Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs showed off a can-do attitude over the weekend, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in back-to-back games. The resilient piglets continued their winning ways at the BMO Harris Bank Center, beating the Iowa Wild Saturday and the Chicago Wolves the following afternoon.

The Hogs (5-5) are still in the bottom half of the Central Division standings. However, Rockford has won three in a row, potted 16 goals in that span, and leapfrogged over Texas to claim the sixth spot with a .500 points percentage.

 

Hot Hogs

Dylan Sikura is now leading the team in scoring after a four-point night Saturday. Sikura the Younger, who posted a hat-trick in a furious comeback against the Wolves Sunday, has six goals and three assists on the season.

Right behind Sikura on the leaderboard is Sikura the Elder. Tyler’s fifth goal of the season tied the Wild Saturday, allowing Matthew Highmore (2 G, 5 A) to win it in overtime. Both Tyler Sikura and Highmore  have seven points for Rockford and are on three-game point streaks.

Jacob Nilsson (2 G, 4 A) also has points in each of the last three games, as does D Philip Holm. Forward Anton Wedin (2 G, 4 A) collected three apples in Sunday’s wild victory over Chicago.

 

Hurt Hogs

Forwards Kris Versteeg, John Quenneville and Mikael Hakkarainen all sat out another weekend of action. For Versteeg, it has been six games out of the lineup. Quenneville has been out since taking a hard hit along the boards on October 19. Hakkarainen has been out since October 4.

Kevin Lankinen made a second consecutive start Saturday, with Collin Delia between the pipes Sunday. Matt Tomkins is still up with the Hogs, though I would think he’ll be sent down to Indy to start getting some steady work in net.

 

Recaps

Saturday, November 2-Rockford 3, Iowa 2 (OT)

It was a case of late being better than never for the Hogs, who came back from a two-goal deficit in the waning moments of regulation and swiped two points from the Central Division-leading Wild.

Iowa took a 1-0 lead midway through the first period on a Kyle Rau goal. Colton Beck went coast-to-coast for a power play goal late in the second period.

As the third period ticked away, there was little to suggest that Rockford would be getting back into the contest. However, Hogs goalie Kevin Lankinen was called to the bench and the gambit paid off, big time.

Lucas Carlsson sent a one-timer from the right circle past Mat Robson with 2:30 remaining. After Iowa iced the puck on a long-distance attempt at the empty net, Rockford won the resulting faceoff in the Wild zone. Carlsson was in nearly the same spot on the ice when Philip Holm’s pass found his stick. The shot was redirected by Tyler Sikura and into the Iowa net to tie the game with 2:02 left, sending the game into Gus Macker Time.

Lankinen stopped three Iowa shots in the extra session, keeping the IceHogs in contention until Matthew Highmore nabbed a Wild shot attempt that was blocked by Nicolas Beaudin and came off the end boards. Highmore started a two-on-one rush with Beaudin and sent a laser under Robson’s glove from the top of the right circle. The game-winner came 3:45 into overtime.

Lankinen made 30 saves to post his second win in a row. The game’s three stars were Highmore, Tyler Sikura and Carlsson.

 

Sunday, November 3-Rockford 7, Chicago 4

Dylan Sikura posted a hat trick with all three goals coming in a furious IceHogs rally. In all, Rockford put up five goals in the final ten minutes of action for a third-straight victory.

The Wolves built a 3-0 lead on goals by Zach Whitecloud, Lucas Elvenes and Jimmy Schuldt. The IceHogs countered with a Jacob Nilsson tally on the man advantage at 8:27 of the second period. Reid Duke made it 4-1 a few minutes later before MacKenzie Entwistle scored at the 10:51 mark.

Rockford was still down 4-2 midway through the final frame when all hell broke loose. Things got started on the power play, with Sikura the Younger zipped a Lucas Carlsson pass past Chicago goalie Oscar Dansk. The goal cut the Wolves lead to 4-3 10:41 into the third.

Just 1:25 later, Brandon Hagel tied the game with his first goal of the season. Ninety seconds later, Sikura gathered in a Matthew Highmore pass at the right dot and flung it over the glove of Dansk to put the Hogs up 5-4 at 13:37 of the third.

