Mar 192011

A second period parade to the penalty box saw the Rockford IceHogs go from being down two goals, to heading to their dressing room trailing 5-0 after forty minutes.

After an evenly played first period saw Rockford head to the break down 1-0, the IceHogs had no answer for the visiting Oklahoma City Barons in the middle period.

“We just didn’t physically compete at all,” head coach Bill Peters said after his team’s second consecutive 5-1 home loss. 

“We had some power play chances in the first period; hit the post on one of them on Jeff Taffe’s shot from the point.  Down 1-0 after one, I thought we generated some chances, but I thought they went to work and dug in in the second and we took a bunch of penalties to make it hard on ourselves.  And we couldn’t kill the penalties that we did take.  In essence, that was the game right there in the middle period.”

Just before the bloodletting began, Barons’ winger Colin McDonald scored his first goal of the night on an easy tap in at the crease when he found a Hannu Toivonen rebound to make the game 2-0.

Then, the IceHogs made a comeback bid next to impossible.  Three conscecutive hooking penalties by Shawn Lalonde, Ben Smith and then Ryan Stanton put the Hogs down a man for the next five minutes. 

Lalonde’s minor was killed off but Stanton’s infraction overlapped Smith’s hooking penalty and gave the Barons a 5-on-3 advantage for 33 seconds.  McDonald wasted little time posting his second of the night when he batted a bouncing puck in the slot, barely slipping it by a desperate Toivonen.

33 seconds later, Philippe Cornet scored his 6th of the year to wash out the rest of Stanton’s minor.

“Most of the penalties we took, we had our stick at least waist high,” captain Garnet Exelby explained.  “And everybody knows in pro hockey now as soon as you lift your stick up off the ice at all, wherever you hit the guy, you’re gonna get a penalty for something.  So, we need to be smarter in that fashion.”

The frustrated captain compounded the problem himself after Cornet’s goal, though.  Exelby roughed up a Barons’ player and took a trip to the box alone.  Colin McDonald would score for a third time forty-three seconds later to put the game out of reach.

The hat-trick gave McDonald 31 goals on the season.  He leapfrogs teammate Alexandre Giroux (currently on recall with Edmonton) and ranks 3rd in goals scored in the AHL behind league leader Nigel Dawes (33g, 55gp).

Peters didn’t mince words after the loss.

“We’ve got a little bit of a home phobia obviously,” Peters said.   “We go out on the road and we play hard and we play together and we’re a very unselfish group.  We come home and I think we’ve been selfish both nights.  We’ve given up ten goals in our last two home games.  And we’ve been very selfish in the way we go about our business.  I hope that’s the end of that.  I’m tired of seeing it.  I’m sure (the players) are tired of it a little bit.  But I know I’m sick of seeing it.”

Rockford’s penalty kill has been getting a workout this month.  They’ve been short-handed 44 times and allowed 13 goals (70.5%).

The IceHogs are the 5th most penalized team in the AHL and rank 24th at home on the PK.  At home, they’re short-handed on average, 4.1 times per game.

Rockford has lost 5 of their last 6 at home and have been outscored 35-21 over the past nine home contests.  They are now 13-17-2-2 at home this season.  Only two teams have worse home records, Rochester and Albany.

Since joining the AHL four years ago, Rockford has never finished a season with a losing record on home ice.  With six home games remaining, the best they can do is 19 wins.  Their previous low total was in the 2008-09 season when they went 22-16-0-2.

Exelby provided some insight on why the team is better away from home.

“We’re a little bit careless at times,” said Exelby.  “We’re doing things better on the road because you get tired from traveling.  You get tired from playing all the games back-to-back.  So you’re not going to do anything that makes it harder on yourself or makes it so you’re playing more time in your own end.  Or taking too many penalties; things of that sort.  So, you’re keeping those to a minimum because you want to keep that energy conserved for when you get a chance in the offensive end.  We’re getting away from that right now at home.  We just need to sort of unplug and reset everything and get back to it tomorrow night.”

Kyle Beach scored the lone IceHogs’ goal, ending a personal ten-game drought.  Dylan Olsen and Shawn Lalonde picked up the assists on Beach’s 3rd period power play tally.  Three of Beach’s last five goals have come by way of the man advantage.  Prior to the drought he had posted four goals and seven points in seven games.

