Led by a red-hot Carter Hutton in goal and a stingy penalty kill unit that has now killed off 23 consecutive power plays against, the Rockford IceHogs completed a weekend home-and-home sweep of the Chicago Wolves Saturday with a 3-2 win in Rosemont, Illinois.
In front of 15,920 at Allstate Arena, the largest crowd the IceHogs have played in front of in nearly three years, Rockford accomplished a third period come back for just the third time this season, all three coming in the past fourteen days. Saturday night’s victory also extended the Wolves losing streak to a season-high four games and brings Rockford’s road record to within one game of .500 at 9-10-1-2.
Carter Hutton stopped 37 shots on Saturday in his fifth consecutive start (4-1-0-0). In those five starts, Hutton boasts a 1.39 GAA and 95.1% save percentage.
Saturday re-matched two teams that had played 24 hours earlier in Rockford. On Friday night, Rostislav Olesz’s goal midway through the second period stood as the difference in a 3-2 IceHogs’ victory.
Olesz wasted little time getting the scoring started on Saturday down the road in Rosemont. Olesz took a feed from Jeremy Morin at Rockford’s defensive blue line after Morin had created a turnover. With a burst of speed, Olesz peddled up the left side of the ice. Wolves’ starter Eddie Lack came out to challenge Olesz but whiffed on a poke-check attempt and as the Rockford sniper wheeled down below the goal line, Lack was run over by his own defenseman and Olesz had an easy wrap-around into an empty Chicago net to give the IceHogs a 1-0 lead just 2:01 into the contest.
A short time later, Chris DiDomenico put his team down a man with an offensive zone interference penalty. Later on, Ryan Stanton was scrambling behind Carter Hutton’s net and referee Brett Montsion called Stanton for closing his hand on the puck. Rockford’s penalty kill, which was stellar again on this night, kept Chicago off the board however.
Rockford’s lead did not hold much longer though. Rob Flick lost a defensive zone draw to Michael Davies, who with help from Michael Duco, got the puck back to the point where Vancouver Canucks top prospect Kevin Connauton was waiting. Connauton quickly released a shot from the top of the point which Carter Hutton didn’t pick up and the Wolves evened the score with 5:49 remaining in the opening period.
The IceHogs came out strong but the two penalties, though killed off successfully, seemed to take some wind out of their sails and swing the momentum in the favor of the home team. Rockford did not register a shot on goal for the final nine minutes of the opening twenty.
Hutton stopped 12 shots in all in the first period, none bigger than a Darren Haydar chance Hutton blocked with his right arm with 1:41 on the clock. Haydar, a University of New Hampshire alumnus, was vying for his 100th regular season goal as a member of the Wolves, and 264th of his AHL career (675 games played). He would not meet that milestone on this night.
The second period began with more of the same, the Wolves dictating the pace to Rockford.
Tim Miller gave Chicago a 2-1 lead on the Wolves’ 23rd shot of the game at the 13:53 mark of the middle stanza. Byron Bitz had attempted a shot from the slot but it got knocked down and eluded several players as it bounced towards the goal. Hutton reached out with his stick but failed to corral or swat the loose puck away. Just then, Miller took hold of the puck and quickly fired it past Hutton to give the Wolves the one goal advantage.
1:55 into the third period after a Brandon Pirri offensive zone face off win; Brian Connelly got the puck and fired it into traffic. The puck was redirected on the way in and slipped past Eddie Lack to tie the game 2-2.
Two minutes later, Brandon Pirri was called for holding on a penalty that could have easily gone either way. Pirri was guilty of getting his hand in on Nolan Baumgartner’s ribs, but the wily veteran blue liner grasped ahold of Pirri’s arm and drew the call sending Chicago to their 3rd power play. The Wolves best chance came during a goal mouth scramble at the end of penalty, but Hutton stood tall once more.
Just after an unsuccessful IceHogs’ power play, Byron Froese settled a bouncing puck, turned defenseman Sebastien Erixon inside-out and fired a wrister far side over Eddie Lack to give the IceHogs the 3-2 lead.
“The puck was bouncing, so it’s a tough play for a d-man always,” said Froese, who had 43 goals in Red Deer last season and now 4 with the IceHogs. “I kind of cut across and shot across the body. I don’t think [Eddie Lack] was expecting that.”
Hutton made a flurry of stops from there to preserve the lead, the biggest coming on Wolves’ captain Darren Haydar’s follow-up attempt with 4 minutes to go. A fourth and final Chicago power play produced very little as the IceHogs penalty killers remained stingy.
