By Chris Block
Rockford continued its recent road winning ways with a 5-2 come from behind win before a crowd of 6,549 in Charlotte on Saturday night. The IceHogs handed the Charlotte Checkers, the second-place team in the Western Conference, their 6th loss of the season though it was Charlotte’s 4th in 7 games in its home rink.
With the team’s hottest goal scorer, Andrew Shaw, out of the lineup serving a one game, and most recent, suspension Rockford looked to its big guns to pull them out of another big whole the team dug itself early on Saturday night.
The IceHogs got unanswered goals from Brandon Saad, Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin and two from captain Martin St. Pierre. The captain, recognized as one of the slickest set-up men in the AHL, also fell an assist shy of registering the Gordie Howe Hat Trick on Saturday.
Rockford has now strung four consecutive road wins together after starting the season 1-4-0-1 on opposing ice surfaces.
And, for the first time this season, the IceHogs sit two games above the .500 mark at 11-9-0-1 with their win in Charlotte.
Checkers defenseman Brett Bellemore got the scoring started quickly when picked up his first goal of the quarter-old season at the 1:57 mark. Bellemore’s shot appeared to redirect off another stick as the puck passed through the slot and changed directions on Carter Hutton, who may have also been screened by Shawn Lalonde. Jeremy Welsh and Bellemore’s defense partner Justin Krueger picked up the assists.
Ten minutes later, with Kyle Beach in the box serving an interference minor, Zach Boychuk, Beach’s former teammate in Lethbridge (WHL) during the 2008-09 season, used his speed to capitalize and put Charlotte up 2-0 at 11:26 of the opening frame. Boychuk took a Marc-Andre Gragnani pass and sped up the left side. Boychuk hit the IceHogs’ blue line and skated right around a fishing Ryan Stanton before firing off a wrist shot high over Carter Hutton’s glove with 8 seconds left on Beach’s penalty.
The IceHogs would receive a power play with four and half minutes to go in the period when Brandon Saad was hogtied on his way to the Checkers’ goal by defenseman Michal Jordan (MEE-kahl JOHR-dan). Saad caught a stick in the mouth for his trouble. While down, Bobby Sanguinetti of Charlotte leaned over to check on him and Marcus Kruger of all people came to Saad’s defense, albeit against the wrong guy.
But that power play would last only 50 seconds when Nick Leddy was cited for boarding Brett Sutter. Leddy lightly checked Sutter from behind along the half wall inside the Rockford zone. Leddy got impatient as Sutter was protecting the puck and killing time while his teammates continued to change its PK units. Leddy and captain Martin St. Pierre were upset, feeling Sutter embellished the impact of Leddy’s check from behind.
Although he wouldn’t be awarded a star for his efforts, this was the point of the game when Carter Hutton’s performance in goal changed the tide.
With two minutes to go in the first, Hutton robbed Chris Terry of a goal on a rebound chance with an amazing left toe save to keep the score 2-0 heading into the first intermission. After twenty minutes Charlotte held a 13-12 advantage on the shot board as well.
In the second period, Hutton picked up where he left off when he stymied Nicolas Blanchard with a big glove save three minutes in after Kyle Beach threw a puck from the far corner out to the Charlotte forward in the mid-slot.
A minute later, Martin St. Pierre got the IceHogs comeback started when he sniped a shot by Charlotte netminder Justin Peters. The play was made by Jimmy Hayes, who, on the forecheck, chased down and bumped Michael Jordan off the puck, then quickly fed St. Pierre in the left circle. The goal was St. Pierre’s 6th. Hayes got the lone assist.
Rockford struck again to tie the game two minutes later when Brandon Saad hooked up with Jeremy Morin at 6:48 of the second frame. Adam Clendening started the scoring play in the defensive zone by banking the puck up the right wall. Morin picked it up just inside Charlotte’s zone and as he was driving to the net, Morin slid a pass across to Saad who slipped it in on the backdoor to tie the game 2-2.
The IceHogs cries of embellishment earlier in the game may have had an affect when Nolan Blanchard was called for diving at 7:50 of the second period. 59 seconds later, referee Jamie Koharski sent another Charlotte player to the box when he purged Justin Krueger for hooking.
Ben Smith capitalized on the ensuing 5-on-3 when he tipped a Brandon Pirri shot to break the tie at 9:41 of the period. Pirri and Clendening assisted on Smith’s 8th goal of the season.
Hutton came up huge, a little lucky too, when he prevented Jeremy Welsh’s shot from crossing the goal line with eight minutes to go in the sandwich stanza. Charlotte thought they had scored but a review of the play after the whistle and during the scheduled TV timeout concluded that the puck had not crossed the line.