The two referees seemed to be giving the IceHogs every opportunity to make the score respectable in the third period and were quick on the whistle.  After seeing five power plays in the middle period, Oklahoma City saw themselves down a man four times in the third, including back-to-back to begin the third period.  Beach’s conversion came on the second chance of the final frame.

Rockford is 1-3-1-0 on the season vs Oklahoma City and 0-2-1-0 at the MetroCentre.  They’ve allowed an average of 5 goals against in those three at home.

Toivonen wasn’t good, but can’t squarely take the blame for the loss.  He was pulled for Alec Richards after the fourth goal.  The juicy rebound he gave up to Mark Arcobello on the first period goal looked worse because neither of his defenseman, Cullimore or Olsen, were within 20 feet of the crease.  Two of the goals in the second period didn’t make him look any better when the Barons’ scorers halfway fanned on the shot but still got their shot past a scrambling Toivonen.

In the two losses since returning from the 7-game road trip, Toivonen has given up 10 goals on 50 shots (80% save percentage) and sees a GAA of 6.51.  In contrast, in his eight previous appearances Toivonen had a 2.01 GAA with a .945 save percentage and a record of 4-1-1-1.

Toivonen’s run hot and very cold this season.  Alec Richards probably gets the start Saturday vs Peoria.

Jassen Cullimore in particular had a rough night.  He was on the ice when four of the Baron’s five goals were scored.  The Olsen-Cullimore pairing was a minus-2 for the night.

The IceHogs have a quick turnaround to make things right at home.  Peoria will visit the MetroCentre on Saturday night.  It is also Niklas Hjalmarsson Bobblehead night for the first 2,500 fans.  A big crowd is expected.

As to what the team needs to do against Peoria to start a winning trend on home ice, Exelby essentially suggested the team treat it as a road game.

“We got to get back to keeping it simple and efficient.   I think that’s the key to our success on the road,” Exelby said.  “Its because we’re not playing in our own arena.  We’re not sleeping in our own beds.  We’re not necessarily trying to impress anybody.  We’re just being efficient and moving the puck – making the easy plays.  We’re trying to do too much at times here at home and its kind of shooting us in the foot so to speak.”

A familiar face and foe will be with the Rivermen on Saturday.  Former IceHogs winger and Blackhawks prospect Akim Aliu is with Peoria on loan from the Thrashers’ organization.  Aliu had been demoted from the Chicago Wolves to the Gwinnett Gladiators in January.  He joined the Rivermen on March 7th and scored against the Wolves on March 11th.  Aliu has a goal and an assist in 5 games so far with Peoria.

Much like Oklahoma City, the Rivermen are decimated because of numerous players having been recalled to their parent club, the St. Louis Blues.  Peoria is expected to be without T. J. Hensick, Phil McRae, Adam Cracknell, Chris Porter, defenseman Nikita Nikitin and Ian Cole and agitator Ryan Reaves.  I suppose that is where Aliu comes into play.  Always fun when Beach and Aliu get together.

Rockford’s lines and pairing on Friday

Rob Klinkhammer – Jeff Taffe – Ben Smith

Kyle Beach – Evan Brophey – Igor Makarov

Mathis Olimb – Pete Leblanc – Brandon Pirri

Wade Brookbank – Zach Torquato – Kyle Hagel

On defense:

Garnet Exelby – Shawn Lalonde

Ryan Stanton – Brian Connelly

Jassen Cullimore – Dylan Olsen

Scratches:  Brandon Bollig, Ivan Vishnevskiy (upper), Jeremy Morin (upper)

Kyle Beach returned to the lineup after missing the past two games due to injury…. Ivan Vishnevskiy has been out since Feb 13th…. There is still no timetable for Jeremy Morin’s return.  He’s with the team and on the active roster should be get clearance to play in the next three weeks.  IceHogs have 13 games remaining in their 2010-11 season.  This will be the first time in four years since moving into the AHL that they’ve missed out on postseason.

–Beach credited the team’s trainers for helping him get ready after last playing March 9th at Hamilton.

“I felt pretty good,” Beach said after Friday’s loss.  “A little bit winded in the first period.  But the coaches took care of me in practice.  I think they did a great job in getting me ready.

“D.J. [D.J. Jones, Athletic trainer] always takes good care of us.  Makes sure we’re in the gym and moving around.  He won’t let you play if you’re not ready.  So, I’ve gotta give him credit; give Shane [Lawson, Strength & Conditioning coach] credit for working me out and making me ride the bike even though it sucks, but felt pretty good and hopefully I can get better tomorrow.”

