Feb 232011

Rockford continues its busiest week of the season tonight when they bus to Rosemont, Illinois for the 7th of 10 matchups this season with the Chicago Wolves.  The two teams have split the games even so far.

As a team, the IceHogs have been nothing short of awful of late.

Rockford has lost 13 of their last 15 games (2-11-2-0).  Seven of those losses have come on home ice.  When this recent stretch of losses began back on January 21st, Rockford was three games above the .500 mark (19-16-1-4) having won seven of ten.

Today, the IceHogs (21-27-3-4) are deeply trenched in last place in the West division, trailing 7th place Chicago by 15 points.  With only 25 games left in the regular season, the IceHogs would essentially have to run the table now in order to grab a spot in the postseason.  Just two teams in the league (Adirondack and Bridgeport) hold fewer wins than Rockford.

The chief culprit in this recent swoon has been some inexplicable poor starts.

Dating back to Jan 21st, Rockford is being outscored 27-11 in the opening period.  It gets a little better in the middle stanza (10gf-15ga) while the 3rd period rings dead-even (14-14).

On five occasions in the last 15 starts, Rockford has trailed by two or more goals after the opening twenty minutes.  Three times, they trailed by three or more.  On Feb 13 at Milwaukee, the IceHogs trailed after the first period 5-1.

While the goaltending of Alec Richards and Hannu Toivonen has been less than adequate at times over the downturn, Rockford’s defense has largely been to blame.

Right now, the offense is basically coming from the power play, 13 goals and 20.3% over that 15-game span.

Jeff Taffe and Ryan Potulny in particular have been on fire on that unit.

Taffe is currently riding an 11 game point streak; 6 goals, 10 assists.  Potulny has points in 10 of his last 12; seven goals and 7 assists.  However, both Taffe and Potulny, regular linemates, are getting creamed at even strength.   Each is holding at a minus-9 over their aforementioned streaks.

Rockford is playing through a hellacious series of games right now which will see them play 19 games in 33 days.  They’re now about halfway through.  That ends on March 13th.  They’ll then get four days off at home before finishing the season with 14 games in 24 days.

They’ve lost their last six road games (0-5-1-0).  Rockford is averaging 2.25 goals per game away from home, while allowing 2.8.

While the goaltending can’t be the scapegoat, the numbers aren’t pretty.  In his last eight appearances, Hannu Toivonen has a 5.35 goals against average and 82.7% save percentage.

In Alec Richards’ last eight appearances in net, he owns a 3.05 GAA and 89.3% save percentage.

In the last 15 games, the penalty kill is running at a 79.4% efficiency (54-68).  Rockford is giving their opponents an average of 4.5 power plays per game this season.  On the year, the PK is 81.3%. (83% since October).

Interesting note: Taffe now has 18 goals on the season.  9 of those since January 8th.

As for tonight’s game, Chicago and Rockford most recently met last Friday at the MetroCentre.  The Wolves took the game on the strength of a 3-goal second period.  Ryan Potulny and Kyle Beach led a third period rally to no avail.  The IceHogs dropped the game 4-3.  Potulny scored twice in that game.  We posted the highlights of this game yesterday.

After tonight’s game in Rosemont, the IceHogs will be in Peoria on Friday; at home vs Milwaukee on Saturday night before a quick turnaround and early Sunday morning flight to Houston for a game at 5pm that day with the Aeros.  That game will start a season-long seven game road trip.

Injury update

Jeremy Morin continues to be sidelined with the “upper body” injury he suffered on January 15th in a game at Allstate Arena against the Chicago Wolves.

While no one will say what Morin’s injury is officially, we can describe the play.  With a minute and ten seconds to go in the opening period at Chicago on Jan 15th, Mathis Olimb forced a turnover at the Wolves’ blue line.  Morin then took the puck and skated in towards to inside/top of the right circle.  As Morin was getting ready to take his shot or deke, Wolves’ defenseman Andrey Zubarev turned and crouched into a hip check that sent Morin flying up and over Zubarev.  Morin came down on the top of his helmet, crunching his head and neck.  (So, you can corner the injury down to three things; head, neck or spine.)  He was stunned but got up immediately and slowly skated back to the IceHogs bench but has not returned to action since.

Morin has missed sixteen consecutive IceHogs’ games now.

After weeks of pushing potential return dates back, the IceHogs have shelved any ideas on a target date for Morin’s return to the ice.  Morin’s progress is being categorized as “slow” but he has not made significant enough improvements over the last month to eye any sort of realistic timetable for a return.

