Toivonen Rebounds, Rockford Blanks Manitoba 1-0

Last time the IceHogs saw the Manitoba Moose on November 6th in Rockford, Hannu Toivonen was in charge of holding a 1-0 lead in the waning moments. 

On that night, Toivonen was victimized for three goals in exactly one minute and twenty-seven seconds.  The Moose broke that shutout on an innocent yet seeing-eye Cody Hodgson wrister with just under five minutes left to play.  The rally continued with back-to-back Jeff Tambellini markers, one through the wickets and another over Toivonen’s glove, posted 32 seconds apart.  Toivonen was the ‘goat’ in an otherwise solid IceHogs’ effort. 

Toivonen did not see the Rockford net again until Thursday’s rematch in Winnipeg. 

Thursday night, with Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman in attendance, several of the Hawks top prospects put on solid performances.  Brandon Pirri, Igor Makarov, Kyle Beach, Nick Leddy and Jeremy Morin all made contributions that didn’t necessarily make the scoresheet. 

Pirri got the lone Rockford goal 5:39 into the game.  Jeremy Morin’s aggressive read deep in the Moose zone intercepted a Manitoba defender’s outlet pass in the slot and bounced to Igor Makarov, who made a fine pass to Pirri on the backdoor.  While the action kept fast and furious for much of the next 54 minutes, that goal would stand. 

Rockford dominated the first ten minutes of the thirteen minutes of the third before the Moose did make a late push.  Despite a 10-6 shot advantage in the first, Rockford controlled much of the game until the latter moments of the contest. 

Ryan Potulny, who came into the game the hottest IceHog (1g, 3a – last 3gp), missed an empty-net opportunity when his shot hit the post with two seconds left on the clock.  With 12.8 seconds to go, Ben Smith lost a defensive zone faceoff but he and his teammates were able to regain control to preserve the victory.

Beach, on the heels of his third period (actually 25 minute) benching last Friday in San Antonio, was active on the puck all game.  Officially he recorded just one shot, but he was active down low and on the boards.  He responded to his benching and was focused and under control the entire night.  Beach’s lone official shot on goal was one of Eddie Lack’s better saves.  Midway through the third, from a seated position, Lack stopped a Beach snap shot with the glove. 

Nick Leddy may have been the best player on the ice; well-composed and no noticeable issues on this night.  Morin had some tough moments.  He should have been called for tripping Lee Sweatt early in the third.  The Hogs’ second penalty at 11:00 minutes of the 2nd period, a hooking call on Igor Makarov, probably should have gone to Morin.  On Rockford’s late second period power play, Morin was the puck carrier on a 3-on-1 that netted neither a pass nor a quality scoring chance.  Streaking up the right side, Morin instead attempted to draw the Manitoba netminder out of his goal, go wide around him, and try a stuff attempt from behind the goal.  Didn’t work.  While early on Rockford did a good job of getting bodies on pucks near the goal, as the game wore along the majority of their offensive chances reverted back to the perimeter.

The game featured a series of back-and-forth exchanges.  Had both sides not tried to be so cute with their passes or drives to the net, more shots and quality scoring chances would have been seen by both sides.  While the Moose put on a late bid, substantially long shifts pinned inside their zone took a toll and they had little left in the tank for the final twenty minutes which led to mistakes.  Ben Smith had a beautiful takeaway on a streaking Jeff Tambellini just inside the Manitoba zone that led to another sustained attack on Manitoba as the Moose began their third period surge. 

In making all three starts for Manitoba against the Hogs, Eddie Lack has done all he can for his team.  Stopping 29 of 30 Rockford shots on the night, Lack increased his season numbers vs. the IceHogs to a 95.2% save percentage and a 1.34GAA.

Toivonen was in goal for both previous losses to Manitoba.  He is now 1-2-0 with a 2.70 GAA and 90.1% save percentage against this year’s Moose.  With a second-half of a back-to-back facing Rockford coach Bill Peters on Friday, time will tell if Peters calls on Toivonen again or goes back to Alec Richards who had been solid in the four previous Rockford starts.  Before Thursday, Manitoba had their way with the Finnish netminder.

Hannu Toivonen’s last shutout came on the final night of the 2006-07 season, a 22-stop blanking for the Providence Bruins at Springfield.  In all, Toivonen went 49 AHL appearances before registering his 12th career AHL shutout Thursday.

Moose center Cody Hodgson had two personal scoring streaks snapped by Toivonen and the IceHogs.  Hodgson entered Thursday’s affair riding a 4-game goal scoring streak (5g, 3a in that span) and a 6-game point streak (6g, 4a).

