By Chris Block
After an all-around strong performance in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Wolves on Friday night, the Rockford IceHogs couldn’t overcome mistakes against the same team, in the same setting twenty-four hours later.
A juicy rebound goal by Rostislav Olesz and a Shawn Lalonde shot that went off Jimmy Hayes’ pant leg and in was all the IceHogs could muster against Matt Climie on Saturday night before the second-biggest crowd of the season in Rockford’s BMO Harris Bank Center.
That wouldn’t be enough as the Wolves scored goals in bunches to defeat Rockford by a final score of 6-2 in front of a sell-out crowd of 6,164.
Carter Hutton was mercifully pulled from his net by IceHogs coach Ted Dent after the Wolves scored three goals in 2:34 midway through the second period. Hutton was able to stop 15 of the 20 shots he saw in 28:23 of action but he didn’t have much chance on a few of those goals.
“I apologized to Hutts because our team wasn’t there in front of him,” Dent noted of speaking to Hutton and explaining the switch between the second and third periods.
Alexander Salak came in to relieve Hutton, one night after his victorious 2-1, 27-save return to action after being sidelined ten weeks with an ankle injury. Salak stopped all 15 shots he faced over 31 minutes in relief of Hutton on Saturday. Salak was pulled for an extra attacker with three and a half minutes to go when Chicago notched its sixth and final goal of the evening into the vacated Rockford net.
“It was a really tough loss,” said IceHogs captain Brandon Segal after his team’s 24th regulation loss in 50 games. “We came out hard. We got the first goal. We did what we wanted to do. It just seemed when they got their first (goal) we kind of sat back. We can’t do that especially against those guys. They have a lot of guys who can put the puck in the net. We kind of had the life sucked out of us tonight.”
“It was one of those games, our execution wasn’t that good,” Dent explained. “And I thought our work ethic wasn’t where it needed to be either.
“Every day is a new day,” Dent said when asked to compare Friday night to Saturday’s game. “You never know what you’re going to get. It’s attitude. It’s mental approach.
“Chicago is a good hockey team. I thought their defense really controlled the game and we couldn’t establish that much pressure after the first period.”
Now fifty games into the season, the IceHogs (21-24-1-4, .470) are in a spot they’ve earned with inconsistent effort and play. Two weeks ago, Rockford finished a month of January that saw them go 9-3-0-1 overall and 4-0-0-0 on home ice in the month. Since, the IceHogs have gone 1-3-0-0. Those four games have come against Lake Erie (1 – a .500 team) and three against the Wolves.
Rockford struck first on Saturday. Darren Haydar gave the IceHogs their first power play of the night when he turned a puck over to Brandon Segal leading to Haydar tripping up Jeremy Morin at the visitor’s blue line. On the ensuing power play, Ben Youds’ right point shot was blocked down by Wolves’ goaltender Matt Climie, but right to Rostislav Olesz who had an open net to shoot at since Climie had drifted out to shut off the angles on Youds’ attempt. Rockford struck first against the Wolves for the fifth game in a row. The IceHogs had also won three of the four previous meetings.
Chicago tied the game eight minutes later when Michael Davies chopped at a puck in a scrum of players in front of Rockford’s net. The puck jumped into the air and came down over the back of Carter Hutton’s shoulder and into the net at 14:32 of the period.
A 1:32 later, Mark Mancari accepted a short pass along the goal line from Steven Reinprecht and Mancari roofed a shot far side over Hutton’s left shoulder as the goaltender was hugging the near post to give the Wolves a 2-1 advantage.
Rockford responded with a ferocious first few minutes in the second. Shawn Lalonde was originally given credit for the goal at the 1:02 mark but it was later changed to Hayes for the puck redirecting off his pant leg. Hayes had been circling with the puck in the neutral zone before dishing it off to Leblanc. As Leblanc gained the blue line, Hayes went to the net and Leblanc sent the puck across to the right point where Lalonde set up his shot.
Soon the Wolves caught up to the IceHogs’ pace and fired back with two quick tallies, the first by center Nathan Longpre, his 8th of the season. Ten seconds later the IceHogs were victimized by Chicago’s fourth line and center Stefan Schneider despite Dent having the last change on home ice and choosing to put more skilled players in Byron Froese, Morin and Segal creating a presumed mismatch favoring the home team.
Mark Mancari scored his second of the night at 8:23, a minute and twenty-four seconds after Schneider’s goal to give his team a 5-2 lead and chase Hutton from the contest.
“It was a pretty even game and then we just had those two minutes there where it kind of fell apart,” said center Pete Leblanc, who assisted on both Rockford goals Saturday. “Then you kind of have to play desperate hockey.”
Mancari has put up six goals against the IceHogs this season. Two in a 6-3 IceHogs win on Dec 9th at the BMO; two in a 4-2 Wolves victory at Allstate on January 11 and two on Saturday night.
Antoine Roussel of Roubaix, France put the exclamation point on the Wolves victory scoring the short-handed empty-netter with 3:09 left in regulation. The goal was Roussel’s 3rd in 35 games this season.
