By Jon Fromi
The Rockford IceHogs have played 48 games of their 2012-13 schedule. Despite avoiding the poor start that has plagued the team in recent seasons, post lockout struggles have put the IceHogs in an all-too-familiar position. Namely, near the bottom of the AHL Western Conference and looking at an uphill climb to a spot in the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 campaign.
Saturday’s effort at the BMO Center didn’t inspire confidence as the IceHogs were shutout by Houston 2-0. Since play resumed last month, Rockford has limped to a 3-7 mark. The luck wasn’t any better against the Aeros.
Both Aeros goals were of the same variety. Ben Youds failed to clear the Hogs zone in the waning seconds of the opening period, leading to a two-on-one chance that was made good when Johan Larsson beat a sprawling Henrik Karlsson with eight seconds left.
Up to that point, it was just a frustrating opening twenty. Rockford had pucks in front of the net but didn’t have anyone to lay a stick on it when it counted. The late goal definitely tempered optimism among the 5100 faithful.
Rockford outshot their opponents in both the second and third periods but never found the twine behind Darcy Keumper, who made 38 saves. Houston’s second goal came in the 16th minute of the third, when a Shawn Lalonde turnover in the corner led to David McIntyre scoring to break the back of the IceHogs.
Here are some observations I made from my seat as the IceHogs futilely attempted to put the puck in the net:
–Former IceHogs defenseman Brian Connelly was out of the lineup Saturday. However, former IceHogs captain Jake Dowell was in uniform for Houston. Dowell was a big part of the Aeros penalty kill that stopped Rockford’s two power plays in the third period.
–This brings me to the fact that the league’s most penalized team played over half the game without visiting the box. Rockford committed just three penalties in the course of the contest and killed all three Houston power plays.
–Saturday was our first look at Karlsson, whose beanpole frame stopped 32 of 34 shots. He may still be wearing his Calgary Flames mask, but I feel a lot better about the depth in net than with Alec Richards on the roster.
–Karlsson has split his four starts, giving up nine goals. Last night, as was the case last week in San Antonio, he probably deserved better Saturday night. I was kind of surprised that coach Ted Dent sent Karlsson instead of trotting out Carter Hutton for the home crowd. However, Karlsson has been better of late and it looks like it could be a true tandem in goal from here on out.
–Rockford now sits 14th in the conference standings and are seven points out of the last playoff spot with 28 games to play. I’ll give Mark Bernard credit for trying to field a playoff-caliber team, but it hasn’t produced results yet.
–Yes, there has been a lot of turnover on the roster, but how long can we cry about chemistry issues before Dent is taken to task for the performance of this team? I like Kendall McArdle’s game and Brad Mills is a nice pickup in light of so many players moving on to Chicago.
–In a lot of ways, I like this roster more than I did a year ago at this time. A lot of the same “prospects” are here with another year’s experience and there is more emphasis on some veterans that in the past. I guess we will just have to sit and see if this team can heat up as spring approaches.
–The IceHogs are on pace to set a franchise record in attendance despite being under .500 at this point. Credit the IceHogs staff for being fan-oriented and getting butts into the seats. I got my season ticket letter promising free parking in the BMO lot when I re-up. I’d rather they promise a playoff series as I can park free on the street.