“Chicago’s got a great team, and have a lot of skilled forwards,” said Hutton, who has nine of Rockford’s last ten wins. “After beating [the Wolves] last night and then coming to their home rink, we knew they were going to come out flying. We did a great job late on the penalty kill. I don’t know if they even got a shot.”
As mentioned, the IceHogs PK has successfully nullified their opposition’s past 23 power plays.
Froese, an integral member of the PK team, talked about the keys to that team’s success.
“I think its sacrificing the body,” Froese said after Saturday’s win. “We have a lot of guys blocking shots, paying the price for the team. It’s just work ethic. We didn’t like where we were at, so we just wanted to bear down.”
The win gives Rockford its 3rd win of the season (3-4-0-0) against the Wolves. The two squads will meet five more times and finish their season series by the end of February. Last season, the IceHogs were 5-5 versus the Wolves, but two of those wins came in overtime, surrendering the extra point to Chicago.
Rockford’s busy weekend continues on Sunday when they host the Milwaukee Admirals at BMO Harris Bank Center. Puck drop is 5:05pm. It’s also “Blackhawks Day” at the BMO. Nick Leddy, Bryan Bickell and Hawks’ assistant coach Mike Haviland will be on hand signing autographs. Jim Cornelison will also be there to sing the national anthem.
The IceHogs might be catching a break in as they’re facing Milwaukee at a time when they’ve lost seven of their last ten games. The Admirals snapped a 6-game road losing streak on Thursday at Lake Erie and they’re now 8-8-0-1 away from Bradley Center. On the flip side, Milwaukee has been off since that game in Cleveland on Thursday, so they will travel to Rockford on Sunday well-rested.
Expect Jeremy Smith to start between the pipes for the Admirals. Smith is the AHL’s wins leader (18-9-1-1) at the moment. He also boasts high marks in goals against (2.26 – 6th AHL) and save percentage (91.6% – 14th) despite registering just one shutout to this point.
Alexander Salak’s (ankle sprain) return is imminent, so it will be interesting to see who starts in goal for Rockford. Hutton recently started three games in four days and won the front and back end of those. However, when he was asked to tend the net on three consecutive nights in early December, Hutton gave up 5 goals in a 5-2 loss at Peoria on December 4th. Ted Dent prefers to ride the hot pads in goal and the team is playing very well in front of Hutton right now. If the decision had to be made today, Alec Richards would likely be packing his bags for Toledo.
Hutton says he can’t worry about personnel moves that may come from Salak’s full recovery.
“It’s the way it works, right,” Hutton said. “It’s something you can’t really concern yourself with. Even in training camp, once they signed (Ray) Emery, I kind of knew something was going to happen. So, you just worry about trying to win hockey games and help the team win right now.
“No matter what happens, you just deal with it.”
–IceHogs lines, pairings and scratches Saturday night
Jeremy Morin – Brandon Pirri – Byron Froese
Rostislav Olesz – Pete Leblanc – Brandon Segal
Philippe Paradis – Chris DiDomenico – Brandon Bollig
Brandon Svendsen – Rob Flick – Paul Zanette
Brian Connelly – Shawn Lalonde
Ryan Stanton – Brian Fahey
Dylan Olsen – Ben Youds
Carter Hutton (backup: Alec Richards)
Scratches: D-Joe Lavin, C/W-David Gilbert, LW-Kyle Beach (right shoulder), G-Alexander Salak (ankle)….
Power play I: Olesz-Pirri-Segal w/ Leblanc and Connelly
Power play II: Morin-Froese-Flick w/ Olsen and Fahey (Lalonde)
Penalty kill forwards: Froese-Segal, Paradis-Bollig, Leblanc-Svendsen (Morin)
Penalty kill defense: Stanton-Fahey, Olsen-Youds
–Rostislav Olesz returned to action in Friday’s win after missing five games with a shoulder ailment. Olesz has posted a goal in three of the past four games he’s played in.
–Paul Zanette, a first-year pro on an AHL contract with Rockford, made his AHL debut on Saturday. Zanette injured his hand in Toledo and just recently got back into the line up after missing two months. He was recalled from Toledo on Wednesday but was a healthy scratch on Friday.
–Veteran center Brett McLean left the IceHogs this week to play out his season in Switzerland with Lugano. McLean also served as alternate captain on the Hogs.
In 36 games with Rockford, McLean posted 7 goals and 21 points. He had fell back into basically a checking role and even moved off center to wing many nights over the past month. McLean hadn’t been producing much offense of late (0g-3a last 13gp). In his last 24 games played in an IceHog uniform, McLean posted 2 goals, 6 assists and was also a minus-11.
