Iowa Wild 2022-23 Mid-Season Report
The Iowa Wild are right at the midpoint of the 2022-23 AHL season, posting an 8-14-4 mark through the first 36 games. This is a club that has struggled to put together a prolonged winning streak over the last two seasons, but looks like they have finally turned the corner, winning their last five games entering Friday’s contest.
Tale of the Tape:
Record: 18-4-4, 5th place in Central Division, 18th in AHL
Home Record: 7-9-3
Away Record: 11-5-1
Record in Last 10: 7-3-0
Goals For: 109
Goals Against: 109
The Iowa Wild Season in Review
The 2022-23 season looked like it was going to be a disappointing one for the Wild. The team began the season at home where they dropped four straight contests, losing a pair to the San Jose Barracuda before being swept by archrival Texas (October 21-22). Iowa rebounded with a 5-2 victory against the Moose in Manitoba, but lost the next day, 4-1. That left the club 1-4-1 through the first six games of the season.
The road became the sanctuary for the club early on. November began with the team splitting two games at home against the Grand Rapids Griffins, then Iowa went on the road for three games, sweeping the set by defeating Rockford, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Things were looking up, but the club returned home where they were soundly thrashed by Milwaukee (6-1), then traveled to Wisconsin where they lost a close affair to the Admirals in overtime, 2-1.
Things got only marginally better from there. The team defeated Chicago 5-1 on November 20, but were then swept by the Eagles in Colorado before traveling to San Jose where the Wild returned the favor from early in the season, sweeping the Barracudas in both contests. The Wild were 6-5-1 in November, finishing the first two months of the season at 7-9-2 and in sixth place in the division.
It was becoming a challenge to try to figure out this club. On December 3, they were shut out by Chicago, 4-0, then blanked the Wolves the next day, 7-0. The team then traveled to Grand Rapids where they were soundly beaten, 6-2, but rebounded with back-to-back 3-2 victories over the IceHogs, winning both games in extra time.
The club then returned home, looking to build on their momentum, but dropped the next five contests. They were becoming a bit of an enigma, as Wells Fargo Arena was not the house of horrors it had been to opponents in recent seasons.
However, the approaching new year seem to help the team turn the page. The Eagles came to town starting on December 28, and lost both games to the Wild in Des Moines. Iowa then traveled to Chicago where they were beaten, 5-2, but they have won the last five contests, including sweeping two from Rockford, taking two from the Griffins in Grand Rapids, before beating the Griffins at home on Martin Luther King Day, 2-1.
The team has been incredibly impressive during the five-game winning streak, allowing five total goals, and no more than two in any contest. They have scored 17 in those five games.
What Has Gone Right
Goaltending was a challenge for this club early on, as Zane McIntyre was shuttled between St. Paul and Des Moines. That left him battling to gain some consistency as he spent all of his time with the big club on the bench. However, he returned to Des Moines in late December and McIntyre and Jesper Wallstedt have been a key reason why this club is rolling. McIntyre has allowed three total goals over his last two starts while Wallstedt has allowed three total goals over his last four starts, allowing one goal in three straight starts before shutting out Grand Rapids.
The biggest story for this team may be Sammy Walker. After being selected by Tampa Bay in the seventh round of the 2017 draft, he headed to college at the University of Minnesota where he was the captain from 2019 through 2022. Walker scored at least 10 goals in all four seasons there, but did not seem to get much of a chance with the Lightning organization. This year he has been one of the best scorers in the AHL, recording 31 points in 29 games and has even spent six games up in Minnesota.
The depth of this club has been quite impressive as well. Several Iowa players have found themselves on the Minnesota roster, including Mason Shaw who was called up early in the season and has remained there ever since. That has left Head Coach Tim Army scrambling to put a roster on the ice each night, and there is plenty of depth that has delivered for him. Nine players have at least five goals for the club with three in double digits.
What Needs to Improve
One area that needs some drastic improvement is special teams, especially in the penalty killing. The Wild are 24th overall (77.5%), including 28th on home ice (75.3%). Of the 109 goals scored by opponents, 34, nearly one-third, have come on the power-play. The Wild must tighten up this area.
While the depth of forwards has been impressive, scoring from the blueline has been severely lacking. Joe Hicketts has 22 assists and 25 points in 36 games and Dakota Mermis has contributed 12 points, but no other defensemen has recorded double-digit points. This makes it difficult to get this power-play going as well as create breakaways and odd man rushes.
First Half MVP
There are a few players who have had solid first half’s, but Walker has proven himself to be the top player. Not only does he lead the team in goals (15) and points (31), but is also first with a +11 rating. He has recorded at least one point in 21 of his 29 contests, and has been consistent as well.
Walker has two games where he recorded three points, and has seven games where he recorded two points. He is finding ways to continuously get on the score sheet.
What to Expect:
If Iowa is going to make the playoffs, they are going to have to find a way to be more consistent at home. They have earned victories in their last five home contests, but they need to make Des Moines a nightmare for opponents, especially within their division. The Wild have five more games at home before heading to Texas at the end of the month. Anything short of four victories is simply not acceptable at this point.
The Wild are 14-11-3 within their own division, which is very good. They have won five of the six games against Rockford, which is great considering that this is one of the teams directly ahead of them in the standings. However, going 0-3-1 against Texas when there are still five games left against the Stars is not going to cut it. They are going to need to be dominant within their own division.
Right now, it is hard to say whether this team will be a playoff contender. Let them go 5-1-0 in these remaining games in January, and they are on the fast track to the postseason.
By Robert Pannier