Morin was once on pace with, then a few days behind, Ben Smith in his return to action.  Smith, however, returned to the lineup two weeks ago today.

At this point, Morin is out indefinitely pending improvement of his condition.

We will note that Jeff Hicks, who covers the Kitchener Rangers, the Ontario Hockey League team Morin played for last season, has reported Morin’s injury as a concussion.

This would mark the third known injury issue for Morin in his rookie season.  He missed two IceHogs’ games in October with a knee injury.  In December while with the U.S. National U20 team, he suffered what was suspected to be a shoulder injury.  Morin returned to that tournament however and then dressed in three games with Rockford before sustaining his current injury.

Ivan Vishnevskiy has missed Rockford’s last four games with an undisclosed injury

Jassen Cullimore missed Monday’s game vs Peoria and is also day-to-day.

Other notes:

Ben Smith has had a tough time getting his offense going since he returned from a concussion on Feb 9th.  Smith missed 11 games after a January 8th collision against Grand Rapids.  Smith was having one of his best games as a rookie in that game before the injury.  He’d collected three assists and was a monster all over the ice in a 6-0 whitewash of the injury beleaguered visiting Griffins squad.  Smith actually skated another shift following the third period collision but did not return and finished that game on the bench before missing the next month of games.  He was actually set to return after the AHL All Star break, but caught a puck to the face in practice, setting him back.

Since Smith returned to action Feb 9 vs Houston, he has 1 goal and 1 assist in 8 games.

–Center and four-year veteran, Evan Brophey doesn’t have an assist in 19 games.  He has two goals in that span, his only two in the last 21 games.

For a good month, wrapped around the Christmas holidays, Brophey was playing his best hockey of the season.  Since then, the offense has been next to non-existent.  While he does play a checking role, he was a scorer in the OHL and is expected to pitch in now and then.  Part of the issue on the assist side isn’t entirely his fault.  Brophey skates mostly with Rob Klinkhammer.  While he’s been at the top of the chart in terms of consistency in effort, Klinkhammer’s season has been one blown prime scoring opportunity after another.  You’d need two hands and all ten fingers to count how many times Klinkhammer’s been sprung for a short-handed breakaway.  And that’s no exaggeration.  Klinkhammer has seven goals on the season, but just 4 in his last 44 games.  That’s just not good enough given the number of chances he’s had.

Brophey in particular is one IceHog who is likely playing for a spot on next year’s roster.  If he does re-sign in some form or another, whether with the Blackhawks, or on an AHL deal with the IceHogs, Brophey will qualify as a veteran.   By current AHL rule, teams are allowed to dress a maximum of six “veterans” for any one game.  If he wants to stay, the one thing Brophey has going for him is the Blackhawks and organization as a whole are woeful down the middle, up front.  On the other hand, he’s had four years to win them over.  He is one of Rockford’s best penalty killers though and without that unit, this team would be ten games worse off than they already are.

With just 25 games remaining in Rockford’s season, Brophey will be hard-pressed to match previous highs of 16 goals, 23 assists and the 39 points he posted two seasons back.  He did that in 79 games.  Last year he posted 14 goals and 17 assists.  This year, Brophey has 7 goals and 6 assists through 49 games.  Brophey has missed 6 games this year due to injury.

Shawn Lalonde, like any rookie defenseman, has experienced ups and downs this season.  He’s been a minus-player in 11 of his last 14 games.  In fact, the last time he was a plus in any one game was back on Jan 14th vs Texas.  He’s been a healthy scratch twice this month and is a -13 in his last 14 games played.  Defensive zone assignments and decisions carrying the puck have consistently been issues.  But the effort is there from what we see.

Mathis Olimb, in his last 21 games, has 1 goal and 9 assists.  Olimb is an energy guy and likes to create plays.  But he doesn’t shoot near enough.

–In his last 26 games, Igor Makarov has 3 goals and a total of 6 points.  Lately he’s been getting opportunities with the top two lines.  For a few weeks in January he was lost on the fourth line.  A regular on the PK earlier in the year, his shifts were somewhat lost there for awhile too.  He’s been a scratch three times since mid-December.

Brandon Pirri, a continuous fixture on the half wall on the power play, has 3 goals over his last 32 games.  Two of those came on Jan 25th in Peoria.  The other on Saturday against Houston.  Pirri does have 13 assists in those 32 games, 6 coming by way of the power play.  How the lines typically work down the middle is Potulny, Pirri, Brophey, then either Hagel or Leblanc.  In that order.  Two of Pirri’s eight goals on the season have come on the power play.  Both in October.