2007 2nd round draft pick and former Blackhawk prospect Billy Sweatt had his best game of three against the IceHogs.  The younger Sweatt brother has no goals, 1 assist and 9 shots on goal versus Rockford this season.  Older brother Lee has 1 goal, 2 assists and 7 shots on the IceHogs.  Lee logged a lot of ice time from the blue line and was arguably Manitoba’s best skater on this night.  Billy’s game picked up as the game went along.

With just three minor penalties called in the game, Rockford was 0 for 1 on the power play.  The Moose’s 26th ranked power play had two chances.

Other notes:

-          Evan Brophey had some shifts taken over during the second half of the game by Chris DiDomenico.  No word on Brophey’s condition.  It didn’t appear to be performance related.

-          Jeff Taffe is not on the trip.  He missed his 4th consecutive game with an upper-body injury.  He’s expected to return on Sunday in Peoria.

-          Wade Brookbank was a scratch Thursday.  He was said to be ill.

-          Simon Danis-Pepin was the lone healthy scratch.

-          Ivan Vishnevskiy took SDP’s place.  Vishnevskiy missed one game with a lower-body issue.

-          Pirri’s goal broke a six-game goalless drought (1 assist in his last 11 games)

-          Igor Makarov hasn’t scored since his OT-winner vs Chicago back on Oct 23rd

-          DiDomenico has been a scratch 5 times so far in 16 games.  When in the lineup he’s a fourth-liner.  DiDomenico [11gp, 0g, 1a, -6, 4sog]  With Mathis Olimb returning next week sometime and Taffe on Sunday, DiDomenico will need a good showing Friday first and foremost (if Brookbank doesn’t take his slot) or he could be looking at a trip to Toledo.

-          Brookbank is valuable since he’s a big body on the wing, but also can skate at D on the second PK unit… DiDomenico, like Ben Smith, can play either center or wing.  Only Smith is a couple strides ahead of DiDomenico in the effectiveness department…. Bollig has done next to nothing of late.  Hagel is a penalty-killer and plays the Jake Dowell role here.  So, its possible Bollig sits and DiDomenico gets one last look tomorrow before Taffe returns and Olimb makes his debut next week.

-          It will be interesting to see, barring injuries between now and then, what happens to the lineup at that point.  Smith and Klinkhammer have been the most-consistent performers upfront here by a wide margin.  The Brophey line started Thursday’s game but as the game roles along they’re more of a third-line.  And that line is used when a third power play unit is a necessity.  Olimb will have to earn his minutes somewhere but Hagel is a character guy who fulfils a role and that’s not where Olimb fits most likely.  It easy to say Taffe and Olimb replace the fourth line wingers listed below, and that may in fact happen, but Brookbank has to fit in somehow, so someone, barring injury or recall(s) will be the odd-man out.

Here are Bill Peters lines and combos from Thursday’s game:

Rob Klinkhammer – Evan Brophey – Hugh Jessiman

Kyle Beach – Ryan Potulny – Ben Smith

Igor Makarov – Brandon Pirri – Jeremy Morin

Brandon Bollig – Kyle Hagel – Chris DiDomenico 

Ryan Stanton – Nick Leddy

Garnett Exelby – Ivan Vishnevskiy

Brian Connelly – Shawn Lalonde 

Manitoba will be looking for revenge during their fourth and final meeting of the 2010-11 season with the IceHogs tomorrow night in Winnipeg.  Rockford will be looking to even the season series and their current 5-game road trip at 2-2 a piece.  The MTS Centre is expecting a near-capacity crowd for Friday’s game.  Thursday’s crowd was announced as 6,800.  Friday’s crowd is expected to be more than twice that number.  Manitoba ranks 2nd in average attendance at 7,732 per game. 

The overall franchise series with Manitoba now stands at 7-7-1.  However, five of Rockford’s wins have come at MTS Centre [5-2-0-0]. 

Rockford improved its record in one-goal games to 5-3-0-1.  In leading after forty minutes, the IceHogs are now 4-0-0-0.  (AHL divides overtime and shootout losses in their standings) 

Rockford is in Peoria on Sunday before returning home on Wednesday night for a 6:35pm matchup and first-look at the ’10-11 Lake Erie Monsters. 

We’ll have full coverage of tomorrow night’s game in Manitoba as well as Sunday’s visit to Peoria.

ChrisBlock@TheThirdManIn.com

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