Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have 16 games under their belt entering the month of December. The piglets kicked off November with a pair of wins in Manitoba. The IceHogs are hoping to do the same this weekend with games Friday and Sunday up in Winnipeg.

Rockford (9-5-2-0, 20 points) sits in second place in the Central Division standings. The IceHogs are right in the hunt for the division lead with Texas (23 points) and Milwaukee (19 points). Rockford, along with the Stars and Admirals, have created a bit of separation at the top of the Central. The Hogs aim to stay in the upper echelon; the first step towards that goal is waiting for them up in Manitoba.

The IceHogs own a 3-0 mark over Manitoba this season. Most recently, Rockford defeated the Moose 6-2 at the BMO Center on November 22. The Hogs welcomed former goalie Collin Delia back to town, then dropped a six-pack in his net in the first 40 minutes of action.

Following a November 12 clunker in Rosemont in which the last-place Chicago Wolves dealt Rockford a 5-0 defeat, the IceHogs finished the month strong. They enter this weekend’s action on a six-game point streak. Rockford has gone 4-0-2 over the past two weeks to finish November with a 6-3-2 mark.

Solid Opening For Rockford

How has the season been so far? Rockford has been good, if not dominant. They’ve had moments where they’ve defended very well but have struggled for consistency in this area. Even more so than last year, Rockford is dependent on their veteran scoring. This could be problematic with Joey Anderson (7 G, 9 A) and Cole Guttman (3 G, 6 A), two of the Hogs top scorers being recalled to Chicago last week.

David Gust (6 G, 10 A) and Brett Seney (6 G, 7 A) currently pace Rockford on the offensive end. Anders Bjork (4 G, 9 A) has been a welcome addition, as has rookie forward Colton Dach (5 G, 5 A), who joined the team after recovering from a preseason injury. On November 24 in Rockford, Dach factored in both IceHogs goals in a 2-1 overtime win over the Admirals.

On the blueline, Ethan Del Mastro (1 G, 8 A) has been a bright spot on what has been a very young group in recent weeks due to call-ups and injuries.

Rockford will likely start rookie Drew Commesso in net on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. CDT in Winnipeg. Commesso stopped 26 shots in a 4-1 IceHogs victory in Manitoba November 5.

Commesso and Jaxson Stauber have split the starts for Rockford. Commesso is 5-2-1 with a 2.24 GAA and a .917 save percentage. That goals against average is tenth in the AHL and fourth among rookies this season. Stauber (3.59, .891) struggled early but has put together some solid games over the past two weeks, going 2-0-1 in his last three starts.

Special Teams

Despite the six-game point streak, the IceHogs power play has stalled over the past couple of weeks. In 25 opportunities in that span, Rockford has just three goals on the man advantage. Overall, the IceHogs are still fifth in the AHL with a 22.6 percent success rate, due to a potent October.

The recall of Anderson, who had four goals and five assists on the power play, doesn’t help moving into December. Seney also has four goals and five helpers on the power play this season. Gust (1 G, 6 A) and Bjork (2 G, 4 A) have also been top performers for the IceHogs man-advantage unit.

The penalty killing has been nothing to write home about; at 80.4 percent efficiency, Rockford is 21st in the league in this category.

Banged Up

Rockford has several players nursing injuries at the moment.

Kale Howarth has been in the AHL’s concussion protocol since opening night. Jalen Luypen was placed in the concussion protocol on November 20.

Mike Hardman has been out with a shoulder injury he suffered on the first shift of the game November 17 against Milwaukee. Rookie Antti Saarela will miss the Manitoba trip with a wrist injury. Defenseman Josh Healey last played November 12 in Chicago.

Thoughts

  • Rockford got blown out at the BMO by the Stars in the only meeting between the teams this season. The piglets don’t draw with Texas until January 5 and 6 in Cedar Park. The Hogs December schedule includes four games with a terrible San Diego team and lots of winnable games before a home-and-home with the Admirals December 30 and 31.
  • The Hogs are 1-0-2 against Milwaukee and have struggled with the tight defense of the Ads. They are 7-1 combined against Manitoba, Iowa, and Grand Rapids; Rockford has six games in December against these teams. Picking up eight or nine wins in December is certainly attainable.
  • Head coach Anders Sorensen has not named a captain this season. He may not. Bjork, on an AHL contract and likely in Rockford for the duration, would be a good bet should Sorensen decide to name a captain.
  • Things could go south real fast for the Hogs if veterans like Gust and Seney are recalled to Chicago. There just isn’t enough scoring in the lineup to pick up the slack in such a situation. Luke Philp may return next month, which would help.
  • Until then, who steps up? Michal Teply is in a ten-game goal drought. December would be a great time for him to go on a tear. Ryder Rolston (4 G, 1 A) has brought some energy to the lower lines, especially on the forecheck. He’s another rookie who could chip in this month. 

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for game updates and thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.