By Chris Block
Without the services of Ben Smith and leading scorer Brandon Pirri, the Rockford IceHogs extended their recent dominance of the Milwaukee Admirals behind goaltender Carter Hutton’s 22-save performance.
Rockford defeated the Admirals 4-1 on Saturday night on goals from unlikely sources in Chris DiDomenico, Brandon Svendsen and Philippe Paradis. All three ended long personal goal scoring droughts. Pete Leblanc, another player whose had hard luck recently finding the back of the net, added an empty-netter with 45 seconds to go sending the Milwaukee crowd of 15,888 home unhappy.
Brandon Pirri missed the game with a lower-body injury. Pirri will miss Sunday’s home game versus the Admirals and likely Tuesday’s contest in Oklahoma City against the conference-leading Barons as well. Officially, Pirri is listed as day-to-day.
Ben Smith will undergo surgery next week to repair a labral tear in his right hip and hernia. He will miss the remainder of the season but is expected to make a full recovery in sixteen weeks.
For one night anyhow, the IceHogs didn’t seem to miss Pirri and Smith as others stepped up in their absence.
Chris DiDomenico got the IceHogs on the board at 13:11 of the first period when a broken down play resulted in a prime scoring chance for DiDomenico at the front of the Milwaukee crease. Brandon Svendsen carried the puck up the right side and deep near the Admirals’ goal line when he attempted to pass back to Brian Fahey who was pinching into the top of the right circle. Svendsen’s pass though hit an Admirals player’s skate and bounced to the front of the goal where DiDomenico pounced on it and slammed it past goaltender Jeremy Smith to give the IceHogs a 1-0 lead. Joe Lavin got the other assist.
The goal ended DiDomenico’s 32-game goal drought. His only other goal of the season came on opening night at home versus Grand Rapids. DiDomenico (2g, 8a, 34gp) now has a 2-game point scoring streak.
Carter Hutton stopped 11 Milwaukee shots and a minute and fifty-two second Milwaukee 5-on-3 in a scoreless second period. At this point, Hutton had not allowed a goal to the Admirals in the last 76:07 he had faced them and just one in 144:01, or nearly two and a half games.
Brandon Svendsen 2nd goal of the season (28th game of the season, 23rd as an IceHog) extended Rockford’s lead to 2-0 early in the third frame when he rocketed a shot over Smith at 5:33 of the period. This ended Svendsen’s stretch of 18 games without a goal. Matt Fornataro took the assist. With the goal and assist on DiDomenico’s tally, Svendsen posted his second multiple point game as an IceHog. The other was a two-assist performance at Chicago on Feb 24.
Forty seconds after Svendsen’s goal, veteran winger Wade Brookbank went to the box for interference. Seven seconds into the Milwaukee power play, defenseman Jonathon Blum’s shot from the left point trimmed the IceHogs lead to 2-1 after Ryan Stanton’s clearing attempt didn’t get out of the zone. Blum has four goals on the season, three have come against the IceHogs.
Three minutes later, Philippe Paradis’ turnaround wrister from the left circle beat Jeremy Smith to the short side and regained the IceHogs’ two-goal advantage with 11:37 to go in regulation time. The goal was then changed to credit Chris DiDomenico, who was creating a moving screen, as it appeared he redirected the puck but it was later determined it was not and the goal was changed back to Paradis. This, Paradis’ 3rd goal of the season (44 games played) ended his personal 13-game goal scoring drought. Marc-Olivier Vallerand picked up the lone assist and his first AHL point (6 games, 4 with Rockford) on the goal.
With seconds ticking off the clock and Smith pulled from Milwaukee’s net for the extra-attacker in the final minute, Rockford’s first-line center for the moment, Pete Leblanc, backhanded a puck from just in front of the Admirals’ bench to close the scoring. The goal was Leblanc’s 19th, which is seven more than he had in his rookie season and in one less game.
The IceHogs are now 6-0-0-1 in their past seven games and have pulled to a game above .500 for the first time since October 21st (3-2-0-0), which was after a 2-0 loss at Chicago.
In Saturday’s victory, the IceHogs climb one spot into 12th in their conference and eight points back of 8th place Peoria for the final playoff spot in the West. Rockford is also just 3 points above 15th and last place Texas.
Milwaukee is now 6-4-0-1 in its last eleven games. Three of those losses (one via the shootout) have come to the IceHogs.