With 4:25 left in the period, Jimmy Hayes fed Martin St. Pierre in alone behind both Checkers’ defenders for St. Pierre’s second goal on the night and 7th of the season to give the IceHogs a 4-2 lead. Ben Smith got the other assist for picking up the puck and transitioning it out of Rockford’s zone and up the middle of the neutral zone to Hayes. In picking up his second helper of the night, Hayes notched his 6th multi-point game of the 21 game-old season. Noteworthy, considering Hayes has registered at least one point in just 8 games thus far.
The very next shift Hutton came up big again stopping Drayson Bowman to maintain the IceHogs two-goal margin.
A poorly timed Kyle Beach hip-check attempt at center ice on Marc-Andre Gragnani at 17:25 of the period created a commotion when Nolan Blanchard subsequently jumped Beach. Gragnani was pushing the puck hard through the neutral zone when Beach moved too slow in getting to Gragnani and, as a result, leg clipped Gragnani on his way by. Blanchard threw off his gloves and challenged Beach, who turtled. Blanchard got a double-minor for roughing and a ten-minute misconduct for his actions.
Though it went undetected by Koharski, cameras did catch Beach, while crouched in the turtle position, pick up his stick and spear Blanchard lightly in the groin as he stood over Beach and as the two linesman attempted to separate the two.
Onto the third period, Brett Lebda gave Charlotte a power play they would not take full advantage of when the veteran defenseman was called for interference. Continuing a recent trend, Lebda and several other IceHogs evidently thought the Checkers player exaggerated this hit as well.
Martin St. Pierre fought for the first recorded time in nearly five years when he challenged Jerome Samson at 9:10 of the third period. St. Pierre was upset and chirping Samson while play continued up the ice and then the two dropped their gloves and went at it near center ice. It was a even bout until the 6’0” Samson caught the 5’8” St. Pierre with a wild overhand right and St. Pierre lost his balance and eventually fell to the ice.
Even with St. Pierre gone, the IceHogs power play continued its hot streak. Jeremy Morin posted the team’s second power play tally of the night when he camped out in front and waited for Marcus Kruger’s dish from behind the goal. Morin was left alone in front when Michal Jordan skated out near the wall to pick off Brett Lebda’s pass and couldn’t get back to the front of the net before Morin slammed Kruger’s pass far side and by the right pad of Justin Peters. Kruger and Lebda assisted at 10:28 and the 5-2 score would stand as the final.
Morin’s last four goals, coming in three games over the past eleven days, have all come via the power play. His tally Wednesday at Chicago ended a string of six games on the road without a point for Morin.
Hutton stopped 34 shots. In victory, Hutton improved his record on the season to 7-7-0-1. [More on Hutton below]
The official three stars of the game were 1-St. Pierre (2g, 0a, +2)… 2-Morin (1g, 1a, +1)…. 3-Smith (1g, 1a, +2).
Rockford (11-9-0-1) maintains sole possession of 2nd place in the Midwest division with the win as the Chicago Wolves (9-8-2-1) were 3-1 winners over Peoria on Saturday. The Wolves lost 3-2 in Milwaukee on Friday when they gave up two goals to the Admirals in the final 85 seconds of regulation time. Peoria (6-10-2-1) has the second-to-worst record in the Western Conference after Saturday night’s games.
The IceHogs stay in Charlotte tonight and rematch the Checkers at 2pm central on Sunday. It will be the fourth and final meeting of the season between these former division rivals.
Rockford then returns home and will face Milwaukee at the BMO on Friday. Then the IceHogs host the Wolves next Saturday before wrapping up its first 3-in-3 weekend of the season with a trip to Grand Rapids on the 9th.
–Rockford’s lines, pairings, scratches, injuries & latest suspension Saturday in the Queen City
Brandon Saad – Marcus Kruger – Jeremy Morin
Martin St. Pierre – Jimmy Hayes – Ben Smith
Pete Leblanc – Brandon Pirri – Kyle Beach
Brandon Bollig – Rob Flick – Philippe Paradis
Nick Leddy – Adam Clendening
Klas Dahlbeck – Ryan Stanton
Brett Lebda – Shawn Lalonde
Carter Hutton (starter)
Alec Richards (backup)
Scratches: W-Wade Brookbank (healthy, 6th consecutive)… D-Dylan Olsen (leg)… D-Joe Lavin (wrist)… W-Brandon Svendsen (arm)… W-Andrew Shaw (suspension)….
