By Chris Block
Rockford IceHogs (19-17-1-1) are hosting the Peoria Rivermen (17-17-2-2) tonight at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
It’ll be the fourth of twelve meetings between the two clubs this season. The Rivermen have been victorious twice. Rockford defeated Peoria 5-4 in a seesaw affair when the teams last met on November 21st in Rockford. The IceHogs got off to a quick start when Adam Clendening scored his 3rd goal on the campaign 56 seconds in. Rockford went up 2-0 eleven minutes later when Brandon Saad scored an unassisted short-handed goal. Peoria though responded by notching three unanswered even-strength tallies in just under six minutes and led 3-2 heading into the first intermission. Between periods Ted Dent changed some lines around and altered his top two defense pairings, pairing Nick Leddy with Clendening and Ryan Stanton with Klas Dahlbeck. The rest of the game was controlled by Rockford. Martin St. Pierre tied the game late in the second period and two power play goals from Jeremy Morin sealed the victory.
Peoria enters tonight on a three-game winning streak. Before that stretch the Rivermen had lost six of seven. Peoria has needed overtime or a shootout in five of their past six victories.
The Rivermen have lost a few players since the NHL lockout met its resolution. Forward Jaden Schwartz and defenseman Ian Cole are now playing for the St. Louis Blues, parent club to Peoria. Also, forward Anthony Peluso was claimed off waivers by Winnipeg on Wednesday. Defenseman Taylor Chorney cleared waivers today and is expected to be in the lineup tonight at the BMO. Center Phil McRae, wingers Andrew Murray and Evgeny Grachev, along with defensemen Mark Cundari and Cade Fairchild have all been returned to the Rivermen as well after the abbreviated NHL training camp.
Cody Beach, younger brother of Kyle, is back on the Rivermen as well. He’s been up and down between Peoria and ECHL Evansville this season but has played well against Rockford. Former IceHogs winger Derek Nesbitt, who usually plays really well against this former team, has a goal and three assists against Rockford this season. T.J. Hensick leads the way for the Rivermen, scoring 2 goals and 4 assists in the three matchups with the IceHogs so far.
In what has been the story for much of this season, and now at this season’s halfway point, the Rockford IceHogs lead the AHL in number of times short-handed – 200.
Rockford’s penalty kill ranks 16th in the AHL, running at 83.0% going into tonight’s game.
The IceHogs are 6-9-0-1 when they’ve been short-handed 6 or more times in a game this season.
What’s stunning about those contests, is Rockford’s PK percentage in those sixteen games is a stingy 87.6% (99 for 113).
When the IceHogs have been short-handed five times in a game, they’re 6-1-1-0 (PK 82.5%, 33-40). When short-handed 4 times or less; they’re 7-7-0-0 (PK 72.3%, 34-47).
IceHogs head coach Ted Dent knows that taking minor penalties at such a high frequency is a trend that cannot continue for his team to be successful in the second half, but it’s also been a message he’s been delivering to the team all season long.
“You can say, you keep saying the same stuff,” Dent said. “We provide statistics to the guys that take them, and draw them. And there’s a plus/minus to that that we do.”
Dent admitted there may be only one way left to get his message across. But, it’s also a catch 22 plight for the second-year head coach.
“I guess you got to take their ice time away at some point,” Dent continued.
“The problem is, if you’re down in a game and then you sit out one of your better players because he took a bad penalty then you shoot yourself in the foot.
“But at some point you have to make your point as a coaching staff. I’ve done that a few times this year, guys have missed half a period, or what have you, if they’ve taken a bad penalty.
I just have to read that on the bench, if it’s the right time to do that.”
Dent may also have more freedom to make those choices now that the NHL lockout has ended and there will be less input coming from Joel Quenneville and others in hockey operations on lineup decisions, lines and special teams units.
–IceHogs got Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Pirri and defenseman Ryan Stanton back on Thursday. All three participated in Blackhawks camp and were cut. Pirri and Stanton were called up on Sunday along with Brandon Saad. Jimmy Hayes got the call when Marcus Kruger caught a flu and missed a couple days of practice.
—Brandon Saad made the Blackhawks initial 23-man roster. Defenseman Steve Montador (concussion) would need to be placed on the injured list to get the active roster down to 23.
Nick Leddy, Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Bollig are all now Blackhawks as well.
–To bring in some help, the IceHogs signed veteran left wing Kenndal McArdle to a 25-game professional try-out contract.
McArdle was originally a 2005 first round (20th overall) draft pick of the Florida Panthers. He remained with the Panthers organization until 2011. Last season, McArdle played 9 games with the Winnipeg Jets, 35 for their AHL affiliate in St. John’s and 19 games with the Portland Pirates.
In 166 career AHL games, McArdle has 30 goals and 60 total points. He’s appeared in 42 NHL games during his career, notching one goal and two assists.
McArdle has spent this season with the ECHL’s Greenville Road Warriors. In 31 games there he has posted 7 goals and 15 assists.
–Forward David Gilbert was re-assigned to the Bloomington (Illinois) Blaze of the CHL today by the Chicago Blackhawks. Gilbert appeared in one game for Rockford since being recalled from Bloomington on January 7th. He has 13 goals, 10 assists in 29 games this season with Bloomington.