By Chris Block
A balanced attack and a solid goaltending performance turned in by Jason LaBarbera lifted the Rockford IceHogs to a 4-1 win over the visiting Milwaukee Admirals before a sold out crowd of 6,265 at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Saturday night.
Brandon Pirri and Jeremy Morin each scored goals to extend their personal point streaks while Brad Winchester and Terry Broadhurst bookended the IceHogs scoring to improve on the team’s season-best 9-game point streak (8-0-0-1).
Rockford moved to seven games above .500 while notching their 28th victory of the season. The IceHogs finished last season nine games above the .500 mark only to watch Milwaukee eliminate them from the playoffs on the final day of the 2012-13 regular season in a win at Peoria.
Vinny Saponari scored the loan goal for Milwaukee on Saturday. Rockford controlled the first period, benefitted from some weak goaltending on the Admirals side and held on while being outplayed much of the second and third periods.
Former IceHogs goaltender Hannu Toivonen was in net for the visitors and he was less than solid in his return to Rockford.
The IceHogs got on the board at 9:19 of the first period after Brad Winchester wound up and beat Toivonen on a shot from the top of the left circle. Toivonen drifted over to challenge the shot and Winchester beat him inside the far post. Not a good way to start the evening.
The scoring play was started in the IceHogs end when LaBarbera skated behind his net and passed a puck over to Brett Skinner. Skinner was under duress and quickly advanced the puck to Drew LeBlanc who was gaining speed up ice. LeBlanc dished to Phillip Danault in the neutral zone. Danault gained the blue line and dished to Winchester, who was up on the play waiting for his linemates to gain entry. Winchester accepted the pass, took two steps and unloaded a slap shot for his 16th goal of the season. The assist was Danault’s first in 17 games. LeBlanc got the secondary. The line has gelled well since being put together before the All-Star break.
Seven minutes later, Rockford increased its lead to a 2-0 bulge on Brandon Pirri’s 10th AHL goal of the campaign. The tally came on a power play, the ‘Hogs second of the night, after Milwaukee was cited for a Too Many Men infraction.
Pirri’s goal was set up by Pierre-Marc Bouchard, on what was apparently a set play Bouchard was working for the twenty seconds or so prior to eventually finding the lane he needed to feed Pirri across the ice for a one-timer. Rockford worked the puck around the perimeter and Bouchard and Adam Clendening played catch at the blue line until Bouchard saw his opening and spit two Milwaukee sticks to hit Pirri in the right circle. Pirri snapped a quick one-time release and sailed the puck over Toivonen’s glove high and inside the near post.
Pirri extended his current point streak to 6 games [6g, 3a] with the tally. He needs 4 points to reach 200 in his AHL career [235 games played].
Less than a minute after taking the two-goal lead, Mark McNeill drove hard around Toivonen’s net and was taken down by Admirals defenseman Charles-Olivier Roussel.
Rockford did little in the way of creating their own chances on the ensuing power play. They did, however, give up some prime scoring opportunities to the short-handed visitors.
LaBarbera came up with his two biggest saves of the game while the ‘Hogs were short-handed. First, Pierre-Marc Bouchard coughed up a puck in the neutral zone, giving Milwaukee a 2-on-1 the other way. LaBarbera came up with a stand up save on that chance.
Seconds later, LaBarbera made a sprawling stop on Colton Sissons after he stripped the puck from Adam Clendening at Rockford’s blue line. Clendening helped LaBarbera by hooking Sissons as he got his shot away, but LaBarbera still made an impressive save. Milwaukee was unable to create prime chances on their power play like the ones the IceHogs afforded them moments before.
After twenty minutes, the home team led 2-0 on the scoreboard and 13-11 in the shot column.
Jeremy Morin had the best opportunities to begin the middle frame when he followed his own shot from the right hash and challenged Toivonen to come up with a second stop when Morin collected his own rebound.
Milwaukee pushed the pace for the majority of the period until they fell into penalty troubles later. Mathieu Tousignant was cited for charging Clendening at 13:17. Clendening side-stepped most of the hit but the Ads went on the PK anyhow. Rockford’s power play was unsuccessful on this attempt though. Later, it appeared Milwaukee would be going on the power play after Theo Peckham cross-checked his man down, but Miikaa Salomaki was accused by referee Tim Mayer of embellishing so both Peckham and Salomaki were sent off.
