Recently, the IceHogs have put together some solid efforts. That can be said for each of their last four outings post-Christmas.
The IceHogs, however, are not a good enough team to overcome its mistakes typically, as their 11-18-1-3 clearly proves. Rockford has lost each of their last five games (0-4-0-1) and rank dead-last in the AHL, both in terms of their record and goals against (average of 3.8 per game).
Including Saturday night’s 3-2 regulation loss at Peoria, the team has lost its last three games by a margin of 4 goals, and that includes a late 145-foot empty netter by the Wolves on Thursday. At home Friday night, the IceHogs battled hard to pick up a point and get the game to a shootout, but Alec Richards let pucks by on the first three shooters he faced and Rockford lost the game 4-3.
A short-handed squad of IceHogs traveled to Peoria on New Years Eve afternoon for their 9th meeting of the 2011-12 season with the Peoria Rivermen.
Rockford was without Jimmy Hayes, who had been called up to Chicago and made his NHL debut against the Red Wings the night before. Alternate team captain Brett McLean was loaned to Team Canada for the annual Spengler Cup and was missing his fourth and final game before rejoining the IceHogs next week. Philippe Paradis missed all four games this week with an illness. Goaltender Alexander Salak (lower body sprain) and Kyle Beach (dislocated right shoulder) have missed one and two months respectively. On top of all that, both Rostislav Olesz (lower body) and Shawn Lalonde were injured in Thursday’s contest against the Chicago Wolves in Rosemont and are now out.
All seven of those players have been key components on this IceHogs team at one point or another. While one could argue, with the exception of Olesz’s first week on the team, that none of those seven players can be considered among the top three players this season’s IceHogs, the absence of McLean, Hayes and Olesz in particular severely depletes and already suspect supporting cast.
In lieu of those regulars currently out, defenseman Ben Youds was cast duly as a forward and rear guard this week. Carter Hutton looked sharp immediately upon his recall on December 3rd, but got lit up in two starts this week to the tune of a 75.7% save percentage and 8.07 goals against. David Gilbert, who has spent the majority of the season in Toledo, on Rockford’s fourth line or in a dress suit is thrust into a scoring line role. Rob Flick, Chris DiDomenico and David Toews have also been recalled to fill the gaps. Byron Froese, who right now is a fourth line center when accurately cast, is being forced into a right wing slot on the third line with DiDomenico centering.
So, with even less room than normal for error, the underdog IceHogs closed out the 2011 calendar on Saturday with their mid-state rival, the Peoria Rivermen before a crowd of 6,226 at Carver Arena.
On a night when discipline was key, the IceHogs accumulated 59 minutes in penalties and found themselves short-handed 8 times, including a late 5-on-3 situation that managed to cost them at least one point and the game.
One of Rockford’s top three forwards, Jeremy Morin, was ejected 7 minutes into the third period and with the game tied 2-2 for a mild, but senseless, 3rd Man In penalty.
Head coach Ted Dent lost his cool after a non-call 13 minutes into the third frame and got himself ejected when he broke a stick over the boards and tossed it onto the ice. Dent was reacting to referee Shaun Davis missing a clear tripping penalty at center ice when two Peoria skaters converged on Brandon Pirri and one, Adam Cracknell, clipped Pirri’s left skate. The Rivermen had just taken the lead two minutes prior during the 5-on-3 with DiDomenico and Flick sent to the box. The official cited DiDomenico for a weak, but still lazy, DiDomenico slash. Then Flick took a Peoria player down with a hook to prevent a scoring chance on the delayed penalty call.
This was the first time the IceHogs had seen referee Shaun Davis this season. Davis is notorious for evening out the power plays by the end of a game. During the first 27 minutes of Saturday’s contest, Rockford had 5 power plays to Peoria’s 2. For the remainder of the game, Rockford had no opportunities with the man advantage to Peoria’s 6. The power plays were 7-5 in favor of Peoria at the time Pirri was tripped at center ice while carrying the puck, but still, Davis overlooked the obvious trip. And Dent was furious.
To begin the game, the team’s traded power play chances but the game stayed scoreless until Peoria struck first during the IceHogs’ second power play.
