Ryan Hartman – Photo credit: Rockford IceHogs Hockey
By Chris Block
Thanks to a terrific start to the season, the Rockford IceHogs still sit atop the MidWest Division a little past the halfway point of the AHL season.
But the past six weeks have been a struggle for the IceHogs. The team’s offense some nights is almost non-existent and the gap between Rockford and nearest contenders, Milwaukee and Chicago has narrowed.
When the IceHogs win they’re averaging 3.7 goals for versus 1.7 against.
In Rockford’s 19 losses (23-13-4-2), they’ve scored just 1.4 goals per game, while the goaltenders allowed 2.9 against.
“We got four goals [Friday, a 4-0 home ice win over Iowa], which was nice,” said IceHogs’ coach, Ted Dent.
“We haven’t had four goals in a long time. So, we’ll just keep chipping away at it.”
Since Thanksgiving, Rockford has put up 4 goals or more just 4 times. That represents a total of 22 games in which the IceHogs have averaged 2.09 goals for per game. Rockford’s record since Thanksgiving is 8-9-4-1. Two of those wins came via the shootout.
Going into Thursday’s game at Iowa, Rockford sits 1 point up in the standings on Milwaukee. The IceHogs have four games left this year with the Admirals to the north. Rockford is 3-4-1-0 versus Milwaukee so far in 2014-15.
Ted Dent has used the word ‘average’ to describe his team’s play of late. They’re still outshooting the opposition, 33.5 to 31.9 by average per game since the American Thanksgiving holiday.
So, the puck possession, in the theory of modern-time puck possession metrics, is there. But the goal production is still lacking.
“It starts with getting pucks to the net,” said Mark McNeill.
Rockford’s second-leading goal scorer has 12 on the campaign. Because McNeill missed a month of the season due to a lower-body injury, he ranks first on the team in goals (.41), and points (.79) per game.
“Not only that, but making sure we have bodies there,” McNeill continued.
“In the past, we’re getting point shots but we’ve had guys standing on the side of the net kind of raking leaves. It’s just a matter of bearing down, getting good body position and taking away the goalie’s eyes.”
Rockford’s recent struggles have nearly all boiled down to not putting enough pucks in the net. They’re goaltending has been rock solid virtually all season. The IceHogs’ penalty kill has ranked at or near the top as well. And the latter has been very important.
No team in the AHL receives fewer power play opportunities than Rockford. The IceHogs average 3.6 power play chances per game, dead last in the American League. The penalty kill faces an average of 4.05 man-disadvantages per game, 17th ‘worst’ in the AHL.
Considering their offensive struggles, Rockford is pretty fortunate to be where they are at this point of the season when they’re sporting a minus-19 power play differential. Again, that success points back to Michael Leighton, Scott Darling, the penalty killers and an enhanced commitment to team defense.
When Rockford has posted 3 goals or more, they’re 18-0-2-0 this season.
Two of those eighteen wins have come in overtime. Goals scored, when discussed at any time here, is within the bounds of 65 minutes of hockey, and does not include the artificial ‘goal’ awarded to the team who wins the shootout competition. Those two overtime 4-3 losses each came on home ice and within a span of ten days.
This also means that the IceHogs have managed just 2 goals or less in 22 of their 42 games, or 52.4% of their season.
Rockford is 5-13-2-2 when they’ve scored 2 goals or less. Two of those five wins were earned via the shootout as 3-2 final scores.
Also, the IceHogs have completed a game with 1 goal or less on 11 occasions, or 26.2% of their schedule.
Opposing teams have shutout Rockford three times, with one game seeing the IceHogs losing in overtime, the other in a shootout.
“We’ve got to score more goals, for sure,” says Dent.
“Most of our games have been low scoring. Our power play needs to get going and that can definitely help, in that respect. The defense can chip in here and there’s a few forwards that need to contribute as well.”
Back on December 4, when Rockford was sporting a 16-5-1-1 record, the team’s PDO (Shooting + Save percentage) sat at 102.86%
On that day, the team’s season save percentage was 92.98% and they were shooting at a 9.88% clip.