Suspensions: W-Andrew Shaw (1 of 1, re: boarding 11/28 at Chicago)…
Injuries: W-Brandon Svendsen (right arm, re: September, estimated early December)… D-Dylan Olsen (leg, re: 11/24, day-to-day)…. D-Joe Lavin (wrist, re: 11/24, 6-8 weeks)
Power play I: St.Pierre-Pirri-Smith w/ Leddy & Clendening
Power play II: Saad-Kruger-Morin w/ Lebda & Lalonde
PK forwards: St. Pierre-Hayes, Bollig-Smith, Kruger-Saad, Leblanc-Pirri
PK defense: Dahlbeck-Stanton, Leddy-Lalonde
–Scotty Bowman was in attendance at Time Warner Arena in Charlotte.
-IceHogs allowed Charlotte 36 shots on Saturday. This marked the 4th time in the past 5 games that Rockford has allowed 32 or more shots in a game. They allowed 30 or more shots against just 5 times in the initial 16 games to start this season.
Sprinkled in those last five games was the 11/27 home game against Texas in which Rockford held the Texas Stars to just 19 shots in on that game’s starter, Alec Richards. Still, Texas managed to score five times and defeat Rockford 5-4.
-Jamie Koharski is the son of legendary NHL referee Don Koharski. Don’s brother Terry is also an official in the AHL.
-I usually don’t pay much mind to the three stars, unless I’m casting the actual votes. However, if you were not going to give Hutton one of the three stars Saturday, and for the life of me I can’t see how you wouldn’t, then one of those three stars has to go to Jimmy Hayes. Hayes set up both of St. Pierre’s goals – with a strong physical play on the first one and a perfect pass to put St. Pierre in alone on a partial breakaway for the goal that put Rockford up 4-2 before the second intermission. Hayes also was a plus-2 and had five shots on goal. It was one of Hayes’ most active games of the season.
-The Checkers were really upset over Kyle Beach’s hip check on Gragnani late in the second period.
I didn’t see it as a dirty play. If anything, Beach is guilty of trying something (like a hip check) that he’s clearly not adept at doing. Hipchecks are for defenseman. They skate well moving backwards. Kyle doesn’t particularly. He tried but his timing was bad.
Fortunately Gragnani wasn’t hurt on the play because, since Beach’s timing being slow, he nearly took out one of Gragnani’s legs. There’s no excuse for the spear between Blanchard’s legs though. No matter how much force Beach had behind that spear, it’s immature and senseless.
–Carter Hutton is 3-1-0-0 in his last 5 starts. He has allowed 11 goals in that span for a 91.3% save percentage and 2.55 goals against average. Hutton got a no decision on 11/21 vs Peoria when he was pulled after the first period in allowing 3 goals against 8 shots. Rockford wound up rallying to win that game in front of Alec Richards.
Since Alexander Salak’s meltdown in Hamilton last February, Hutton has made 36 appearances, all starts. Hutton is 19-10-0-3 over those 36 starts with a 91.9% save percentage and 2.25 goals against average.
By contrast, Hutton’s first 10 starts as a member of the IceHogs last season didn’t look at all impressive. Hutton faced 289 shots in his first 10 starts with Rockford, allowing 34 goals (88.2%sv) over 555 minutes guarding the cage (3.68gaa). His, and the team’s record in those games was 3-6-0-1.
-One would figure we’ll see Dan Ellis (5-3-0-2, 2.35gaa, 93.3%sv) between the pipes for Charlotte on Sunday. After giving up 5 goals on 19 shots this past Tuesday, I would say an Alec Richards start would be less certain, but possible.
–Nick Leddy has appeared in 9 road games thus far in 2012-13. Rockford is 4-4-0-1 in those contests. Leddy has not finished a game on the road yet this season with a minus rating. He’s a plus-3 overall away from the BMO.
-Including his tally Saturday in Charlotte, Ben Smith has 5 goals in the IceHogs last 7 road contests.
–Andrew Shaw, who presumably will return on Sunday with his one game suspension for boarding Brett Sterling in Rosemont last Wednesday now served, has a goal in each of his last four games. As well, he has a goal in each of the last 4 road games he’s competed in.
Owning the road
After losing 5 of their first 6 road games (1-4-0-1), Rockford has rolled off four consecutive road victories to improve to a game above .500 on the road (5-4-0-1).
Excluding shootouts, the IceHogs own a +2 goal differential on road ice (31 GF, 29 GA)
In going 2 for 6 in Charlotte, the IceHogs power play now ranks 5th in the AHL (20.8%) on the road at the end of Saturday night’s action.
Rockford’s PK has struggled of late, dipping to 19th overall (82.1%) and 18th on the road (80.8%).