The Rockford IceHogs are currently riding a three-game winning streak for the first time this season. The piglets are 7-2-1 over their last ten games heading into the holidays. Of those ten games, eight were decided by a single goal, either in regulation or via overtime or a shootout.
Each of the IceHogs victories in the current streak are of the one-goal variety. After besting Grand Rapids 2-1 back on December 16, Rockford has defeated Milwaukee (4-3) and Chicago (5-4) with clutch overtime goals.
In fact, Rockford’s last nine wins this season, dating back to November 9, have all been by one goal. The last time the winning margin was more than one was in Iowa on November 4, when the Hogs posted a 4-2 victory.
In that stretch, the IceHogs have also lost four games by one goal. Credit the play in goal for keeping Rockford competitive in the bulk of its games.
Points vs Points Percentage
Heading into post-Christmas action, Rockford is in sixth place in the Central Division with a .581 points percentage. The Hogs (15-10-2-4) have earned 36 points so far in 2018-19. So why not regale you with points as opposed to points percentage? Simple. The AHL standard is points percentage.
In part because the West Coast clubs play only 68 games, rather than the 76 everyone else plays, the four teams with the highest points percentage qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs. Of course, the silly AHL website lists the teams according to points when the standings are shown.
I like going by points percentage, which takes most of the games-in-hand calculations out of the mix. If the season ended today, the IceHogs would not be a playoff team. The good news for Rockford is that Texas (.586), along with Milwaukee and Grand Rapids (.594) are within reach, so upward mobility is achievable.
Derek King’s Punchout
Rockford, as I mentioned last week, is the least-penalized team in the league. It’s interesting, however, to take a look at the fighting side of that ledger. The Hogs aren’t the roughest bunch of wranglers in the AHL, but they certainly have been a little quicker to drop the gloves under coach Derek King.
Last season, the IceHogs drew just 11 fighting majors. This was an all-time franchise low by a wide margin (the previous low was 2017-17’s 39 FMs) and the lowest in the AHL. Through the first 12 games of this season, under Jeremy Colliton, Rockford skaters had been involved in three fights. In 96 regular season games and 13 playoff contests, Colliton’s team picked up 14 fights.
In the first 19 games of the King regime, the Hogs have been been in seven fights. That equates to a full season total of 28 fights, still a paltry number even by recent league standards. Compared to Colliton, however, King is helming the Rock’em Sock’em Robots.
As I’ve mentioned countless times, AHL fight totals are dropping and the IceHogs have not been built to scrap. As a matter of fact, Rockford is better off avoiding such activities, as they are largely inexperienced in this area. However, it does appear that this year’s club is sticking up for itself with more frequency. The Hogs are currently tied for 16th in the AHL (with five other clubs) with 10 FMs on the season.
Two of those fights involved Hunter Fejes, who is no longer with the team after a stint on a PTO. Dennis Gilbert, who has brought a physical element to the defense, leads Rockford with four fights.
On Saturday, the Blackhawks recalled Jacob Nilsson and sent Luke Johnson back to Rockford.
Friday, December 21-Rockford 5, Chicago 4 (OT)
For the third time this season, the Hogs ventured into Allstate Arena and beat the Wolves. This time, it took a good portion of extra skating to do so.
The teams exchanged goals midway through the opening period. Chicago’s T.J. Tynan created a scoring opportunity with some nice skating with the puck, opening up space for Nic Hauge at the top of the right circle. Hauge sent a bullet past Hogs goalie Anton Forsberg to give the Wolves a 1-0 lead at the 10:40 mark.
Nathan Noel was held behind the Chicago net by Jake Bischoff soon after, sending the Hogs to the power play. Rockford won the subsequent faceoff, kept the puck in the offensive zone for over a minute and scored on a one-timer by Jacob Nilsson. The rookie center had misfired on a centering pass from Jordan Schroeder, who then regained possession and found Nilsson again for a successful attempt at 12:58 of the period.
Alexandre Fortin got his first two goals of the season for Rockford in the opening minutes of the second period. After Lucas Carlsson made a heads up play to keep a clearing attempt in the Wolves zone, he passed to William Pelletier, who found Fortin open skating toward the right dot. Fortin’s shot banked off of Chicago’s Zach Whitecloud and past Wolves goalie Maxim Lagace 36 seconds into the period.
Minutes later, Fortin skated into the slot and sent an offering to the Chicago net. The rebound rattled around the front of the net before Noel and Graham Knott knocked it toward the left post. Fortin, who was crashing the net after shooting, was on hand to guide the puck into the open net for a 3-1 Rockford advantage.
Chicago would rally with a pair of goals to tie the contest. Curtis McKenzie got open in the slot and fired past Forsberg at the 9:11 mark. Five minutes later, Daniel Carr jumped on a rebound of a Whitecloud blast to knot the game at three.
The score remained tied until the late stages of regulation. Lucas Carlsson took a feed from Nilsson, used a couple of nifty moves to get open in the slot and fired low past Lagace’s glove side with 3:31 to play. The Wolves pulled Lagace soon after.
Graham Knott had a prime chance to ice the game with the puck on his stick and an empty net in front of him. However, Chicago’s Dylan Coughlin closed the gap on Knott and forced an off-target attempt. The Wolves came down and got the equalizer from Gage Quinney with 1:26 left.
Gus Macker Time saw the Wolves with early momentum. Forsberg turned aside several attempts over the first four minutes. Late in the extra session, Louis brought the puck into the Chicago zone on a two-on-one rush. Louis hit Darren Raddysh with a pass at the right circle; the defenseman’s one-timer caught cord with 39 seconds remaining to finish off the Wolves.
Lines (Starters in italics)
Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura (A)-William Pelletier
Nick Moutrey-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel
Anthony Louis-Jacob Nilsson-Jordan Schroeder (A)
Terry Broadhurst-Henrik Samuelsson
Lucas Carlsson-Jan Rutta
Joni Tuulola-Dennis Gilbert
Blake Hillman-Darren Raddysh
Andrew Campbell (A)
Power Play (1-2)
Penalty Kill (Chicago was 0-2)
The IceHogs will spend Boxing Day in DesMoines, taking on the Wild Wednesday night. On Friday, Rockford begins a home-and-home weekend against the Wolves at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The action moves to Rosemont on Saturday night.
Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates, news and thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.