Kyle Beach has four goals and three assists in his last 8 games.

–When the IceHogs post 25 or less shots, they’re 1-8-0-0.  The lone victory came via the shootout.


IceHogs’ current streaks: Consecutive games without a goal:  Jassen Cullimore (60), Garnet Exelby (52*), Ryan Stanton (51), Chris DiDomenico (19), Simon Danis-Pepin (19), Dylan Olsen (17), Shawn Lalonde (17), Ivan Vishnevksiy (12), Mathis Olimb (9), Kyle Hagel (6), Rob Klinkhammer (6), Ben Smith (6), Andy Bohmbach (5), Brandon Bollig (5), Igor Makarov (5), Wade Brookbank (4), Evan Brophey (3), Kyle Beach (1), Jeremy Morin (1), Brandon Pirri (1), Ryan Potulny (1), Brian Connelly (-), Pete Leblanc (1), Jeff Taffe (-)

*Exelby’s AHL history has a gap dating back to the 2002-03 season, when he last spent time in the AHL prior to this season.  We don’t have exact numbers going back that far, so its not included here.

Dylan Olsen, Ryan Stanton, University of Wisconsin graduate Andy Bohmbach  and Chris DiDomenico are all still looking for their first AHL goals.  Bohmbach is on an AHL deal signed to the IceHogs.

–DiDomenico and Simon Danis-Pepin are doing quite well now in Toledo (ECHL).    DiDomenico has posted 5 goals and 17 points in 21 games (-6) with the Walleye.  Danis-Pepin is currently a minus-2, with 2 goals and 10 points in 20 games with Toledo.

The Walleye are one game above .500 (24-23-3-1), however, last in their 4-team division.

IceHogs’ current streaks: Consecutive games without an assist: Wade Brookbank (49), Brandon Bollig (38), Evan Brophey (19), Jassen Cullimore (16), Chris DiDomenico (14), Garnet Exelby (14), Rob Klinkhammer (14), Ivan Vishnevskiy (13), Dylan Olsen 14), Ryan Stanton (9), Kyle Hagel (8), Igor Makarov (8), Simon Danis-Pepin (4), Jeremy Morin (4), Ben Smith (3),

–Ryan Potulny scored his 100th AHL goal (264gp) on Friday vs Chicago.  After posting another goal in Saturday’s contest with Houston, the Grand Forks, North Dakota native now has 123 total professional tallies in 345 games.

–The AHL has an unbalanced regional-based schedule which means teams out West don’t see much of teams based near the Atlantic.

Rockford will face just 13 different opponents this season.  Here’s the breakdown.  Starting in their division, the Western Conference’s West Division:

Chicago Wolves (10gms), Peoria Rivermen (10), Milwaukee Admirals (9), Houston Aeros (8), Oklahoma City (6), San Antonio Rampage (6) and Texas Stars (6)

Over in the North Division, the IceHogs see….  Grand Rapids Griffins (6x), Lake Erie Monsters (6), Manitoba Moose (5), Abbotsford Heat (4), Hamilton Bulldogs (2) and Toronto Marlies (2).

There’s one team in the Western Conference that Rockford won’t face… Rochester Americans, the farm team of the Florida Panthers and new home of Hugh Jessiman.

The Wolves have essentially the same schedule though they play one fewer game inside the division.  They also won’t face Rochester.  But the Wolves get two additional games with Toronto and Hamilton that, when comparing to the IceHogs itinerary, are taken from Lake Erie, Manitoba and Peoria.

For a comparison though, take a look at the schedule the Toronto Marlies will play this season.  Contrary to the IceHogs, Toronto will see 20 of the AHL’s other 29 possible opponents.  They’ll face divisional rivals 48 times, seven less than Rockford sees in the West division, although the West does have one more team.  However, Toronto faces off against West division just 18 times and the remaining 14 games on their schedule are against Eastern Conference teams. (Adirondack-2, Binghamton-2, Connecticut-2, Hershey-2, Syracuse-4, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton-2)

–The Wolves will be without rugged center Andre Deveaux tonight.  Deveaux will celebrate his 27th birthday today in the sin bin as he was suspended for 1-game by the league yesterday for his actions when the Wolves were last in action at home this past Saturday night in a 3-2 regulation loss to the Texas Stars.  Deveaux was cited for butt-ending major after time expired in that contest.  The suspension fell under the discretion of the league per their supplementary discipline rule.  Deveaux fought Brandon Bollig back in October at a game in Rosemont.  Deveaux is under an AHL-contract with Chicago and not a prospect of the Atlanta Thrashers.


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