By Chris Block
Rockford let a good opportunity to get back to the .500 mark slip away on Wednesday night when they hosted Peoria, the team that had scored the fewest goals coming in as well as owning the worst record in the AHL.
The IceHogs received goals from Martin St. Pierre, Pete Leblanc, Brandon Saad and Jeremy Morin but four were not enough and Peoria stunned a sparse crowd of 2,205 at the BMO Harris Bank Center in defeating Rockford 5-4.
Wednesday’s game started out promising enough.
Although the IceHogs penalty woes surfaced early when Brandon Bollig added to Rockford’s league-leading total when he was sent to the box for tripping Evgeny Grachev inside the Peoria zone three minutes into Wednesday night’s contest, the IceHogs still managed to strike while short-handed.
Rockford victimized the Peoria power play when newly named IceHogs captain Martin St. Pierre picked off and Adam Cracknell pass at center ice and hustled up the left side before wristing a shot from the left circle that handcuffed Riverment goalie Jake Allen and gave Rockford a 1-0 lead at 4:21 of the first period. Credit Brandon Saad for an unofficial assist on the goal as it was Saad who pressured Cracknell into circling back at center and creating the turnover to St. Pierre.
Later in the period, after the IceHogs failed to convert on their first power play of the night, Ryan Stanton was sent to the box for hi-sticking.
Peoria would need only eight seconds of this advantage as Jaden Schwartz won a faceoff back to Phil McRae who got the puck to Mark Cundari at the top of the point. Cundari’s shot through traffic was redirected past Carter Hutton to tie the game at 1-1 with 8:08 remaining in the opening frame. Schwartz was credited with the redirection, giving the rookie his 3rd goal of the season.
T.J. Hensick would give Peoria a 2-1 lead with 3:47 to go in the first period as the Rivermen seized an opportunity as two IceHogs forwards got caught napping behind the play, allowing Peoria to break through the neutral zone with a 3 on 2 advantage.
Joe Lavin fell down as the pass came to his area on the left side near the Hogs’ blue line, allowing Ian Cole to break in. Adam Clendening came over to help, laying out flat on his stomach in attempt to prevent a cross-ice centering pass, but Cole stepped around Clendening and fed Hensick for an easy weak side tap in.
From an IceHogs perspective, the play broke down when Pete Leblanc decided to leave his left wing position to seek a turnover as Wade Brookbank layed a check on a Peoria player along the right wall in the Rivermen zone. Trouble here was Leblanc was the only forward in the neutral zone where three Peoria players were already in attack mode. Rob Flick was way behind the play in the Peoria zone taking his time getting back. Both Leblanc and Flick were left watching and Ian Cole made a great read to jump into the rush as Leblanc left his wing.
Leblanc made up for his mistake in the 2nd period when he intercepted a loose puck from two Peoria players at the IceHogs’ blue line. Leblanc quickly accelerated straight up the ice and blasted a slap shot past Jake Allen at 7:58 of the second frame to tie the game 2-2. The goal was unassisted and also Rockford’s second short-handed tally of the night and third of the season.
The goal also snapped a personal 8-game slump for Leblanc. Last year’s leading IceHogs goal scorer, Leblanc has two goals and four points in 12 games thus far in 2012-13.
While the IceHogs had built momentum off two penalty kills and were dominating the second period, the team was deflated at the 13:53 mark when Carter Hutton whiffed his glove at a weak Derek Nesbitt shot from the far left boards. The puck knuckled its way somehow by Hutton’s glove and gave Peoria a 3-2 advantage.
That’s how the score would remain until 5:16 of the third period when Brandon Saad notched his second goal of the season off a nice feed from Marcus Kruger through the slot to the weak side where Saad was camped out. Saad deposited Kruger’s pass into the open side behind Jake Allen and once again the game was tied, this time 3-3.
Five minutes later Phil McRae regained the lead for Peoria when he finally scored his first goal of the season when he received a pass and stepped up to the right faceoff dot and released a shot that sailed over Carter Hutton’s blocker and just inside the right post.
This Peoria lead lasted another five minutes until Ben Smith sent what was either a shot or meant to be a centering pass towards Jake Allen’s crease. Smith’s attempt hit a Peoria defender’s skate and trickled towards the goal line. Jeremy Morin beat Allen to the puck and punched it over the goal line to tie the game 4-4 with 5:06 remaining in regulation. Brandon Pirri picked up the second assist.
But the Rivermen would strike yet again to take a lead they would not relinquish when Anthony Peluso, left unattended in front of Carter Hutton, pounced on a rebound after Hutton stopped Derek Nesbitt’s shot down from down the slot. Peluso made no error in taking advantage of another IceHogs breakdown in coverage and Peoria would hold on for a 5-4 victory.
