By Chris Block
Alexander Salak showed no signs of a goaltender who hadn’t played in two months on Friday night as he backstopped the Rockford IceHogs to a 2-1 victory over the visiting Chicago Wolves.
In fact, it was probably the best Salak has played in his 11 starts thus far as an IceHog.
“He was real good,” IceHogs coach Ted Dent said of his goaltender’s 27 save performance. “So was their guy (Eddie Lack). It was a low scoring game and real good goaltending both ways.”
The returning Salak, out of action since suffering an ankle injury during the opening seconds of the second period in a game on December 2nd against Lake Erie, looked as sharp and composed as he has to date. The Wolves came at him hard, as they had in two previous contests back in October (Salak’s first two starts of the season), bumping and crowding the goaltender’s crease often. Previously, those sorts of actions seemed to nudge Salak off his focus, once even causing Salak to throw his equipment across the ice, but not on Friday evening before a crowd of 4,501 at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
“The guys had my back,” Salak said after his 4th win [4-5-1-0, 2.87 gaa, .900 sv%] of the season. “They played really hard and I’m really thankful.
“I’m really happy to be back. It was fun. The guys played great tonight.”
Rockford’s power play got the team on the board at 3:19 of the first period. Wolves goaltender Eddie Lack had stopped a ‘Hogs shot. His rebound dropped to Wolves’ defenseman Yann Sauve who then attempted to clear the puck up the middle of the slot. His attempt was blocked down by Ben Smith who quickly wristed his 14th goal of the season, 7th on the power play to tie for the IceHogs’ lead in that category with Brandon Pirri. The assists on Smith’s goal went to Pete Leblanc and Jimmy Hayes.
The Wolves got even with a power play tally of their own at 12:45 of the opening frame. Salak thought he had the puck covered but apparently referee Jamie Koharski saw if differently and play continued. Three Wolves players poked away at Salak until he wound up in the back of the net and the puck crossed the goal line. The goal light switched on and Koharski ruled a good goal for Chicago.
IceHogs defenseman and Glenview native Brian Fahey talked to Koharski after the goal and tied to explain the call.
“I guess Jamie [Koharski] said that the puck was still loose underneath [Salak’s] pad, or somewhere,” Fahey said after the game. “But, just from where I was, I was right there and I didn’t know where the puck was. Stanton (Fahey’s defensive partner on the ice at the time) didn’t know where it was. We thought the play kind of carried on too long. I thought Salak had it covered and underneath. But, he’s the ref and that’s his job.”
The goal was scored 50 seconds into the Wolves third power play of a penalty-filled opening period.
“Unfortunately it didn’t go our way,” Fahey continued. “But we were able to bounce back and get a goal later on and win the game.”
Fahey referenced his own goal, another IceHogs power play marker a minute and a half into the second period. Fahey picked up his 3rd goal of the season, and second in four games, firing a shot through a perfect Brandon Segal screen to give Rockford a 2-1 lead at 1:26 of the middle frame. Shawn Lalonde picked up the second assist.
“I was definitely shooting for an area,” Fahey said. “But its one of those plays with traffic in front. It was great screen by Segal and good puck movement all around.”
From there, both Lack and Salak made some tremendous saves to keep the score where it was. Lack stopped 26 of 28 Rockford shots and was named the game’s third star.
Rockford is now 16-2-0-1 when leading after two periods and 11-7-1-4 in one goal games. The Wolves have yet to come back to earn a single point (0-14-0-0) when trailing after two periods this season.
The IceHogs penalty kill deserved a star of its own, thwarting five of six Wolves power play advantages on the night. Rockford had to two back-to-back late in the second period and one final Wolves power play which began with 2:57 left in regulation.
Rockford has killed 32 of their opposition’s past 34 power plays at the BMO.
The IceHogs’ power play at home hasn’t been bad itself, scoring twice on Friday and seven times overall in the past four home games. Overall, Rockford has at least one power play in each of its last five games (7 for 24).
With the victory, Rockford [21-23-1-4, 47pts] again pulls within two games of the coveted .500 mark. The IceHogs currently sit in 12th (out of 15) by way of points earned in the Western Conference although the teams behind Rockford have games in hand.