–Carter Hutton has quickly become an arch-nemesis of the Admirals. In seven starts versus Milwaukee this season, Hutton has given up 13 goals and is 6-1-0-0. Six of those thirteen goals against (and four via the Admirals’ power play) came during a 7-3 drubbing on Boxing Day at the Bradley Center. Since, Hutton has faced Milwaukee five times and surrendered just a single goal against in each of those five meetings.
Against Milwaukee, Hutton is 6-1-0-0 with a 1.90 goals against average and 93.8% save percentage.
Since Hutton’s two-way NHL deal with the Blackhawks became official on February 24, he has started all seven IceHogs contests, going 6-0-0-1 with a 1.11 GAA, 96.1% save percentage and 1 shut out.
–The Admirals will be in Rockford on Sunday for a 5:05 puck drop to complete the weekend home-and-home series.
With a win in regulation on Sunday, the IceHogs can pull within a point of 11th place Milwaukee. The Admirals also own a game in hand on Rockford. After Sunday, the two teams will meet three more times prior to the end of the regular season.
Rockford plays the two other teams directly above them and Milwaukee in the standings in the upcoming weeks. The IceHogs visit 9th place Houston next Friday and the Aeros will have a two-night stay in Rockford March 23-24. Lake Erie, currently occupying the 10th spot, hosts the IceHogs in Cleveland on April 6-7. Still, eight points behind the 8th seed with sixteen games to play, the IceHogs remain a long-shot to make the playoffs.
–IceHogs lines, pairings and scratches Saturday at Milwaukee
Rostislav Olesz – Pete Leblanc – Jeremy Morin
Brandon Svendsen – Byron Froese – Chris DiDomenico
Paul Zanette – Marc-Olivier Vallerand – Matt Fornataro
Wade Brookbank – Rob Flick – Philippe Paradis
Joe Lavin – Brian Fahey
Ryan Stanton – Ben Youds
Shawn Lalonde – Simon Danis-Pepin
Carter Hutton (backup: Alexander Salak)
Scratches: Brandon Pirri (lower-body, expected to return 5-7 days)… Kyle Beach (right shoulder, 10-14 days)…. Ben Smith (hip/hernia, out for season)…. David Gilbert (healthy)….
–Rockford had not scored more than 3 goals in a game since January 8th – a stretch of 23 games which they totaled 50 goals (not including shootouts) or 2.17 goals per game.
–IceHogs power play went 0-5 on Saturday. This after going 2-7 in their previous two games, which was preceded by a 0 for 30 drought.
—Brian Fahey was a plus-4 on the night. And he was not on the ice for the Blum power play tally.
–DiDomenico was awarded the game’s first star. At the time, he was credited with two goals on the scoresheet. He had a solid night but Svensden, who was given the second star, was more deserving. Hutton got the third star.
—Carter Hutton owns 16 of the IceHogs 19 victories since being recalled on December 3rd. Alec Richards has two and Alexander Salak’s was in his return game versus Chicago on February 10th.
–On the season, Hutton is 16-8-0-3 with the IceHogs. His 28 starts, 2.45 GAA and 91.7% save percentage are all team bests.
–Svendsen, who will turn 27 next month, has been a real find for the IceHogs. Though not very big (listed as 5-10, 185), he is diligent in the defensive zone, good along the walls and creates opportunities more than some in the offensive zone. Saturday was one of his best games so far.
–Pete Leblanc’s last 9 goals have all come on the road after 8 of his initial 10 this season came at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
–IceHogs are now two games above .500 (14-12-2-3) on the road for the first time since beginning the season 4-2-0-0 away from home.
–Sunday presents a chance to reach .500 on home ice (13-14-0-2). IceHogs lost their last home game to Abbotsford 3-2 in a shootout decision. After beating Grand Rapids on opening night, Rockford lost its next six, and nine of eleven at the BMO to start the season 3-9-0-0 on home ice.
—Joe Lavin had never been in the starting line up in a game on the road before Saturday (27 games). At home, Lavin has 1g, 5a and is a minus-6. On the road he has 2g, 8a and is a plus-7.
—Ben Smith’s season concludes with 15 goals, 16 assists in 38 games played with Rockford. Those 31 points match Smith’s total in his rookie season last year with the IceHogs and in 25 fewer games (63gp, 19g, 12a). This season, 8 of his 15 goals came via the power play. In the 2010-11 season, Smith had 5 power play goals and 2 short-handed.