Kyle Hagel dropped the gloves with Barons’ left wing Jesse Gimblett right off the opening face off.   Not much of a battle there.  It also seemed to catch a sparse Friday night crowd of 3,668 off guard as they weren’t really as into to the fight as the Rockford fans normally are.  The fight put Hagel over the 200 PIM mark for the season.  Prior to the season he’d collected 261 in 92 games.  He now has 204 penalty minutes and 24 fighting majors in 64 games, just this season.

–Oklahoma City were without five regulars who’d been recalled to Edmonton within that past week.  Eight Barons from the opening night roster are either with the Oilers or injured.  Oklahoma City came into the night having lost 5 of their last 6 games.

–Barons goaltender Jeff Deslauriers made 40 saves for the win and was named the game’s third star.  22 of those saves came in the third period with the game well in hand.  Martin Gerber missed the game with an upper body injury he suffered in the Barons’ 2-1 shootout loss as Grand Rapids on Wednesday.

Garnet Exelby skated in his 600th professional (AHL/NHL) game Friday night.  Wade Brookbank will reach 700 in the next game he plays.

Jeff Taffe has now gone 8 games without a goal since his league-high 15-game point streak was snapped on March 2nd in Houston.  Taffe hasn’t scored since his center Ryan Potulny was traded.  Potulny was included in the deal sending him to Ottawa with a 2nd round pick in 2011 in exchange for Chris Campoli on Feb 28th.  Taffe is also without a point in his last 4 games.  Since the trade, Taffe has moved over to take Potulny’s spot at center, with Ben Smith moving up to the right wing and Rob Klinkhammer on the left.   Aside from the occasional draws or penalty kill, Taffe hasn’t played much center this year until the Potulny move.  Of course he did skate at center in his one-game call up with the Blackhawks on February 12th.

Brandon Pirri has just 1 goal in his last 19 games.  Seven assists in those 19.  As noted above, Pirri has skated at right wing since returning from injury on March 8th.

Pete Leblanc, who started the season on fire, has no points in his last nine games.

Mathis Olimb has 0 goals in 21 games (5a).  Looking further back, Olimb has 1 goal in his last 33 games (12a).  He’s been a huge disappointment after a promising beginning.  Shoulder surgery is a tough thing to come back from.  Some guys will tell you it takes a full year before it is 100 percent but Olimb the Hawks can’t justify bringing him back looking at those numbers.

— Bill Peters regular season IceHogs’ coaching record is now 111-95-7-14 (.535 percentage of points earned)

— Rockford has dropped back-to-back games now at home, by identical 5-1 scores, to Chicago and the Barons.  This following an encouraging road trip that saw the club earn 10 of a possible 14 points in going 4-1-1-1 on that recent swing.

–Last summer the Hawks felt they were forced to trade the rights to left wing Billy Sweatt because they were concerned they would need to use that roster spot elsewhere, and because the contract Sweatt was looking for likely wouldn’t fit should he be NHL worthy.

Well, Sweatt hasn’t cracked the Vancouver lineup this season, but he is 9th in AHL rookie scoring; 70 games played, 17 goals, 24 assists, 41 points and 4 game-winning goals.

–Kyle Greentree, an IceHog last season, now playing for the Hershey Bears, has 26 goals in 66 games and is 12th overall in league scoring with 56 points.  Greentree posted 25 goals in 64 games (45 points) with Rockford in ’09-10.  Hershey (42-22-1-5) is significantly better than the IceHogs, this year or last, but that’s another guy this IceHogs’ team could use.  They must take much more care next season with how they distribute their veteran contracts.  (Greentree will fall under that next season, not this year)   Hugh Jessiman was an enormous disappointment on the ice.  Great person off the ice and representing the team in the community, but unfortunately he was thought to be a sure 20-goal contributor and he managed just 3 in 25 games before getting dealt to Florida.  Jessiman had a tough luck year with injuries, but when he went down, they had no one capable of contributing those lost points.

— Oklahoma City is staying in the area for the weekend.  They’re in the middle of 9 game road trip.  Saturday and Sunday they’ll be hosted by the Chicago Wolves in Rosemont.  Tuesday its off to Milwaukee before three games next weekend, all in Houston.

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