A Hogs’ turnover led to defenseman Cade Fairchild rushing the puck up the right side. Fairchild slid a cross-ice pass under Brian Connelly’s stick to forward Brett Sonne who baited Alec Richards’ poke-check attempt then stepped around the goaltender and gave Peoria the 1-0 lead. It was the third short-handed goal Rockford has given up this year, but the previous two both came with the goaltender pulled for an extra-attacker.
Minutes later, with Peoria on its second power play, Richards kept deficit to one with a few huge stops on Jonathan Cheechoo (twice with the right pad) and then a big glove save on Phil McRae.
At 4:17 of the second period Rockford got on the board when Andrew Shaw tried muscle an attempt by Ben Bishop’s right leg pad and Brandon Segal managed to poke the rebound by the 6’7” netminder. The Hogs’ fourth power play finally resulted in a goal, tying the score 1-1. The goal was Segal’s 11th and fifth this season against Peoria.
Later in the middle period, Rob Flick went the box for interference. On the ensuing power play, Cade Fairchild’s centering pass got through three bodies in front of Rockford’s goal and redirected off Dylan Olsen’s skate and past Alec Richards to give Peoria the 2-1 lead. Fairchild got credit for the goal.
The visitors mostly dominated the second period, outshooting Peoria 20-6 in the frame alone, but still found themselves down a goal after forty minutes.
Brandon Pirri scored 30 seconds into the third period to draw the two sides even. Pirri took a Jeremy Morin pass on the left wing and sniped a perfectly placed shot over Bishop’s shoulder and inside the near post. Brian Connelly was credited with the other assist, giving him at least a point in seven of the past eight contests (2g, 6a).
This goal came eight seconds after Brett Sonne fought Ryan Stanton. Sonne jumped Stanton after the Hogs’ defenseman pinched down the wall and laid the body on winger Tyler Shattock as Peoria tried to exit their zone. Shattock saw Stanton coming and turned away slightly as Stanton approached. Sonne evidently saw it as a hit from behind. He grabbed Stanton and threw a right hand before Stanton had a chance to accept the invitation. There was no instigator called. Stanton and Sonne received five minutes for fighting each.
Then came the parade of IceHogs penalties. Brandon Segal tripped Jonathan Cheechoo in front of the penalty benches a minute after Pirri’s goal but Rockford killed Peoria’s 5th power play.
6:47 into the third, Brandon Pirri just eluded an open-ice hit from Brennan Evans but Evans clipped Pirri with an elbow on the way by. Andrew Shaw immediately challenged Evans despite a five-inch height disadvantage. Shaw and Evans both got fighting majors but there was no penalty called for the hit on Pirri.
At the end of that Shaw-Evans fight, Jeremy Morin senselessly reached in and grabbed Evans as the linesman tried to separate the combatants. This ignited another scrum as players from both sides converged. Morin was given a game misconduct for being the 3rd Man In to the fight. A technicality, but still a just call as Morin had no business putting his hands on Evans at that point. Rockford also got lucky though as Morin also shoved Stefan Della Rovere after things had calmed down again. Della Rovere was given a ten minute misconduct but Morin received no additional penalty and no power play resulted.
Three minutes later DiDomenico took a light but needless whack at defenseman Brett Ponich’s hands deep in Peoria’s zone and right in front of referee Shaun Davis, who immediately threw his right arm up. As the play continued on the delayed call, Rob Flick literally yanked a Peoria shooter down in the slot to prevent a scoring chance. Davis got that one as well (though he could have also got Flick five seconds earlier for the same thing DiDomencio did) and Peoria received a 5-on-3 power play.
Again, Richards was coming huge on this penalty kill making huge tops on Cheechoo, Jay Barribal and Cade Fairchild. Richards, however, could not handle a Phil McRae blast with nine seconds to go in the Peoria two-man advantage and McRae gave the Rivermen a 3-2 lead with 8:36 to go in regulation.
Then came the non-call on the Pirri trip and Dent’s ejection. Alec Richards had to make another huge stop on the ensuing Peoria power play when Brandon Pirri’s clearing attempt up the middle of the ice hit Joe Lavin in the shoulder and bounced to a Peoria shooter.
