankfully, taking lazy and selfish penalties just will not be accepted anymore.
I had statistician Harrison scrambling after the Wolves beat Mississauga 8-1 on Dec. 7, trying to find the last time Sudbury didn’t take a penalty in a game. The last time Sudbury played a penalty-free game was March 1, 1997, versus Belleville.
Sudbury players didn’t take one penalty against the Steelheads.
It still freaks me out a bit. A game where Sudbury doesn’t take a penalty is a rare event. Something you can tell your grandchildren.
Discipline is a major factor in winning and losing a hockey game.
Don’t underestimate it. If the Wolves can keep their penalties to a minimum in the second half, it will earn them more success. If not, well …
The penalty-kill unit is still ranked 19th out of 20 teams.
The team may have changed locations (from Brampton to North Bay in the off-season), but make no mistake, this is your father’s Battalion team. Head coach and director of hockey operations Stan Butler makes sure of this.
The Battalion, under the direction of Butler for its entire existence, has always played a certain brand of hockey — a boring, stubborn brand of hockey.
It’s an effective style that has frequently pushed the Battalion into the post-season dance. Butler isn’t going to change. Why would he?
Local fans saw a perfect example of a Battalion game the last time Sudbury and North Bay squared off on Dec. 15 in the Nickel City. Sudbury fought tooth-and-nail to eke out a 1-0 overtime win.
The game lacked excitement, but this is the game Butler likes to see in Sudbury. Goalie Jake Smith has been a rock for North Bay this season and he has been a wall of frustration, for the most part, against the Sudbury shooters.
Smith has stopped 102 of the 108 shots he has faced from Wolves shooters. Expect Smith to be at the top of his game again.
North Bay is exposed by its dearth of scoring ability. Leading scorer Barclay Goodrow is a point-per-game player, but after him the offence dries up quickly.
Sophomore forward Nick Paul might be the answer. He had a highly productive first half, matching his rookie output for goals (12) in the first 34 games.