By Chris Block
A fluke Adam Clendening skate blowout and another case of mindless minor penalties made all the difference on Sunday night as the Rockford IceHogs suffered their 8th regulation loss in 15 games (6-8-0-1), falling to the Houston Aeros 3-2.
On the positive side, the IceHogs’ power play snapped out of its 0 for 15 funk in going 2 for 4 on the night. Ben Smith and Adam Clendening, making up for his ill-timed clumsiness less than a minute earlier, tallied Rockford’s goals with the man advantage.
The game was played before a crowd of 11,175 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Houston is the American Hockey League affiliate of the Minnesota Wild. Sunday served as a home game for the Aeros.
Carter Hutton was good, stopping 18 of the 21 shots he faced, but he almost had no chance to stop Johan Larsson’s goal after Clendening blew a tire out next to Hutton’s net and left a puck out in the low slot for Larsson to bang home, giving Houston the decisive 3-1 advantage with 9:59 remaining in the third period.
Larsson’s 5th goal of the season, and 2nd of the game, came short-handed. Clendening was retreating behind his goaltender to set up a breakout on an IceHogs power play chance when he lost and edge and fumbled the puck out before his own goaltender. Hutton made a desperation pokecheck attempt on Larsson, who patiently stickhandled around Hutton for the score.
Clendening, though, made up for his error fifty-two seconds later on the same IceHogs power play to again bring Rockford to within a goal.
Martin St. Pierre set up Clendening, who snapped a shot from the top of the slot through traffic and by Houston netminder Matt Hackett at 10:53 of the final period.
While the IceHogs outshot Houston 13-6 in the final frame and carried most of the action, the Aeros survived a late flurry and hung on for the 3-2 victory.
Rockford had dominated the first ten minutes of the contest Sunday night until back-to-back penalties by Brandon Bollig and Shawn Lalonde led to a Justin Fontaine power play goal at 12:35 of the opening period.
IceHogs had outshot Houston 8-0 before those two penalties. After the Bollig and Lalonde minors the Aeros outshot Rockford 6-0 for the remainder of the period.
Jeremy Morin missed a chance to get Rockford on the board early when he intercepted a Tyler Cuma pass at the Aeros blue line and broke in alone on Matt Hackett but the Houston goaltender thwarted Morin’s breakaway chance at 7:30 of the first period.
Rockford’s eighth and final shot of the first period came at 9:30 when Brandon Saad, while shorthanded, accelerated around a Houston defender. Saad deked Hackett off the near post but Saad was in too tight and couldn’t find the puck at his skates in time to sneak the puck inside the left post.
Houston got on the board on the power play afforded by Shawn Lalonde’s tripping minor, which came just as time expired on Brandon Bollig’s cross-checking penalty. The Aeros took advantage when a bouncing puck came out to Justin Fontaine atop the right circle. Fontaine fired off a wrister that beat Carter Hutton under the blocker and Houston had a 1-0 lead despite being badly outplayed up until that point.
Less than a minute after Fontaine’s goal, Kyle Beach tried to swing the momentum when he drew an interference call on Joel Broda. Rockford, however, didn’t manage a shot on goal on the ensuing power play.
Rockford’s penalty kill, which killed off 8 of 9 Houston power play chances on Friday night at the BMO, was put to the test again late in the first period when Brandon Bollig was sent to the box yet again after he slashed Nick Palmieri’s stick in half inside the IceHogs zone. The IceHogs 11th ranked penalty kill unit was successful in killing off Houston’s third power play of the period and Rockford went into the intermission trailing 1-0.
Johan Larsson gave Houston a 2-0 lead 5:12 into the second period when he found a puck batted by Jason Zucker before the IceHogs’ Ben Smith could. Larsson got just enough of the puck to push it past Carter Hutton and defenseman Shawn Lalonde. Charlie Coyle got the secondary assist for the original shot on goal. The rebound had bounced to Zucker who fed the puck over to Larsson.
Rockford thought they’d trimmed the Aeros lead with 5:15 to go in the second period as a Lalonde shot stopped by Hackett bounced up and over the Houston goalie. However, after further review, the puck came down Hackett’s back, hit the right post and stayed out of the net.
Ben Smith finally got Rockford on the board at 9:21 of the third period when his power play marker trimmed Houston’s lead to 2-1. Smith’s second chance opportunity snuck through Hackett as three IceHogs swarmed the crease seeking a rebound off Adam Clendening’s point shot. Martin St. Pierre also assisted on the goal.
Rockford’s chances were looking good just 26 seconds later when David McIntyre was send to the box for hooking Nick Leddy inside the IceHogs zone. But Clendening’s blowout came on the next shift and Larsson’s shorty was the difference in an eventual 3-2 Houston win.
The IceHogs next game comes Wednesday night in Rockford when the Peoria Rivermen visit the BMO Harris Bank Center for the second-consecutive Wednesday night.
It’s dollar night at the BMO on Wednesdays.
$1 hot dogs. $1 soda, $1 companion tickets… and $1 BEER
On Thanksgiving morning the IceHogs will bus to Cleveland, Ohio for a Friday-Saturday set against the Lake Erie Monsters.
As luck would have it, Andrew Shaw returns from his 6-game suspension on Friday at Lake Erie. Shaw picked up that suspension for leaving the bench to get into a fight in Lake Erie’s visit to Rockford on November 3rd.
–Rockford’s lines, pairings and scratches Sunday in St. Paul
Brandon Saad – Martin St. Pierre – Marcus Kruger
Ben Smith – Brandon Pirri – Jeremy Morin
Brandon Bollig – Jimmy Hayes – Kyle Beach
Wade Brookbank – Pete Leblanc – Rob Flick
Nick Leddy – Ryan Stanton
Dylan Olsen – Shawn Lalonde
Klas Dahlbeck – Adam Clendening
Carter Hutton (starter)
Alec Richards (backup)
Scratches: D-Joe Lavin… D-Brett Lebda… W-Philippe Paradis…
Suspensions: Andrew Shaw (game 5 of 6)
Injuries: W-Brandon Svendsen (right arm)
Power play I: Smith-Kruger-Saad w/St.Pierre & Clendening
Power play II: Beach-Pirri-Morin w/Leddy & Lalonde
PK forwards: St. Pierre-Saad, Leblanc-Smith, Hayes-Kruger, Morin-Bollig
PK defense: Leddy-Stanton, Olsen-Lalonde, Dahlbeck
–The was the second-straight scratch for Brett Lebda. He is a team-worst minus-8 in ten games played this season. Dylan Olsen is next at minus-5.
–As noted, Andrew Shaw will sit the final game of his suspension on Wednesday night against Peoria. In the ten games he’s played, Shaw has one goal, three assists.
—Ben Smith now has a 3-game point streak going (2g,2a)
–Rockford has 11 power play goals on the season. Martin St. Pierre has assisted on 7 of those. Seven of St. Pierre’s 10 helpers have come via the man advantage. He also owns one of the IceHogs’ three short-handed goals so far. The other two belonging to Jimmy Hayes and Pete Leblanc.
–Both of Adam Clendening’s goals this season have come via the power play. He’s on the first unit because his shots get through from the point better than anyone else’s on the defense.
—Brandon Pirri (6g,7a) leads the team with 3 power play goals.