By Chris Block
Rockford dropped both ends of a back-to-back in Cleveland over the weekend to begin the 2016-17 campaign at 0-2-0.
It’s the first time the IceHogs have opened a season 0-2 since 2012-13, when they dropped a back-to-back in Rosemont to start that schedule when the NHL was on lockout. [Our detailed rundown of Friday’s season opening loss and roster are here.]
Jeremy Langlois was Rockford’s lone scorer in the second defeat on Saturday. Langlois’s tally came short-handed late in the second when the IceHogs were already down 3-0. The final score was 3-1.
Aaron Palushaj, T.J. Tynan and Nick Moutrey scored for the defending AHL champs, formerly known as the Lake Erie Monsters. Anton Forsberg started in goal for the Monsters for the second straight night, stopping 26 of 27 ‘Hogs shots. Brad Thiessen, the Monsters other goalie, missed the set due to the birth of his second child.
Worse news for Rockford comes on the injury front.
Spencer Abbott, 28, left the game early in the second period with an apparent wrist injury and did not return.
The IceHogs could not give an official update on Abbott’s status as of Monday. Rockford had a team-building softball outing on Monday. They return to the ice for practice on Tuesday.
Abbott suffered an apparent left wrist injury on the first shift of the second period when he received a one-handed slash on the back of his left wrist from the stick of Aaron Palushaj. Abbott left the ice almost immediately. He skated one more shift, at the end of which he was checked hard into the boards by veteran defenseman Jaime Sifers. The impact of the check was on the left side of Abbott’s body. He hunched over, appearing to favor his left wrist again, and did not return to the game.
With Abbott out, Jeremy Langlois took Abbott’s spot on the power play for one spin – the one resulting in a short-handed goal Cleveland scored off a loose puck created by a Langlois-Ville Pokka collision at center ice. Ted Dent went with 2 defensemen on that power play unit after that, using Schilling and Gustafsson at the points, moving Martin Lundberg back down to his more natural wing position after working a point up til then and on Friday. [See all lines and special teams units at the bottom on this post.]
Abbott was brought back to the Blackhawks organization this off season after spending last year with Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League, the same team Lars Johansson played for.
The Hawks signed Abbott to a one-year NHL contract on July 1st. He originally came to the IceHogs prior to the trade deadline in 2015 in a swap with Toronto involving T.J. Brennan. Abbott then posted 12 goals in 19 games with Rockford and another 3 in 8 postseason games that spring. He is expected to provide a much-needed shot of offense and stability in Rockford. Abbott has appeared in just one NHL game in his career, that with the Maple Leafs at the beginning of the 2013-14 season.
If he misses any time, Abbott will be sorely missed.
Cleveland wasted no time scoring on Saturday, taking a 1-0 lead on the first shift of the game.
The Monsters first shot of the game came off the stick of Aaron Palushaj and beat Mac Carruth under the blocker arm at 46 seconds. The play was a slow developing 3 on 2. Cameron Schilling aggressively attacked Alex Broadhurst, the puck carrier. Erik Gustafsson took the second man, T.J. Tynan, low in the zone to Carruth’s left. But Spencer Abbott was too slow to pick up the late-coming Palushaj, who Broadhurst dished to for the one-on-one with Carruth.
Sam Carrick had a chance three minutes later, alone in on Forsberg, but Carrick couldn’t keep a proper handle on the puck and had it poke checked away by the netminder.
A few minutes later, Rockford caught a lucky break when Schilling pushed Sonny Milano into Carruth and Milano got whistled off for interference. It was a lucky break until Rockford’s power play went to work. The first unit generated nothing. Tanner Kero’s unit fared better with Mark McNeill and Brandon Mashinter trading chances setting the other up for point blank opportunities. Both of those were stopped by Forsberg.
Gustafsson sprung P-C Labrie up through the neutral zone with 1:50 to go in the first. A nice read and pass by Gustafsson put Labrie in alone, who had his first attempt stopped. The rebound came back out to Labrie but he whacked it off the side of the net.
