Nov 072010

Rockford’s Achilles heel, coupled with an anemic power play teamed up Saturday night as the IceHogs’ ultimate demise in a 3-1 loss to the traveling Manitoba Moose.

On a night when Rockford’s power play couldn’t muster more than one goal in eight tries, you could sense trouble brewing.

After forty-five minutes of scoreless hockey, Ben Smith finally struck the back of Manitoba’s net at 5:02 of the third period when Smith, parked on top of Manitoba netminder Eddie Lack’s crease, found an Igor Makarov assisted rebound to give Rockford a 1-0 lead.  Smith’s tally came on Rockford’s seventh power play chance.

The MetroCentre crowd of 5,593 then sat stunned as Manitoba score three unanswered goals in 1 minute and 27 seconds.

Cody Hodgson kicked off the comeback when he drove wide-right on defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy and roofed a snap shot over Hannu Toivonen‘s glove on the short side with 4:40 left in regulation.  A weak goal allowed by Toivonen tied the game and took the air out of everyone in the building not wearing Moose sweaters.  Hodgson’s 6th marker extended the former top NHL prospect’s scoring streak to 4 games (4g, 2a).

55 seconds after Hodgson evened the score, Jeff Tambellini (re-assigned here by the Canucks on Tuesday) found Toivonen’s five hole and increased the lead to 2-1.  It was another goal Toivonen probably would like to have back.  The defense pairing of Vishnevskiy and Shawn Lalonde were victimized on both goals.

Just 32 seconds later, Toivonen’s glove was again too slow on a Tambellini riser, increasing the lead to the eventual final 3-1 score. 

This was Toivonen’s 4th start and appearance over Rockford’s last five games.  In the prior three outings, Toivonen went 2-0-0-1, with a 2.47 GAA and .904 save percentage.  He went past regulation in all three, spitting two shootout decisions.

As a result of Saturday’s sudden collapse, Toivonen’s record falls to 2-3-1.  His .866 percent save percentage ranks 48th out of 51 AHL goaltenders.  Rockford’s team save percentage is worst in the league at 87.8%.

Rockford had a couple of late chances after pulling Toivonen with more than two minutes remaining in regulation.  A Nolan Baumgartner hooking penalty with 39.9 seconds left gave the IceHogs a 6 on 4 advantage.  However, an errant Ben Smith pass back to Shawn Lalonde‘s point position drained a good ten seconds of that opportunity and a scramble around Lack’s net late, including a Smith backhand chance, was thwarted.

It was a botched attempt at redemption for an IceHogs squad embarrased in their season and home opener by this same Moose team four weeks ago.  Rockford was completely outclassed by Manitoba in a 5-2 loss in their initial meeting back on October 9th.  The teams next meet on November 18th and 19th at MTS Centre in Winnipeg.

Rockford also failed to capitalize on a tired Manitoba squad at the end of a 7-game, 9-day road trip.  The Moose

In the loss, Rockford’s record falls to 5-5-0-1.  The Moose salvage a .500 seven-game road trip (3-3-0-1) with the victory.  Manitoba is now 2-0 at MetroCentre this season.  Rockford has won just two of its first six games on their home ice to start the season.

The IceHogs return to the ice on Sunday in Peoria against the Rivermen.  4:05 puck drop at Carver Arena.  Rockford will then return home for a rematch with the Rivermen on Tuesday night at 6:35 at MetroCentre.  Tuesday night’s game will be the last at home for couple of weeks.  The IceHogs will hit the road for five-straight before returning to MetroCentre on Wednesday November 24th against the Lake Erie Monsters.

There was plenty of blame to throw around on the IceHogs’ power play Saturday.  Early on there was too much reliance on generating offense from the perimeter.  As the power plays piled on, Rockford shooters did get some fine scoring chances, but mostly when shooters were forcing the puck through the middle of the ice.  Just as on their only score on the evening.

On the season, Rockford’s power play now stands at 20.7% efficiency.  At home its less effective, 16.1% (5 for 31).

Ill-timed penalties didn’t to the IceHogs any favors either.  Even though Manitoba went 0 for 5 on the power play, slashing calls against Kyle Beach, Rob Klinkhammer and Ivan Vishnevskiy seemingly came at times Rockford was putting heat on the Moose.  Beach’s slash at the end of the 1st was compounded by another of the same variety by Klinkhammer 36 seconds into the middle frame, which gave Manitoba a brief 5 on 3 advantage.  Beach’s offensive zone slashing call in the final minute of the first period was inexcusable.