Rockford did not take its foot off the gas. Tyler Sikura won control of a loose puck behind the Wolves net, skated to the right post and found Dylan in the slot to cue the caps. Reese Johnson added an empty-netter in the final minute for the coup de gras.

Collin Delia stopped 21 of 25 Chicago shots, though he kept the Wolves at bay for the final 30 minutes of action to allow his teammates the chance to storm back in the third. To the surprise of no one, Dylan Sikura was voted the game’s first star, followed by Anton Wedin and Nilsson.

 

School Days

The IceHogs drop the puck on an 10:30 a.m. tilt with the Toronto Marlies Wednesday. The piglets don’t usually fare well in these affairs, but they will be trying to extend the win streak to four games. Rockford will close out their home stand on Friday night, when the Manitoba Moose come to the BMO.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates and opinions on all things Rockford IceHogs throughout the season.

 

 

 

 

Hockey

The Blackhawks went with an actually serious lineup tonight, not just a collection of children and randos fighting for a spot. No, tonight’s roster was in theory an actual version of the team we’ll see this season…while their opponent was a collection of children and randos and, for some reason, also Charlie McAvoy. And that’s fine, the Bruins may have things to figure out and it’s still the stupid preseason, but it was a little concerning to see our supposedly legit lineup give up 41 shots and a short-handed goal to this flotsam. Let’s take a look:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–The Hawks looked good at the start of the game, for real. It was nearly halfway through the first before they gave up any shots, Dylan Strome scored on a power play, and they were still ahead in shots when that period ended, which felt like the first time they’ve done that in this preseason. Granted the PPG was as much luck as it was skill with Maxime Lagace fumbling it a bit which allowed Strome to sneak it in, but so what? Unfortunately the Hawks didn’t really keep that momentum going and whether it’s rust or unfamiliarity or just plain crappiness, there were plenty of mistakes to follow.

–What kinds of mistakes? Olli Maatta totally whiffing on a shot when the Hawks were setting up a play in the Bruins zone, Nylander with a shitty pass that Toews couldn’t corral which ended a 2-on-1 possibility, Slater Koekkoek watching pucks leap over his stick and dribbling into the neutral zone…there were plenty to go around. Individually none of them were drastic but in total they prevented the Hawks from creating or capitalizing on opportunities that may have kept this bunch of nobodies from even making it a game.

–Let’s also talk about Robin Lehner. First, he looked better than he did in the first half of whatever that game was that I watched a couple days ago. And he did make a number of impressive saves tonight. But, a lot of them were impressive because he wasn’t controlling rebounds. If you’re flailing in desperation it’s because you’re not in control, and yes it looks cool in the moment, but if he had been able to prevent rebounds he wouldn’t have had to make second and third saves that were highlight-reel-worthy. Again, I know it’s the preseason and there’s no reason to clutch pearls, but while Lehner’s positioning is excellent, if he’s giving up huge rebounds against real teams, not preseason jamokes, these multiple chances will become a problem.

–Kane basically scored the game-winner off his face. There are many, many jokes in that statement.

–Anton Wedin looked decent as the 3C, and he had what I will reluctantly call good chemistry with Brandon Saad. I say reluctantly because, chemistry? In one preseason game? It doesn’t seem reliable, but I don’t have a better way of describing it (I’ve been drinking, shut up). They had good puck movement and Saad’s goal was off textbook give-and-go passing from Wedin. I guess Kampf will have some competition for that third-line center role? It’s so hard to say; Wedin could crap the bed or they’ll send him down despite tonight’s performance—who knows. But if we’re going to have a herd of bottom-six guys, let’s at least find the least shitty options.

–There are still some serious issues with this defense. As I mentioned, giving up over 40 shots to a bunch of nobodies is concerning, and the tying short-handed goal was brought to you by Gustafsson misplaying it and getting burned by something named Par Lindholm. Gus and Keith managed only a 29 and 36 CF%, respectively. The rest of the defense was above water, but I kid you not at one point in the first period Connor Murphy was skating with Koekkoek like a service animal ensuring he was soothed and OK. It wasn’t nightmarish, but it wasn’t instilling much confidence, either.