Peoria was 1-4 on the power play in the game although they did allow two short-handed goals in the contest so you can say Rockford won the special teams battle on this night.
Rockford was 0-4 with the man advantage and no doubt felt they should have been awarded a couple more opportunities in the third period but for some non-calls by official Jarrod Ragusin.
Kyle Beach was blatantly hauled down at one point while he tried to carry the puck into the Peoria zone. Brandon Pirri was apparently victim of a high-stick early in the period but that also went overlooked. Brandon Saad was also interfered with in the last two minutes but despite all of that the referee issued no penalties in the third frame.
The IceHogs return to action on Friday night when the Houston Aeros make their first visit of the season.
The Aeros come is with a 6-5-1-2 record, good for 2nd in the South division.
This will also mark Brian Connelly’s return to Rockford in an opposing uniform. Houston also boasts several top prospects including Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and their current leading scorer Jason Zucker.
Rockford and Houston will rematch on Sunday in St. Paul, Minnesota at Xcel Energy Center, the home of the Aeros’ parent club, the Minnesota Wild.
Peoria returns to the BMO next Wednesday night for a Thanksgiving Eve matchup.
–Rockford’s lines, pairings, scratches and bad boys Wed vs Peoria
Ben Smith – Brandon Pirri – Jeremy Morin
Brandon Saad – Martin St. Pierre – Marcus Kruger
Brandon Bollig – Jimmy Hayes – Kyle Beach
Pete Leblanc – Rob Flick – Wade Brookbank
Nick Leddy – Ryan Stanton
Brett Lebda – Shawn Lalonde
Joe Lavin – Adam Clendening
Carter Hutton (starter)
Alec Richards (backup)
Scratches: D-Klas Dahlbeck (illness)… D-Dylan Olsen (healthy)… RW-Philippe Paradis (healthy)
Suspensions: RW-Andrew Shaw (game 3 of 6)
Injuries: W-Brandon Svendsen (right arm surgery)
Power play I: Smith-St. Pierre-Kruger w/Pirri & Clendening
Power play II: Saad-Morin-Beach w/Leddy & Lalonde
Power play later: Smith-St. Pierre-Kruger w/Pirri & Clendening
PK forwards: Kruger-Hayes, Smith-Leblanc, Saad-St. Pierre
PK defense: Lavin-Lalonde, Leddy-Stanton
–IceHogs outshot Peoria 44-25
–I don’t think you can pin this loss solely on Carter Hutton but the Nesbitt goal never should have happened and if it hadn’t the outcome of this one very well may have been different. Its obvious Hutton is fighting the puck right now and its a contributing factor to the IceHogs losing 4 of their last 5.
–Rockford’s power play is 0-11 in the current 3-game losing streak.
–In his first game back eligible after sitting the past two serving his suspension for ‘Illegal check to the head’ in the November 3 game vs Lake Erie, Dylan Olsen was designated as a healthy scratch.
This marks the 4th time already this season Olsen has been a healthy scratch. 4 times in the 11 games he’s been eligible to dress in the IceHogs lineup.
At this point, you have to wonder whether Ted Dent is making a huge mistake, or, is a message Dent and his staff (Steve Poapst, who coaches the defense more specifically perhaps) are trying to get through to Olsen not being received or processed well enough?
Consider this, Olsen is supposed to be a shut down defenseman. In a world where the IceHogs can’t seem to keep the puck out of their own net, Olsen can’t sneak into the lineup in front of Brett Lebda, rookie Adam Clendening or a struggling Joe Lavin. Shawn Lalonde continues to be a turnover waiting to happen but he’s at least been getting going offensively of late so that’s more understandable.
Whatever the case, its obvious Olsen better come out prepared to make a strong impression whenever his name gets called next.
–In his last 9 games, Brandon Pirri has posted 6 goals and 5 assists.
–Jeremy Morin was injured early in the third period, left the game for several minutes but did return and eventually scored a goal to tie the game 4-4 with 5:06 remaining in regulation. Morin was hit when he was caught with his head down on the ice and he hit the ice appearing to be favoring his right leg. We’ll have to wait and see how his leg responds the day after and if he’ll be forced to miss any time.
–Wednesday marked just the third time the Beach brothers, Kyle and younger brother Cody (at St. Louis Blues draft pick) had played against each other. This was the first time in the pros. As luck would have it, both Cody and Kyle were returning from suspensions. They only skated a handful of shifts against one another and didn’t really interact much.
–Former IceHogs winger Rob Klinkhammer scored both goals for his new team, Portland in a 4-2 loss last night.
Klinkhammer, who was signed by the Phoenix Coyotes in the off season, is a point per game player right now for Portland. Through 12 games he has 5 goals and 7 assists. He’s also a team-leading plus-9.