By Chris Block
In the past couple of days, I had a chance to watch Rockford’s most recent three games played Tuesday, Friday and Sunday of last week.
With a slight exception of Friday’s 2-1 shootout loss in San Antonio, the week was as ugly as it looks on paper for Rockford. After starting December with four consecutive wins, the IceHogs’ offense chilled.
The IceHogs mustered just one goal in each of the three contests, losing all three outings (0-2-0-1). Rockford’s power play went 0 for 13 and is now statistically the worst (11.8%) in the AHL, and showing no signs of improving.
One positive was the play of Jeff Glass, who got all three starts with J-F Berube getting sidelined by a left leg injury during Rockford’s 7-2 win over Grand Rapids on December 9th. Berube is not expected back until the second week of January. In the meantime, Collin Delia will serve as the second goalie.
Glass stopped 101 of the 107 shots he faced last week for a 94.4% save percentage and a 1.96 GAA for those three starts. On the season, Glass is 8-4-1-1 with a .915 save percentage and 2.70 GAA. In his previous four appearances, Rockford had averaged 4.5 goals for Glass and overall on the year they’ve supported him to the tune of 2.9 goals per appearance.
Tuesday December 12 vs Chicago Wolves – IceHogs lose 2-1 on late goal
The week began with a 2-1 loss in Rockford to the suddenly resurgent Chicago Wolves. The IceHogs rival spent much of the first nine weeks of the season mired in last place in the Central Division. All of a sudden the Wolves are back to the .500 mark with a six-game winning streak heading into this Friday night’s rematch with the IceHogs in Rockford.
The Wolves knocked off Rockford with 2 seconds left in regulation last Tuesday. Tomas Jurco was a late scratch in this one after skating in the warmup. Matheson Iacopelli, the most healthy-scratched ‘Hogs forward this season, took Jurco’s spot in the lineup. However, Jeremy Colliton shook up his lines a bit with Jurco out, moving Alexandre Fortin up to take Jurco’s spot on David Kampf’s line, with Anthony Louis sliding over to Jurco’s typical right wing slot. Iacopelli drew in at left wing on Tyler Sikura’s line(with Andreas Martinsen) – which isn’t a bad place to be considering it’s often a favorite of Colliton’s.
The late changes could have sucked some life out of the IceHogs, who looked out of sorts for most of the opening period last Tuesday. Brandon Pirri scored his 8th of the season at the 5:03 mark after the Wolves came down the ice on a 4 on 2 break against Dahlstrom and Svedberg. Neither defenseman handled that well, really, and then the rebound off Teemu Pulkkinen’s shot was mishandled by Anthony Louis, which gave Pirri a look at an empty net.
It wasn’t til 7:32 of the third when Rockford answered to tie the game 1-1. David Kampf won an offensive zone draw back to Svedberg, who quickly dished to Dahlstrom for a one-timer. Dahlstrom’s shot glanced off Louis in the slot just enough to fool Wolves’ goalie Max Legace. The goal was Louis’ 5th and the assist extended Dahlstrom’s point streak to five games [1g 8a].
The game appeared destined for overtime. But then with 10 seconds left on the clock, Luke Johnson skated the puck into Chicago’s zone. Johnson had nowhere to go with the puck, but instead of chipping it in deep, Johnson chose to put on the breaks and turn back toward the blue line with the puck. He was stripped by Jason Garrison and he chipped the puck up to T.J. Tynan. The play was actually a 3 on 3. Tynan fed Paul Thompson who got a backhander off from between the circles. The puck hit Glass on the edge of his elbow pad and continued on into the back of the net with only a minute and change left on the game clock.
Friday December 15 at San Antonio – IceHogs lose 2-1 in shootout
Tomas Jurco returned to the lineup in the first of two games in San Antonio. Matheson Iacopelli was out of the lineup, again, as the IceHogs lone healthy scratch. Ville Pokka was missing due to his first career NHL callup on Wednesday. Robin Press took Pokka’s spot in the lineup over the weekend.