Celebrating his 29th birthday, Matt Climie picked up his team-leading 15th win stopping 39 shots for the Wolves.
Rockford is now 4-6-0-0 on the season against Chicago.
The loss drops the IceHogs home record down to 11-13-0-1.
Now with 26 games remaining on the season, the IceHogs don’t have much room for error. With the same number of games remaining last season, the IceHogs finished the 2010-11 season with a 17-7-1-1 record. That may be too much to ask of a team that is expecting to shed at least a couple of its best prospects over the next two weeks leading up to the NHL trade deadline. If they could somehow pull off a similar run, that would put them in line to be on the cusp of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
The road to that goal may become more arduous depending on the severity of the injury Ryan Stanton suffered midway through the third period of Saturday night’s loss. Stanton left the ice in a lot of pain and with IceHogs trainers in tow. He did not return and we did not get an update after the game.
Together, Stanton and Brian Fahey have been the IceHogs best pairing since December. They get the bulk of the top defensive assignments and Stanton is a huge piece to the IceHogs much-improved penalty kill.
Rockford is off until Wednesday when Peoria visits the BMO. The IceHogs are 3-5-0-1 vs Peoria this season and just 1-3-0-0 against the Rivermen at the BMO. That home record includes a 3-0 Rivermen shutout on Nov 12.
After Wednesday, the IceHogs go on the road to Toronto on Friday and Hamilton on Saturday. They’ll then have five days off before a set of three games in three days beginning at Allstate Arena on Friday February 24. The latter two in that set are both at home (Milwaukee Feb 25 and Chicago Feb 26).
–Rockford IceHogs lines, pairing & scratches Saturday vs Wolves
Brandon Svendsen – Brandon Pirri – Ben Smith
Rostislav Olesz – Pete Leblanc – Jimmy Hayes
Brandon Segal – Byron Froese – Jeremy Morin
Philippe Paradis – Rob Flick – Brandon Bollig
Ryan Stanton – Brian Fahey
Ben Youds – Shawn Lalonde
Joe Lavin – Simon Danis-Pepin
Carter Hutton (backup: Alexander Salak)
Scratches: Kyle Beach (right shoulder-Late March)…. Chris DiDomenico (healthy)… Wade Brookbank (healthy)….
-Only change to the IceHogs lineup from the 2-1 win over Chicago on Friday was Philippe Paradis suiting up in place of Chris DiDomenico. It would stand to figure as soon as I compliment DiDomenico’s play that he’d immediately be scratched. Asked after the game about the move, Dent said the since the Wolves are a bigger team he was looking to add some additional size, in Paradis, to his lineup on Saturday night. Paradis is a stick of dynamite. In that vein, he reminds you a lot of Jocelyn Lemieux. Bigger, but his percentage of hitting the target is very similar.
With DiDomenico coming out, Byron Froese bumped up from the fourth line to center Segal and Morin on the third. That was the only change to the lines from Friday.
More on the game:
–The second period was just a disaster after the initial four minutes, which Rockford dominated. The IceHogs outshot Chicago 6-0 in the first 2:25 of the second. Then all hell broke loose and the Hogs unraveled. Ted Dent dismissed the idea that the game got too wide open at that point for his team, but the pace certainly picked up a notch and the IceHogs started running around in their own zone when Chicago had possession. The Wolves are too good an offensive team to overcommit and make mistakes against. After the IceHogs tied the game at 2-2, only to see the Wolves score twice in 10 seconds, then again 2:24 after that, the game was effectively over before it had reached the halfway point.
When the IceHogs were given a chance to get back into the game, they shot themselves in the foot. Kevin Connauton (who is going to be another Kevin Bieksa for the Canucks beginning next year. He’s practically a left-handed shooting clone) cross-checked Jeremy Morin down from behind and into the boards and was sent to the box for a boarding minor. 11 seconds into the power play, team captain Brandon Segal took a needless offensive zone slashing penalty. That was at 10:17 of the second period.
A minute and a half later Shawn Lalonde took a tripping minor. That forced the Hogs to kill off twenty-two seconds of a 4 on 3, then eleven seconds of a 5 on 3, then 1:27 of a 5 on 4. So, instead of a currently hot-IceHogs power play capitalizing on a dumb Connauton boarding penalty and getting themselves back into the game, they spent the next three minutes scrambling to stay alive in the game. Segal, other than putting the puck in the net, has been playing some great hockey these past two months, but that penalty, in that situation, just cannot happen.
Then, after killing off the bit of Segal and Lalonde’s penalty, Brandon Pirri took another dumb penalty. Pirri went low and clipped Matt Clackson right in front of the Wolves bench. He went for tripping at 14:38, only a minute after the PK got done killing off the previous penalties.
Pirri had a terrible second period. Two rushes on one shift in particular he came up the ice with his wingers on the shift prior to his penalty. Pirri held the puck long enough to skate into the defenseman’s range and instead of getting the puck to the net and working for rebounds, Pirri instead chose to force low percentage passes against the coverage. Neither rush resulted in a scoring chance.