During that 4-on-4, the IceHogs used the open ice to create chances with their speed.
And with 32 seconds left on the second period clock, Jeremy Morin tallied his team-leading 18th goal to give the IceHogs a 3-0 advantage. The goal extends Morin’s career-best consecutive game point streak to 9 games [7g, 8a].
Morin was led through the neutral zone by a Clendening pass. A second gear of speed pushed Morin a step by the Milwaukee defender. Morin wristed his shot from the right face off dot and it beat Toivonen. The puck glanced off Toivonen’s glove and in. It was the second bad goal given up by Toivonen on the night and he was pulled for Lemont, Illinois native Scott Darling during the intermission.
Milwaukee outshot Rockford 12-6 in the sandwich stanza yet went to the locker room down 3-0.
Darling couldn’t keep the Ads in range for a comeback.
At 6:11 of the third, Clendening was at his customary right point inside Milwaukee’s zone when he found Terry Broadhurst down low to Darling’s right. Terry passed up the shot, instead choosing to center it out front. The puck was halted but with four players hitting the deck in front of Darling, Terry Broadhurst was able to step over, grab the puck and beat Valentine with a wrist shot inside the near left post.
The goal was credited to Mark McNeill (if correct his 16th) and the second assist was given to Alex Broadhurst, who was lying on the ice with his helmet knocked off when the goal was scored. It appeared to be Terry’s goal and Clendening should have credited with one helper on the goal. The official scoring lists Zach Miskovic on the ice for the goal. He was not. Clendening and Dahlbeck were the defenseman. Should the goal be corrected to Terry, it would be his 11th of the season.
A few minutes later, Brandon Pirri yanked defenseman Scott Valentine down for little reason and Milwaukee got its 4th power play.
Forward Vinny Saponari got his second goal in as many nights on this power play opportunity to shave the IceHogs lead to 4-1.
The scoring play evolved after Jeremy Morin tried to clear the puck around the back wall along the glass. The puck, however, evidently hit a stanchion and banked out to LaBarbera’s right. Milwaukee was first to the puck and that’s when IceHogs coverage broke down. Morin drifted too far over to that side of the ice, leaving the weak side unaccounted for. Milwaukee worked the puck over to the unchallenged right point position and Anthony Bitetto shot a puck on goal. There, Saponari, who was left unabated to the goal by Theo Peckham, picked up the puck and sticked it around LaBarbera’s left pad for the goal.
Milwaukee outshot the ‘Hogs again in the third, this time 14-7.
Jason LaBarbera stopped 36 shots in the win and was deservedly named the game’s first star. Adam Clendening and Brandon Pirri got second and third stars, respectively.
Rockford (28-21-4-3, 63 points) now sit 3rd in the tough Midwest division and 6th in the Western conference.
With their recent 9-game point streak (8-0-0-1) the IceHogs occupy a playoff position a little more comfortably.
Saturday’s regulation win was huge as well given Milwaukee sits in the 8th spot with 57 points. But, the Admirals do have 4 games in hand on Rockford, as do the 7th place Rochester Americans, who will visit the BMO Harris Bank Center in the IceHogs next home game on Tuesday March 4th.
The ‘Hogs are off until Tuesday when they visit Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines for a matchup with the Iowa Wild. Its another important game for Rockford. Iowa sits in the 9th spot in the West, though they also have 4 games in hand on Rockford after Saturday night’s action. Iowa currently trails the IceHogs by 9 points in the standings. So, a Rockford regulation win in Iowa on Tuesday could hold huge ramifications down the road.
Faceoff stats vs Milwaukee [Win – Loss]
AHL does not track faceoff stats. So these are unofficial, tracked by myself as the game was going on.