But they beat a bunch of nobodies! Onto the Caps stateside this Wednesday and then their European adventure begins. Onward and upward…

 

 

Everything Else

It’s a morsel, but it’s something. Today, the Hawks announced the signing of Anton Wedin, which we’d already talked about before a few weeks ago. Wedin is something of a scratcher lottery ticket, as players who pop off for the first time at 26 and not gaudy numbers are hardly a sure thing to ever escape the AHL. But he costs nothing, the Hawks get a one-year look-see, and then they can decide if they want to continue this relationship.

There’s also been buzz that the Hawks have officially signed Dominik Kubalik, who is currently lighting up the World Championships for the Czech team, along with old friend Michael Frolik. Kubalik is the far more enticing and surer bet than Wedin. He’s 23, and though he kicked a hole in a lesser European league, that hole was really big in Switzerland. He has some experience on this side of the ocean, playing in juniors with one Dominik Kahun, and having two Dominiks with last names beginning with K surely won’t kill Pat Foley or anything.

The Hawks still have some work to do, as Perlini and Kampf haven’t been re-signed yet, though you’d expect the latter is no problem and the former is not someone the Hawks are going to give up on quite yet. And you start doing then numbers, and you begin to wonder here.

Kubalik is going to be a Hawk. It would be an upset if he spends anytime in Rockford, just as Kahun made an immediate splash. And while we generally would snicker that this is the Hawks trying to prop up one of their prospects again (John Hayden come on down…now keep going…no don’t stop…), their European finds generally have been useful. So let’s map it out, and pencil in Wedin for a 4th line role to start. He can be this year’s Suckbag Johnson in October.

Caggiula-Toews-Kane

Top Cat-Strome-Saad

Kahun-Kampf-Kubalik

Wedin-Anisimov-Perlini

No, this isn’t what Opening Night will look like, and if it does I highly suggest you find something else to do for the winter than bother with this. We have to, you don’t. This is just what it looks like right now, and that’s not even mentioning Sikura, Kurashev who is a possibility to come aboard, MacKenzie Entwistle being an outside shot, and I guess I still have mention Hayden here as he’s still signed for one more year (if he plays more than 10 games with the Hawks though I’m going to shove my whole fist down my throat).

What you see is a fair number of young, fast, nippy wingers (other than Entwistle), all of who are unknowns, all something of a lottery ticket, but the more you have and try the more chance that one or two will work. Sikura really should be in the NHL full-time next year, despite never scoring showed flashes of being a useful player. Kurashev flashed at the WJC, though I doubt the Hawks would be ready to try him at center just yet. So there’s something of a little jam.

Now you know what are stated aims are here. Flog Anisimov for whatever you can just as long as he’s gone, move Caggiula to your fourth-line center, sign an actual top six forward, and let’s dance. And maybe that is the plan, because you don’t feel like the Hawks are going to carry all of this into training camp. Though stranger things have happened.

While the Hawks talk about their cap space, it’s not that simple. No one who is currently a free agent is going to break them, as you wouldn’t think Perlini, Sikura, and Kampf are going to lop off more than what, $3M off? That’s $17M to play with.

But it’s the following summer that’s an issue. Let’s assume the cap takes another $4M jump as it did this one, and that’s a cap of $87M. The Hawks currently have $49M committed for 2020-2021, which is $28M in space. With whatever deals that above-mentioned trio sign, let’s call it $25M.

And more than a third of that, without any signings this summer, is going to be eaten up by Alex DeBrincat‘s next contract. Ain’t gonna be no bridge for him, and if he puts up another 35-40 goals, he’s going to point at Mitch Marner‘s deal and say, “THAT!” Certainly William Nylander‘s $6.9M number would merely be a jumping off point. And if Top Cat brings Strome right along with him during the season, that’s another $6-7M for Strome, and suddenly that $25M in space is now somewhere around $10M if you’re lucky. And then you have to wonder what Kahun and Caggiula get if they have good years. It won’t come close to eating up that $10M, but suddenly the space this summer to sign free agents looks a little tight when thinking about the next.

So yeah, punting Anisimov saves you $4.5M for two more years, and maybe that’s enough. The fear around this lab is that the Hawks might have a bigger number in savings in mind. You know where this is going.