Nineteen games later, Rockford’s PDO has dipped to 100.73, which consists of a 0.31% drop in save percentage and a 1.82% drop in the shooting department.
Rockford has gone 7-8-3-1, scoring 38 goals over that 19 game stretch since a 4-0 win in Milwaukee on December 4.
The IceHogs’ coach says you can’t pinpoint any one, or handful of players for the downtrend.
“If you look at our team, I’ve said it from day one, we have to score by committee,” said Dent.
“We don’t have the natural goal scorer. We don’t have that 100 point guy on this team. It’s by committee and sometimes that’s not a bad thing. Everybody shares the workload in that respect and that’s how we’re going to score goals.”
One area particularly struggling right now is the defense. Dent’s offense in the past has emphasized shots from the point, but this year those shots aren’t getting through with the success of past seasons.
IceHogs’ defenseman consecutive AHL games without a goal
Adam Clendening (29 gms), Stephen Johns (29), Viktor Svedberg (22), Kyle Cumiskey (20), Zach Miskovic (20), Ville Pokka (9), Klas Dahlbeck (6), T.J. Brennan (5)
IceHogs’ forwards current goalless streaks (AHL only)
Cody Bass (35), Peter Regin (20), Alex Broadhurst (17), Ryan Schnell (16), Drew LeBlanc (15), Jamie Wise (8), Matt Carey (7)
Garret Ross has 2 goals in his last ten games; Phillip Danault has 2 in the last six games; McNeill 2 goals in nine and 3 tallies over his past 16 games healthy. Pierre-Cedric Labrie, an unlikely goal source, has 2 in the past 3 contests.
Ryan Hartman has 2 goals in the last 4 IceHogs’ games, and 3 in his last 8.
“We can always shoot the puck,” says Hartman. The rookie IceHogs’ right winger has 7 goals overall, but three have come over the past 8 games – Hartman’s most prolific stretch over the first half. He went 17 consecutive games without one prior to the last eight games, and he had just 2 goals in 27 games from October 29 to December 30. Those two goals both came in a November 21 game against Iowa.
“I just need to get pucks to the net and hopefully they’re going to bounce my way,” Hartman said.
Speaking of PDO, and this isn’t groundbreaking stuff, just more evidence of the success good goaltending and a few goals scored can bring a team.
When Rockford’s single-game PDO is above 100.0 this season, the team is 20-0-1-2. The team averages in these games are 95.3% save and 10.9% shooting.
In games the IceHogs’ PDO falls below the 100.0 line, they’re 3-13-3-0. All three wins came outside of regulation – two in overtime and one in the shootout. In this batch of games, the team save percentage is at 89.3 and 5.02 shooting success rate. They’ve allowed 3.2 goals per contest when falling on the wrong side of this PDO equation, while allowing 29.5 shots against per game. Hogs have averaged 35 shots for per game to go with those numbers. Even in losing, Rockford usually outshoots its opponent.
Simply stated, Rockford just doesn’t have the offensive firepower to overcome an off-night from their goaltenders. Not that there’s been many of those, however. IceHogs’ goalies have given up 4 goals or more just nine times this season, no more than 5 and that happened only once – a night Rockford outshot Iowa 59-25, yet lost the game 5-1.
Rockford visits Iowa again tonight, their 3rd of 4 regular season trips to Des Moines. Saturday the IceHogs return home to host Utica, the Western Conference’s 2nd best team record-wise. That will close out the schedule pre-All Star break. Rockford returns to action with a home-and-home with the Chicago Wolves next Friday and Saturday, beginning at the BMO on January 30th.
Still – They’ll take it
Despite recent troubles, Ted Dent is happy overall with his team’s current position.
“Oh, for sure. Yeah,” Dent said after Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win in Rosemont over their rival, Chicago Wolves.
“When you start out the season, you never know which way it’s going to go. It’s day-to-day, week-to-week. If you would’ve said before the season, this is where we were going to be, and this is the amount of points we were going to have, we would’ve taken it, for sure.”