Brandon Pirri: 6 – 9 (40.0%)
J. Nordstrom: 9 – 7 (56.0%)
Drew LeBlanc: 4 – 4 (50.0%)
A.Broadhurst: 2 – 2 (50.0%)
Mark McNeill: 1 – 3 (25.0%)
Jeremy Morin: 2 – 0 (100.0)
Phillip Danault: 0 – 1 (0.0%)
Team overall: 24 – 27 (47.1%)
IceHogs – By Zone
Defensive zone: 9 – 14
Offensive zone: 5 – 8
Neutral zone: 10 – 5
-Blackhawks placed defenseman Michael Kostka on waivers on Saturday. Odds are he’ll get claimed by some team in need of help low-cost help on their blue line, but if he clears by 11am on Sunday, the Hawks have 30 days or ten games to send Kostka back to Rockford (he was there on a 2-game conditioning assignment in early December) before they’d have to expose him to the waiver process again for the purpose of sending him to the minors.
-Jason LaBarbera has won each of his past 6 starts. In his last 4 games, LaBarbera is posting a 1.75 GAA and 94.5% save percentage.
Overall since he arrived in Rockford, LaBarbera is 10-4-1-1 with 91.7% sv and 2.60 GAA. He started out 2-3-1-1 with 91.7% sv and 2.68 GAA. Since, he’s won 8 of his last 9 starts. In this most recent nine game span, he’s posted a 91.6% sv and 2.53 GAA, which shows how much the offense was carrying the team before LaBarbera sharpened up over the last three games.
-Rockford is 6-1-1-1 in their last 9 games at the BMO. In each of those three losses, the ‘Hogs penalty kill allowed 2 power play goals against. In a Feb 4 home contest against Hamilton, the IceHogs allowed the Bulldogs 3 power play goals but still won the game 6-4. Overall in that 9 game stretch, Rockford’s PK is running at a 66.6% efficiency rate (24-36). For a comparison, in the previous 9-game stretch the PK held an 85.7% rate (36-42), and the team went 5-3-0-1.
-Milwaukee’s dressed skaters by the numbers were younger and slightly bigger than Rockford’s.
Average age of the IceHogs skaters were 25.1 years to Milwaukee’s 24.1.
Average height was about even, 6-1 ¼ Rockford, 6-1 for Milwaukee.
Average weight among IceHogs skaters is 199 to Milwaukee’s 204.
-Two games over the weekend were the best I’ve seen Theo Peckham play in an IceHogs uniform. He wasn’t perfect, but he displayed more confidence and jump than any other point this year. He played like a guy who is tired of being healthy scratched.
-Morin led the ‘Hogs with 7 shots on Saturday. Winchester had 5.
-Rockford now has 9 home games left on the regular season schedule – 5 in March and the other 4 in the month of April.
Rockford IceHogs lines, pairs, specials and scratches Saturday vs Ads
12-Brandon Mashinter / 27-Brandon Pirri / 26-Garret Ross
96-Pierre-Marc Bouchard / 23-Joakim Nordstrom / 19-Jeremy Morin
37-Terry Broadhurst / 25-Alex Broadhurst / 28-Mark McNeill
11-Brad Winchester / 14-Drew LeBlanc / 18-Phillip Danault
22-Theo Peckham / 2-Adam Clendening
10-Klas Dahlbeck / 3-Zach Miskovic
7-Brett Skinner / 6-Jared Nightingale
1-Jason LaBarbera (starter)
Scratches: D-8-Viktor Svedberg (injured, day-to-day)…. W/D-15-Wade Brookbank (healthy)… C/W-16-Brad Mills (day-to-day)….
Power play I: Morin-Pirri-Winchester with Bouchard & Clendening
Power play II: Mashinter-LeBlanc-T.Broadhurst with Skinner & Nordstrom
PK forwards: Nordstrom-Ross, Danault-McNeill, Morin-A.Broadhurst
PK defense: Dahlbeck-Miskovic, Peckham-Nightingale, Clendening
Milwaukee Admirals lineup on Saturday night in Rockford, Illinois
21-Simon Moser / 29-Mark Van Guilder / 41-Taylor Beck
20-Miikka Salomaki / 18-Colton Sissons / 74-Vinny Saponari
8-Filip Forsberg / 51-Austin Watson / 10-Patrick Cehlin
17-Michael Liambas / 16-Mathieu Tousignant / 24-Zach Budish
2-Anthony Bitetto / 7-Joe Piskula
22-Scott Valentine / 55-Charles-Olivier Roussel
33-Bryan Rodney / 36-Joonas Jarvinen
1-Hannu Toivonen (starter)
37-Scott Darling (3rd period)