Rockford dominated play in the first period, benefitting from back-to-back San Antonio penalties that saw the IceHogs on the power play for six of the final seven minutes of the opening frame. But the visitors came away with nothing to show for that.
The middle stanza was wild, back and forth, physical hockey.
San Antonio stuck the scoreboard first when Jurco turned the puck over at the Rampage blue line. Julien Nantel skated up the left side, 3 on 3. Nantel made it look like he was going to drive around the back of Glass’ net. Instead, he banked the puck over the goal line off Glass’ right skate as he skated by.
Rockford got even late in the period with a one-man effort by Andreas Martinsen. Back in the Rockford end, Martinsen lined Rampage defenseman Mason Geersten up just outside Rockford’s zone. Martinsen checked Geersten down hard. Geersten got up and immediately skated to his bench. But there was confusion on the Rampage bench and they briefly had six skaters on the ice. In trying to get back to the bench, Duncan Siemens collided with an official, which gave Rockford a fortunate odd-man break. Martinsen carried the puck the entire way. He actually fumbled his initial shot but gathered the puck again and still beat Ville Husso to the far stick-side.
Rockford played well in the third and in the overtime but were, again, let down by their own anemic power play – failing to muster any significant scoring chances. The overtime 4 on 3 power play may have been rock-bottom for this IceHogs’ special teams unit. Rockford was lucky to get this man advantage to begin with as it was a bit of a weak call on Alex Belzile for tripping Mathew Highmore as the two skated by Jeff Glass’ net. Colliton sent four forwards – Jurco, Kero, Louis and Kampf out for the first minute of the chance. Kampf was positioned at the top of the point with Louis and Jurco flanked out in the circles and Kero aside the net. This group literally passed around the horn for 60 seconds. Jurco paced up and down nonsensically in the left circle. Nothing happened. No shot attempts. No movement. Nothing. Mercifully, Jurco eventually made himself available for a pass and shot the puck on net for a whistle. The second group was Johnson, Martinsen, Highmore and Dahlstrom. They did get a couple shots at the net and one was enough to make the Rampage sweat a bit. But this game would go on to the shootout.
Kampf, Louis and Johnson were Rockford’s shooters. Kampf missed the net. Louis took the slow approach and shot it into Husso’s chest. Johnson deked Husso to his knees but his shot was deflected up into the netting.
Glass stopped Brendan Ranford and Tage Thompson with glove saves. However, David Warsofsky snapped a forehand shot by Glass to give the home team the extra point.
Sunday December 17 at San Antonio – Rampage Roll 4-1
The only lineup change Sunday was Graham Knott getting the scratch this time and Iacopelli drawing back in to Knott’s left wing spot on the fourth line.
Rockford’s power play was again the story early on. With the benefit of a 5 on 3 for 1:42 just five minutes into the game, Rockford skated out five forwards – Highmore, Kero, Jurco, Kampf and Louis.
Jurco had the best chance, 60 seconds into the 5 on 3, striking iron when he had a wide open net to shoot at. It was a deflating moment that seemed to set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
50 seconds after the power play expired, Martinsen checked David Warsofsky hard in the corner to Rampage starter Spencer Martin’s left. Martinsen then hustled back to defend his end and interfered with Tage Thompson in the slot in front of Jeff Glass.
30 seconds later, Andrew Agozzino converted on San Antonio’s first and only power play of the game. The play started when Viktor Svedberg got caught up in the Rampage end. Warsofsky recovered the puck and sent Agozzino up ice for a wrister that beat Glass cleanly at 8:19 of the first.
In the early going of the second, it was all San Antonio. Carl Dahlstrom, in particular, had a couple of rough shifts, but no one was standing out in a positive way.
Luke Johnson hit the cross bar at the 7:33 mark when he had a nice solo rush up the left side, sprung by Tanner Kero. The IceHogs had just 9 shots on goal credited to them at this point, nearly halfway through the game.
Martinsen caught a lucky break about a minute later when Rampage defenseman Chris Bigras fell down retrieving a puck off his defensive zone half wall. Martinsen had been in deep on the forecheck. The puck bounced right to Martinsen and he turned and beat Spencer Martin to tie the game 1-1. Martinsen’s goal in Friday night’s game was also unassisted.