Rockford had another clear path to the net wasted 5 minutes into the middle period.
Mark McNeill found himself on a breakaway when he pulled up and aimed a weak-looking slap shot for the far corner that didn’t hit its mark.
A minute later, Cleveland scored short-handed after Ville Pokka and Jeremy Langlois (who was substituting for Abbott on the power play) ran into each other at center ice. This allowed T.J. Tynan to stride in alone on Carruth. Tynan went 5-hole and Carruth hardly flinched. 2-0 Monsters at 6:20 of the second.
Midway into the second, Monsters forward Jordan Maletta was whistled off on a double hi-sticking minor when his stick recklessly rode up into Mashinter’s face. Again, the IceHogs power play was its own worst enemy – only mustering 3 shots on Forsberg over the four minutes with the man advantage.
Just after Maletta’s penalty expired, Mashinter coughed one up when he was pressured up the half wall in the Monsters’ end. Schilling pinched down the zone to give Mashinter an option, but his attempted backhand feed was errant and the Monsters set off the other way. The guy who wound up scoring, Moutrey, beat Mashinter to the net and Cleveland opened a 3-0 lead.
Kyle Baun got a fortunate breakaway try while short-handed late in the second. Two Cleveland skaters left the puck near the Monsters blue line. Baun pounced on it but his backhander was brushed aside. Luke Johnson had a follow up chance but that was stopped as well.
Moments later, Langlois beat two Monsters in a battle in the corner to Forsberg’s left. He skated out of the corner and banked a shot in off the Cleveland goaltender to trim the deficit to 3-1 with 1:33 to go in the second.
Rockford tightened up its possession of the play overall in the second but still there were many forced, or risky passes. Clumsy puckhandling hampered Rockford’s ability to get back into the game until the late shorty from Langlois.
The third period was more of the same. The penalty kill was a bright spot for Rockford on Saturday. The PK was 3 for 3 on the night, though in abbreviated form as it was only about 4 minutes of actual time.
Carruth stopped 19 of 22 Monsters recorded attempts in taking the loss. In no way can he be blamed for this loss, though you would like to see Carruth get one of those saves, especially the first one on Palushaj.
Rockford bused home after the game, though their next game is on the road, Friday at Grand Rapids.
IceHogs then host their home opener Saturday against Milwaukee.
Cleveland then visits Rockford on Sunday, October 23rd.
Rockford has now lost 7 consecutive games versus the Monsters. That includes the Monsters postseason sweep of the IceHogs last April.
–Ted Dent’s lines, pairs & scratches – Game 2 – Saturday Oct 15, 2016
22-Pierre-Cedric Labrie / 16-Sam Carrick / 13-Spencer Abbott (*)
53-Brandon Mashinter / 10-Tanner Kero / 28-Mark McNeill
25-Martin Lundberg / 37-Luke Johnson / 17-Jeremy Langlois
20-Bryn Chyzyk / 11-Jake Dowell / 27-Kyle Baun
21-Robin Norell / 6-Erik Gustafsson
5-Cameron Schilling / 29-Ville Pokka
8-Viktor Svedberg / 32-Carl Dahlstrom
Power Play I: Labrie-Carrick-Abbott w/ Gustafsson & Lundberg
Power Play II: Mashinter-Kero-McNeill w/ Svedberg & Pokka
PK Forwards: Dowell-Lundberg, Kero-McNeill, Johnson-Langlois, Chyzyk
PK Defense: Dahlstrom-Pokka, Schilling-Gustafsson, Norell
Forwards: 14-Chris DeSousa… 15-Tyler Barnes… 26-Evan Mosey…
Defense: LD-7-Nolan Valleau…
(*) Dent shuffled his lines quite a bit after Abbott’s exit. We mentioned the power play adjustments in the text above. A sample of forward lines in the 3rd went like this:
20-10-17, 53-37-28, 25-37-27, 53-16-28, 22-11-37, 20-10-17, 25-28-27