With 5:54 to go in the second, after settling down a bit after the goaltending change (and just before the Pirri minor) Ben Youds tried to make something happen himself. Trouble was he didn’t have any help. Youds made a strong rush all the way up the right side eluding a back checker most of the way. He had Rob Flick with him skating down the middle of the ice. At least he thought he did. Youds was forced out wide so the only play he had was to throw the puck into the low slot hoping for a tip. For some reason though Flick pulled up fifteen feet short and drifted to the right circle. Paradis was skating up the left side but he couldn’t get there and possession shifted to Chicago. Youds, a defenseman, outskated two forwards to the opposite end of the rink.
Chicago committed a few unnecessary icings late in the period, one after another, which forced coach Craig MacTavish to call a time out with a minute left in the second. Rockford couldn’t take advantage of any of those to give themselves some hope heading into the second intermission.
Aside from some good work from the penalty kill, simply a disaster of a second period costing Rockford an essential two points on home ice against a divisional opponent.
—Jimmy Hayes on the loss and the Hogs giving up goals quickly back-to-back : “It’s just something we have to learn from. We have to make sure we’re ready. Shifts after a goal are big and we have to make sure we’re ready for that next time.”
—Brandon Bollig and Chicago’s Matt Clackson dropped the gloves 3:22 into the game. It was a long fight that saw Bollig looking for the big punch and Clackson mostly peppering Bollig with short punches and uppercuts Bollig left available. It was the second time this season Clackson and Bollig fought, the other being in the Wednesday matinee on January 11th at Allstate Arena.
–Ben Youds fought former Michigan Wolverine Tim Miller in the third period. If Youds were three inches taller he’d have an NHL contract. Youds had enough of Wolves players crashing the Wolves crease, and Salak specifically, and grabbed Miller out of a pile to throwdown. It was Youds’ third fight of the season.
–This season there have been 12 fights in the 10 games between Rockford and Chicago. Two games remain (Feb 24 @ CHI; Feb 26 in RFD) in the season series.
–It was amazing to watch how many times this weekend Rockford put a hit on Wolves’ veteran ace Darren Haydar and not to see any real direct response from the Wolves, even Saturday in the third period when Chicago was up 3 goals. There was one shift late when it seemed Haydar was targeted. Bollig crushed Haydar, who didn’t see him coming, right in front of Matt Climie with about five minutes to go. It wasn’t until Bollig’s next, and last, shift that Matt Clackson came looking for Bollig again. Ben Youds crushed Haydar at center ice on Friday and nothing came of that either.
–Since reassignment, Jimmy Hayes has 2g-3a in four games. He’s also a minus-4.
—Jeremy Morin’s current 10-game goal drought is his longest of the season (AHL games included only). His previous longest was 9 games (Nov 12-Dec 3). His season was short last year, but Morin didn’t go more than 4 games in the AHL without a goal last season.
—Ben Smith’s minus-3 on Saturday was his worst as a pro. He had never gone more than minus-2 in his previous 117 professional games (AHL/NHL regular season or playoffs).
—Brandon Pirri has no points in the last 4 games but is still hanging in the top 10 AHL scorers at number 9. Pirri has 19 goals, 26 assists in 48 games for Rockford.
–Scouts this weekend were from Winnipeg, Edmonton, Phoenix, Anaheim and St. Louis.
IceHogs individual games without a goal: Ryan Stanton (60), Wade Brookbank (28), Chris DiDomenico (25), Simon Danis-Pepin (24), David Gilbert (18), Brandon Bollig (16), Brandon Segal (14), Shawn Lalonde (12), Jeremy Morin (10), Brandon Svendsen (10), Philippe Paradis (9), Byron Froese (8), Rob Flick (6), Brandon Pirri (6), Kyle Beach (5), Paul Zanette (5*), Joe Lavin (4), Pete Leblanc (3), Ben Youds (3), David Toews (2*), Brian Fahey (1), Andrew Shaw (1), Ben Smith (1), Jimmy Hayes (-), Rostislav Olesz (-), Dylan Olsen (-)….
*No career AHL goals
IceHogs individual games without an assist: Wade Brookbank (73), Brandon Svendsen (18), Dylan Olsen (13), Rob Flick (11), Philippe Paradis (11), Brandon Bollig (9), Ryan Stanton (6), Paul Zanette (5**), Simon Danis-Pepin (4), Byron Froese (4), Joe Lavin (4), Jeremy Morin (4), Brandon Pirri (4), Brian Fahey (3), David Gilbert (3), Chris DiDomenico (2), Rostislav Olesz (2), Ben Smith (2), David Toews (2**), Kyle Beach (1), Jimmy Hayes (1), Brandon Segal (1), Shawn Lalonde (-), Pete Leblanc (-), Andrew Shaw (-), Ben Youds (-)….
**No career AHL assist