Rockford got its fourth and final chance at the power play six minutes into the third period.
Colliton sent two defenseman and three forwards out for the initial 27 seconds of this man-advantage, then quickly shuffled it to the 5-forward unit of Highmore, Kero, Louis, Jurco and Kampf.
This ended – badly. Almost immediately, the Rampage got a short-handed breakaway chance when a puck got away from Kero, and then Jurco along the half-wall. Glass was able to turn away Dominic Toninato’s backhand try here. Moments later another Rampage short-handed rush led to Chris Butler giving the host team a 2-1 lead.
All five Rockford players got caught on one half of the ice in the Rampage end. When Kero sent a wild back-hand try on net, the puck popped out to the open side of the ice. With four IceHogs caught in too deep as well, only David Kampf was back to defend and he was no challenge. Butler beat Glass by the stick side. Glass through his arms up and shook his head after the goal.
Rocco Grimaldi stretched the lead to 3-1 at 15:12 of the third when he checked Robin Norell behind the Rockford net. Grimaldi stood Norell up and took the puck right away from the IceHogs defender. Grimaldi kicked the puck to his stick and quickly stuffed it by Glass.
Down two goals, Colliton pulled his goalie for the extra attacker with just under 3 minutes remaining in regulation. 10 seconds later, Grimaldi scored into the empty-net after Darren Raddysh lost the puck at center ice. The puck then bounced around, eluding Raddysh, Louis and Laurent Dauphin before the Rampage recovered it and got it to Grimaldi for his 9th goal of the season.
Rockford was outshot 41-24 in the game. It was the worst shot differential (-17) in a game for the IceHogs since Opening Night (-10) at Cleveland. The 24 shots also marked Rockford’s second-lowest shot total of the season – the fewest being on Opening Night, Oct 7th at Cleveland when the IceHogs posted just 22 shots on goal.
In three games versus San Antonio this season, Andreas Martinsen [2 goals] is the lone IceHog player to register a point. Rockford has been outscored 12-2 by the Rampage if you could the shootout decider on Friday.
The IceHogs have been outshot only 8 times in 28 games thus far this season and own a +115 differential.
The power play can’t get much worse than it is right now.
In the past 19 games, the IceHogs are 4-81 with the man-advantage. Their team record is 8-9-1-1 during that span.
Their penalty kill hasn’t been great, but it hasn’t completely caved in. In that same 19 game stretch, Rockford’s PK has given up 16 goals against 71 chances (77.5%).
The more jarring thing right now as it pertains to the power play is the propensity to give up scoring chances to the opposing penalty kill. Rockford is a good team because they’ve been really good at even strength.
This season, Rockford has come out on the negative side of the even-strength goal differential in 10 of their 28 games. The IceHogs are 1-8-1-0 in those contests (-17). The only win came on October 28 when Rockford scored 4 power play goals, including 3 in the third period, on Jared Coreau to beat Grand Rapids 4-3 at the BMO. Rockford’s power play went 4-7 that night – 20 games ago.
In those eight other games, when Rockford comes out negative on even-strength goal differential, the IceHogs power play went 2 for 34 (5.9%).
Rockford heads into this weekends two home games pre-Christmas break firmly slotted in 3rd place in the Central Divison. They sit 3 points behind Iowa and 15 points behind the incredibly hot Manitoba Moose, who are on a 14-0-0-1 streak right now. Milwaukee and Chicago are right on Rockford’s heels. Both the Admirals and Wolves have given Rockford fits thus far.
With a competent power play, Rockford could have pulled away from that pack. If they can’t find one, they are running the risk of sliding down the division standings and out of a playoff spot.
Ville Pokka is back after missing the San Antonio games due to his call up to NHL-Chicago. Pokka did not play in the two games he was with the Blackhawks.
Rockford host the Wolves on Friday and Grand Rapids on Saturday at the BMO. Puck drops are 7pm and 6pm respectively.