BRYAN WILSON – 03.01.2023
After a tough start to the recent road trip in Henderson, the Wranglers look to get back on track with an important tilt against the Coachella Valley Firebirds on Wednesday night.
1. THE RUNDOWN – ‘GOTTA STAY POSITIVE’
The Wranglers currently sit in first place in the Pacific Division (75 Pts.) but have dropped their last three games, something they haven’t done since the start of the season when they started 0-3. With just 19 games remaining on the schedule, Calgary will look to regroup quickly and get back to playing their game again – which is fast-paced and detail oriented – as they edge closer to clinching a playoff spot.
Up next for the Wranglers: the Coachella Valley Firebirds – who are hot on their heels – sitting just one point back of the Wranglers in the division, with four games in-hand.
Mitch McLain scored his 15th goal of the season against the Silver Knights recently, playing alongside Clark Bishop and Connor Zary. The trio played well together and McLain is looking to build on the effort from their previous outing.
“I thought our line created chances and had a good start, it’s something we wanted to do,” said McLain. “Bishop and Zary have been playing really good hockey and I thought we played hard, but obviously didn’t create enough chances to win the game.”
“We’ve just got to take the positives out of this,” McLain explained when asked about Wednesday’s matchup with Coachella Valley. “Something we did is we competed real hard. Going in there, we just gotta flush it, we’ve got a new series with them, we’ve got our own little rivalry, you could say, so we just need to go in there and get the two points.”
2. KEY TO VICTORY – SPECIAL TEAMS
Special teams have been a big part of the Wranglers success this season, but the overall effectiveness of both the powerplay and penalty-kill has dropped off during this recent three game slide. That being said, the PK is still tops in the division operating at 85.0 percent efficiency, while the powerplay is running at 22.5% (2nd). The Wranglers scored three extra-strength goals on February 22 against Henderson (3/6), but have gone 0-for-13 in their previous two games since.
Matthew Phillips – who has seven powerplay goals this season – feels like they’re getting close as a group.
“I think we did a lot of things much better. We had some really good looks on the powerplay there. Posts and close rebounds,” Phillips explained. “It kind of felt like we were a bounce away, and then on the flip-side, it almost felt like the small mistakes we did make ended up in the back of the net.”
Emilio Pettersen has been a bright spot offensively as of late, with 6 points (5g, 1a) in his last five games, including two extra-strength goals against the ‘Knights. Playing with Phillips has been beneficial both 5-on-5 and on the man-advantage.
“Adding (Pettersen) in there is good,” Phillips expressed. “He’s been playing with a tonne of energy lately and he’s very skilled and creates a lot with the puck and I think he and I see the ice in a similar way, so he’s good to play with.”
½. LOOK OUT – POIRIER POWER
Look out for Jeremie Poirier, who has been doing it all for the Wranglers lately. He leads all rookie blue-liners with 33 points (5g, 28a) in 50 games this season and has five assists in his last five games. Poirier picked up the first fighting major of his AHL career on February 23 against the Silver Knights and his efforts – with and without the puck – did not go unnoticed by his teammates.
“I think he’s come a long way this year for us and he’s a very important player for us,” Phillips said of Poirier. “For him to have that passion in the third there and to drop his gloves is impressive and good on him.”