With Jeremy Morin recalled to Chicago on Friday, there were a couple changes to the IceHogs lineup.  Chris DiDomenico was scratched in favor of Kyle Hagel (AHL contract).  Simon Danis-Pepin was a scratch on defense, with former Belleville Bulls defenseman Shawn Lalonde drawing back in on D.

Evan Brophey, Rob Klinkhammer and Lalonde were the best Hogs in the first period and were responsible for the team’s best scoring chances.  Lalonde was also strong on the puck in both ends, playing the body nicely to prevent a prime Moose scoring opportunity early in the game.

With Simon Danis-Pepin a healthy scratch, Wade Brookbank skated on the second penalty-unit as a defenseman.  Brookbank is a winger here this year, but has played most of his 13-year career as a defenseman.

Rockford‘s Lines:

Igor Makarov – Ryan Potulny – Ben Smith

Jeff Taffe – Brandon Pirri – Kyle Beach

Rob Klinkhammer – Evan Brophey – Hugh Jessiman

Brandon Bollig – Kyle Hagel – Wade Brookbank

Ryan Stanton – Nick Leddy

Ivan Vishnevskiy – Shawn Lalonde

Garnett Exelby – Brian Connelly

Saturday’s Scoresheet

Other game & IceHogs notes:

— Saturday night’s referee Ryan Fraser, the son of recently retired NHL official Kerry Fraser, has now officiated two games in Rockford this season.  In those two games, the IceHogs have benefited from 14 power plays and their lone conversion was Ben Smith’s rebound goal 5:02 into the 3rd period Saturday.

— Rockford’s power play on the season is converting 20.7% of its chances (12 for 58).  At home, the Hogs have scored on 5 of 31 opportunities (16.1%) with a man-advantage.

— Conversely, Rockford’s penalty kill has been dynamite on home ice after a rough opening weekend.  IceHogs have allowed just 1 goal in the last 17 times they’ve been short-handed at the MetroCentre.

— Penalty killers against Manitoba were Brophey-Klinkhammer, Smith-Hagel, Makarov, Taffe with Leddy, Stanton, Exelby, Vishnevskiy and Wade Brookbank falling back to the defense position on several occasions with Danis-Pepin a scratch.

— Power-play #1: Taffe-Pirri-Beach w/ Connelly & Leddy
— Power-play #2: Smith-Potulny-Makarov w/ Vishnevskiy & Lalonde

— On the key 5 on 3 PP with Manitoba’s Billy Sweatt and captain Nolan Baumgartner in the box with five minutes to go in the second, coach Bill Peters sent out Beach-Taffe-Potulny w/Vishnevskiy & Connelly.  Jessiman ended up getting some time on the PP as well in the latter half of the game.

— Rockford has 15 major majors in its first 11 outings.  Kyle Hagel leads the team with 7; followed by Brandon Bollig (2), Wade Brookbank (2), and 1 each for Garnet Exelby, Ryan Stanton, Kyle Beach and Shawn Lalonde.

— Garnett Exelby was named team captain on Saturday morning.  He becomes the 4th Hogs’ captain in the franchise’s AHL history, joining Jim Fahey (07-08), Tim Brent (08-09) and Jake Dowell (09-10).  Exelby signed a professional try-out contract with Rockford back on October 8th.

— Former Blackhawks prospect and Elburn, Illinois native Billy Sweatt was held scoreless.  Sweatt’s best opportunity of the night came on a strong drive up the left side of the ice four minutes into the third when he released a wrist shot that Toivonen wasn’t sure he had stopped.  It turned out to be a precursor of things to come.

— IceHogs baseball caps were given away to the first 2,500 fans.  Saturday’s hefty crowd of 5,593 raised their early season average to 3,818 through six home dates.  That’s 610 ahead of the average at this point last season.

— Evan Brophey’s last 6 gp w/Rockford: 0 points, -4, 15 shots on goal

— 3 Stars of the game: 3. Ben Smith, 2. Eddie Lack, 1. Jeff Tambellini

* We’ll have full coverage of Sunday’s game between Rockford and Peoria on the site tonight as well.

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