The Wolves own the best home record in the Eastern Conference and it will be tested this weekend with a pair of visiting teams coming in that are familiar with the hometown club.
First though, the Wolves hit the road for a Thursday game against the Peterborough Petes. The Wolves return home Friday to host the Saginaw Spirit and it could be mean the team’s record books have to be re-written.
The Wolves have the chance to set a new franchise record for home game wins in a row. Sudbury has won 12 straight games on home ice. The Wolves haven’t suffered defeat in Sudbury since Nov. 15, 2013 when North Bay beat them 3-1. The Wolves are 17-3-0-1 at home — the best home record in the Eastern Conference.
The Wolves also host the Barrie Colts for a Sunday afternoon tilt at 2 p.m.
“We are aware of the record and records are great, but we just want to get two points Friday night,” Sudbury team captain Kevin Raine said. “We have to play Peterborough first and we are not looking past that until we earn two points against them. Going for the record at home will be something we all get excited about when the time comes for it and we will be ready.”
The Wolves have been anything but gracious hosts this season. Sudbury has a .833 winning percentage on home ice, fourth best in the OHL.
Opposing teams have only been able to wrestle seven measly points out of Sudbury Arena. The Wolves have no plans on given Saginaw a warm welcome and are prepared to keep the good times rolling on home ice.
“We take pride in every game we play,” Raine said. “It turns out we have been outstanding at home and it has really helped us in the standings. We want to win every game and continue the streak. It is a hard building to play in as an opponent. The atmosphere gives us a real advantage.”
The team's improved penalty kill could help.
The PK was nothing short of embarrassing for most of the season. Coaches and players never hesitated to admit it was a sore spot and they would go all in to try and correct the mistakes.
The Wolves tightened up their defensive play in all three zones and also began playing more disciplined hockey. At the start of January, the Wolves were still almost at the bottom of the league in terms of penalty kill. Not anymore.
Sitting 19th overall in the league just a few weeks ago, the Wolves are now 13th, allowing one goal on 32 chances by the opposition.
As good as the penalty kill has been, the power play has become an issue.
“The penalty killers have been outstanding and done a great job climbing back to respectability,” Sudbury head coach Paul Fixter said. “Conversely, our power play has gone south and it is an area of concern. We are not shooting enough and hanging onto the puck too long and trying to make cute plays.”
Fixter expects a series of tough games this week against Peterborough, Saginaw and Barrie. The Wolves will need to be on the ball to earn points this week.
“It’s going to take effort, attention to detail and our specialty teams need to perform,” Fixter said. “Saginaw just beat us, so we know what they are capable of.
Barrie is right on our tail and always play hard and Peterborough beat us on their home ice last time. We are coming off one of our worst performances of the year where we were outworked on Sunday against Windsor. We have work to do.”
When looking at No. 1 goalie Franky Palazzese’s season so far, it is clear he has just gotten better and better.
In September, Palazzese posted a 1-1-1 record with a 5.95 goals-against-average and .828 save percentage. In October, he recorded a 4-2-1-2 record with a 3.70 GAA and .907 save percentage. In November, Palazzese was 5-6 with a 3.13 GAA and .919 save percentage. In December, when things really started to come together for Sudbury as a whole, Palazzese was unreal, going 8-1 with a 2.19 GAA and .928 save percentage.
Palazzese carried over the play into the New Year and has been a wall in net in January, going 4-2-0-1, with a 1.41 GAA and .955 save percentage. He has three shutouts in January alone.
Variety is the spice of life and the Sudbury Wolves get it this week for their competition. Sudbury plays a rising foe from the East Division on the road tonight, a spirited team from the West Division on Friday at home (7:30 p.m.) and a bitter Central Division rival Sunday at home (2 p.m.). Here’s a quick look at how Peterborough, Saginaw and Barrie are doing recently.
The Petes made a big move towards the future at the deadline by trading away gritty sparkplug Stephen Pierog and four second-round picks to Guelph for forward Hunter Garlent. A hefty sum for one player, but Garlent has paid instant dividends and gives the Petes a bona fide scoring star. In his first five games, Garlent racked up five goals and 11 points. It is no surprise the Petes are rising up the standings as they have won four straight games with Garlent in the line-up.
The Spirit make their lone appearance at Sudbury Arena and they must be thinking the Wolves have revenge on their minds — Saginaw beat Sudbury on its home ice last Saturday 4-3. The Spirit stood pat at the trade deadline, having made several moves earlier in the season. The Spirit did pull off a late December trade with North Bay, sending forward Zach Bratina for forward Blake Clarke. In his first 10 games, Clarke has five assists and just one goal and eight points in 31 games. Clarke was considered a high first-round NHL draft prospect, but scouts have so far been disappointed and he has fallen in rankings.
Since the last time the Colts and the Wolves locked horns, both teams have undergone some big changes. The Colts bolstered their line-up with a trade in December to add forward Garrett Hooey from Belleville and forward Joseph Blandisi from Ottawa. Blandisi has had an immediate impact, scoring two goals and seven points in his first four games. Blandisi has certainly given the Colts a boost as they won three straight games heading into the weekend action. Hooey has not made a big splash yet for Barrie. In 13 games, he has one goal and two points. A lot more is expected of him after since he boasted a point-per-game pace with Belleville (27 points in 29 games). Nonetheless, Blandisi and Hooey have made the Colts offence more potent overall.