The decision to leave the organization was McLean’s. He signed with the Hawks this past summer hoping to get another shot at the NHL. More so as of late, McLean came to the realization that door was probably closed and he can make more money in Switzerland than in the AHL right now. Lugano had a spot open for a foreigner so McLean signed. The Spengler Cup, which the Blackhawks allowed McLean to participate in back during Christmas week, was staged in Switzerland.
Former Blackhawks defenseman Jordan Hendry also plays for Lugano. The Lugano team is also the same team the Blackhawks sent seven players (Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin, John Scott, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Viktor Stalberg and Dylan Olsen) last August to train with the Swiss Elite league players as they prepared for the start of their season, which is a month earlier than the NHL. Barry Smith, a former assistant of Scotty Bowman’s in Detroit and pro scout with the Blackhawks last season, began the year as the head coach of Lugano but resigned after a dispute with management there in late October. Smith has since returned to the Blackhawks in his prior role.
–More from Carter Hutton on his team turning things in a positive direction in January (6-3-0-0):
“I think we’re just competing better. Especially the penalty kill, we’re obviously being aggressive. We’re keeping our third forward a lot higher and it’s really helped us a lot. We’re eliminating odd-man rushes. Before, we were giving up too many three-on-twos and two-on-ones. Now, we’re kind of squashing those plays and it has really helped.”
–Where would the IceHogs be right now without their Penalty Kill? Their power play sure isn’t helping much. After the 0 for 2 against the Wolves Saturday, Rockford’s power play is now 4 for its last 49 (8.2%) which stretches back to the Christmas break.
–With McLean now gone, one player who has an opportunity to take a second-line scoring role is Pete Leblanc. The Hamilton, Ontario born center caught fire earlier in the season after he was sat for a few games by Ted Dent. Of late, Leblanc hasn’t had much luck finding the score sheet. Leblanc has no points in his past 8 games, and just 2 goals over the last 13 games. Now centering a line between Rostislav Olesz and captain Brandon Segal, as well as playing a point on the first power play unit, Leblanc is expected to contribute to the offense.
–Chicago Wolves lines, pairings and scratches in Saturday’s contest vs RFD
Anton Rodin – Steven Reinprecht – Mark Mancari
Bill Sweatt – Nathan Longpre – Darren Haydar
Tim Miller – Jordan Schroeder – Byron Bitz
Michael Duco – Michael Davies – Antoine Roussel
Sebastien Erixon – Kevin Connauton
Yann Sauve – Mark Matheson
Nolan Baumgartner – (various)
Eddie Lack (backup: Matt Climie)
Scratches: D-Adam Polasek, D-Ryan Parent, D-Dustin Friesen, C-Kevin Doell, W-Matt Clackson, F-Stefan Schneider, RW-Victor Oreskovich….
CHI Power play I: Duco-Reibprecht-Mancari w/ Matheson & Haydar
CHI Power play II: Sweatt-Schroeder-Bitz (Miller) w/ Connauton & Erixon (Baumgartner)
CHI Penalty kill forwards: Miller-Reinprecht, Schroeder-Sweatt
CHI Penalty kill defense: Matheson-Baumgartner, Sauve-Connauton
IceHogs individual games without a goal: Ryan Stanton (52), Brian Fahey (24), Simon Danis-Pepin (22), David Gilbert (18), Chris DiDomenico (18), Joe Lavin (14), Brett McLean (13), Brandon Bollig (8), Pete Leblanc (8), Dylan Olsen (6), Brandon Segal (6), Ben Youds (6), Kyle Beach (5), Shawn Lalonde (4), Philippe Paradis (4), Jeremy Morin (2), Brandon Svendsen (2), David Toews (2), Rob Flick (1), Brandon Pirri (1), Andrew Shaw (1), Ben Smith (1), Brian Connelly (-), Byron Froese (-), Jimmy Hayes (-), Rostislav Olesz (-)…..
IceHogs individual games without an assist: Byron Froese (14), Pete Leblanc (13), Brandon Svendsen (10), Dylan Olsen (7), Rob Flick (6), Philippe Paradis (6), Ryan Stanton (6), Jimmy Hayes (5), Brett McLean (4), Brandon Segal (4), David Gilbert (3), Rostislav Olesz (3), Simon Danis-Pepin (2), David Toews (2), Kyle Beach (1), Brandon Bollig (1), Brian Connelly (1), Chris DiDomenico (1), Brian Fahey (1), Joe Lavin (1), Ben Youds (1), Shawn Lalonde (-), Jeremy Morin (-), Brandon Pirri (-), Andrew Shaw (-), Ben Smith (-)…..