At the end of three games in as many nights, Rockford mustered some pressure, but didn’t register a goal in the final four minutes of the game. Peoria won by the final score of 3-2 and have won 6 of the 9 contests this season.
For Peoria, it was their 17th one-goal game in 34 contests. They are 8-6-2-1 in those games.
With the defeat, Rockford now trails 4th place Peoria by nine points in the West Divison.
The IceHogs have lost their last five games and eight of ten.
Rockford posted a record of 3-8-0-3 in December.
—Saturday night’s lines, combos and scratches…
Jeremy Morin – Brandon Pirri – Andrew Shaw
David Gilbert – Pete Leblanc – Ben Smith
Brandon Segal – Chris DiDomenico – Byron Froese
Brandon Bollig – Rob Flick – David Toews
Ryan Stanton – Brian Connelly
Joe Lavin – Brian Fahey
Dylan Olsen – Ben Youds
Starter: Alec Richards
Backup: Carter Hutton
Scratches: Alexander Salak (left leg)… Kyle Beach (right shoulder)… Philippe Paradis (sick)… Rostislav Olesz (lower body)… Shawn Lalonde (inj)… Brett McLean (on loan Team Canada)…
Jimmy Hayes also on recall (Dec 29) with Blackhawks for this one.
Power play I: Morin-Pirri-Smith w/Leblanc & Connelly
Power play II: Shaw-DiDomenico-Segal w/Lavin & Fahey
–For Brandon Pirri, it was the 4th game in 4 nights, starting Wednesday when he was up with the Blackhawks facing the LA Kings. Pirri had no room for error on his goal and seemed surprised himself that he beat Bishop over the right shoulder. Pirri now ranks 9th in AHL scoring (14g, 18a) in 31 games played.
–Cade Fairchild, who will be a mainstay on the St. Louis Blues blue line soon enough if he’s not used as part of a deal for a scorer, had a hand in all three Peoria goals. He was named the game’s first star. In 8 games versus Rockford this year, Fairchild has 3 goals and 7 assists.
–Ben Bishop stopped 35 shots. He was more active than that number indicates but Rockford’s shooters had trouble hitting the target.
–Not sure what the Lalonde injury is. He was put hard into the end boards by Viktor Oreskovich of the Wolves on Thursday. That was with 11:47 left in the third period. Lalonde had 4 or 5 shifts after that but wasn’t out for the end of that game and missed both Friday and Saturday’s games.
–Won’t speculate on the injury but Rostislav Olesz appeared to aggravate a lower body injury also on Thursday in Rosemont, Illinois. Olesz was battling for positioning in front of the Wolves’ net with defenseman Nolan Baumgartner when Baumgartner shoved Olesz down off the play (could have been interference). Olesz appeared to trip on Stefan Schneider’s stick as he was falling backwards and got up gingerly.
–As mentioned above, Carter Hutton had a rough week, getting pulled from starts both in Milwaukee and Chicago this week. Richards was solid. So, at this point, Richards is considered Rockford’s number one goalie with Alexander Salak out.
–Richards had 2 starts and appeared in all 4 games this week. He picked up the loss in three of the games, including at Chicago as the Hogs came back to cover the three goals Hutton gave up in the first period before getting the yank. Richards with week in 174 minutes posted a 90.7% save percentage and 2.75 goals against, allowing 8 goals on 86 shots.
–IceHogs power play was 1 for 5 on the night and 2/20 on the week.
–Conversely, the Hogs PK gave up 9 goals (5 in Milwaukee) on 24 chances.
–Last season at this point, Rockford had a record of 14-13-1-4. And this season they are 11-18-1-3.
–Saturday night in Peoria was the beginning of a 7-game road trip. 9 of the 13 games in January are on the road.
–Rockford next travels to Houston for a game on Friday. It’ll be the first time this season they’ve faced the Aeros, and former teammate Jeff Taffe. The ex-Hog has seven goals this season, four game-winners, to go along with 16 helpers. He’s also played 3 games up with the Wild this season and has two assists there. Last season up to this point, Taffe had some injury issues that limited him to 27 games, but he had 9 goals and 12 assists in that span. He’s a slow starter. He finished last season with 30 goals and 67 points in 74 games. Taffe didn’t start his big run until mid-January though, so the Hogs might be safe.