The Wolves and IceHogs rematch Saturday night, again at BMO Harris Bank Center. The game is sold out.
After Saturday, there will be only two games remaining in the Wolves-IceHogs season series and it will conclude on Sunday February 26th at the BMO. The final game of the regular season between these two at Allstate Arena happens two nights before, February 24th.
–Rockford IceHogs lines, pairings and scratches vs Wolves on Friday
Brandon Svendsen – Brandon Pirri – Ben Smith
Rostislav Olesz – Pete Leblanc – Jimmy Hayes
Brandon Segal – Chris DiDomenico – Jeremy Morin
Brandon Bollig – Rob Flick – Byron Froese
Ryan Stanton – Brian Fahey
Ben Youds – Shawn Lalonde
Joe Lavin – Simon Danis-Pepin
Alexander Salak (backup: Carter Hutton)
Scratches: Kyle Beach (right shoulder: late March)… Philippe Paradis (healthy)… Wade Brookbank (healthy)…
Power play I: Olesz-Leblanc-Hayes w/Smith & Youds
Power play II: Segal-Pirri-Morin w/Lalonde & Fahey
Penalty kill forwards: Segal-Leblanc, Bollig-Froese, Svendsen-Smith, Morin
Penalty kill defense: Stanton-Fahey, Youds-Lavin (also Lalonde)
-The IceHogs are hosting 15 sets of player’s parents this weekend. Dylan Olsen’s mom and dad are among those. Bad timing, having Dylan get recalled on Friday morning, but I’m sure his parents won’t ever complain about their son getting called up to the NHL.
On Saturday, the player’s fathers on hand will sit with their sons in the locker room prior to the game for the customary team meeting. And after Saturday’s game the players will take a team photo on the ice with their moms and dads. There’s also a luncheon on Saturday and the parents are watching the two games this weekend in BMO Harris Bank Center luxury suites.
-Another solid game all around for Brandon Segal. About the only thing the team captain isn’t doing is scoring goals (0g last 13gp) but was one of the best forwards on the ice on Friday.
-Jeremy Morin was dropped from that Pirri line during Wednesday’s loss to Lake Erie. Morin went a stretch of 18 games earlier in the season when he had just one goal. That was followed by four goals in his next six games. Since, he’s goal-less in nine games. Morin killing penalties is something he’s done from time to time, even last season. He absolutely crushed Steven Reinprecht behind Salak six minutes into the third, separating Reinprecht from the puck to clear and get a much needed line change.
-Since we’re talking about that line, Chris DiDomenico for sure is playing the best hockey he has since coming to the IceHogs prior to last season. He’s quicker and in on more plays than he’s ever been. DiDomenico had good chemistry going at the beginning of the year when centering a line for Morin, so perhaps its only a matter of time before those two get each other going. Morin isn’t getting good looks at the net and far too often his shots are getting blocked or deflected away on the way in.
-Ben Smith now has a 4-game point streak going (2g, 3a)
-Brandon Pirri is without a point in 3 and doesn’t have a goal in his last 5
-Rostislav Olesz had an empty-net goal waved off as it crossed the line just after regulation time expired. Olesz got the chance from center ice after Byron Froese won a man-on-man puck battle.
-When Jimmy Hayes first got up to the Blackhawks he was hitting everything in sight. Of course, he was excited and willing to do whatever he thought was expected of him, or was asked to do, like any young player would trying to stick in the NHL. Well, he’s not hitting much here in the AHL now.
–Chicago Wolves lines and pairings
Anton Rodin – Steven Reinprecht – Mark Mancari
Bill Sweatt – Jordan Schroeder – Darren Haydar
Tim Miller – Nathan Longpre – Michael Davies
Antoine Roussel – Stefan Schneider – Matt Clackson
Kevin Connauton – Chris Tanev
Mark Matheson – Nolan Baumgartner
Yann Sauve – Sebastien Erixon
Eddie Lack (backup: Matt Climie)
Scratches: D-Adam Polasek, D-Ryan Parent, D-J.P Testwuide, C-Kevin Doell, RW-Victor Oreskovich…