You know how we feel about Brandon Saad. You can read Pullega’s review for a refresher. But you can make the argument. It’s $6M in savings. And you have to admit that Saad is something of an odd fit right now, though one who made it work for most of the season, including a dominating stretch from the middle to the spring. The Hawks are loathe to load him up with Toews and Kane, which you can understand. But Saad’s never taken to, or really been tried all that much, on the right side to play with Top Cat and Strome. Pairing him with Toews leaves the right side open, but you don’t really want to play DeBrincat there as he’s a bigger scoring threat on the left. The idea of Saad and Kane flanking Strome was tried, but then DeBrincat is playing with Toews and they need something on the right side that the Hawks don’t really have unless one of these kids pops. Saad made serious mileage out of a third line role, but the question the Hawks might be asking themselves is, “Could Kahun or Kubalik or Kurashev or all three do just as much there at a fraction of the cost?” Alternatively, could they try a combo of those kids in the top six and hope one or two of them can at least ride shotgun.

Saad’s value is clearly higher than Anisimov’s. While he has his faults, he’s still a nimble forward with size who gets you 20-25 goals and solid possession play. It’s not like those grow on trees. And considering how the defenseman market is Erik Karlsson and whatever state his bursting red crotch dots are in and then a whole bunch of trash, you could understand the hesitance (if you don’t necessarily agree with it, which we don’t).  So a trade might be necessary.

I don’t know what the names would be. Carolina was interested last year, but their different status might change that. We were asked about The Island yesterday on the podcast, with Leddy returning, which would be hilarious and also wrong. Saad’s always seemed like a perfect Predator, but he won’t be dealt in the division. There would be a market though.

I don’t want it, but you can see it.

Everything Else

As the playoffs continue to roll on without the Hawks, those of us hoping to get any morsel of hope have to wait for them to end. The Hawks have done a couple things around the margins this week, in what we would call “depth-building” if we felt like being charitable. Which would be a real upset, but hey it’s finally getting warm so maybe our hearts have turned a little. A very little.

The first droplet was Alex Wedin deciding to sign with the Hawks. They had competition from other teams, and this is where the Hawks’ success with other European signings certainly plays a role. Wedin is 26 and had a breakout season in Sweden with his team getting promoted to the top division there for the first time this season. Wedin isn’t  very big, not clearing 6-0, but he is fast according to reports, and I’m always on board when the Hawks choose speed and skill over size. He averaged nearly a point-per-game in hist first season in Sweden’s top division.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems, and there’s a chance Wedin is just doing the Rockford-Chicago shuttle all year. He wouldn’t have signed with the Hawks if he wasn’t promised every chance in the world at training camp, so he’ll get that. But players who break out at 26 generally aren’t all that highly regarded and don’t go on to do much. There is some hope that his late-blooming was due to previous injuries, but we’ll have to see.

Still, when it comes to European signings, the Hawks should be given most of the benefit of the doubt. Not every one of them has worked out, but most have. Next year David Kampf and Dominik Kahun will be prime examples, and Dominik Kubalik and Wedin look to join in next year. There’s certainly nothing wrong with fortifying your bottom six, though the hope was that the Hawks would do that by pushing other guys down after getting top six help.

Right now, you’ve got Kane, Toews, Strome, Saad, and Top Cat definitely in your top six. Possibly Anisimov if he isn’t traded, Caggiula, Kampf, Perlini, Kahun, Kubalik, and now Wedin are vying for bottom six roles, along with Dylan Sikura, and maybe even MacKenzie Entwhistle if he comes up for air at some point. If the Hawks want to move forward they can’t do that by force-feeding one of these guys into the top-six just because. but depth is certainly a nice thing to have. The case for trading Anisimov certainly gets better, especially if the Hawks are truly convinced Caggiula is built for a #3 or #4 center role, which they crowed about when he was acquired.

-The other note is Slater Koekkoek being re-upped for a year, which isn’t encouraging. I would say “Rockford depth,” but the Hawks have four guys that are Rockford depth in Koekkoek, Dahlstrom, Forsling (if re-signed), and honestly that’s Seabrook’s skill-level now. What’s disheartening is that the Hawks have made so much noise about being able to improve this group with just a training camp under Coach Cool Youth Pastor, that I’m beginning to think they believe it.

And even Rockford depth is complicated, where you might have Nicolas Beaudin needing all the minutes he can get if the Hawks do force most or all of those guys back into the AHL. And they didn’t just bring Chad Krys in to sit around either. We know that Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, Gustaffson, and Jokiharju are going to be on the team next year (or we hope with the last name there), which really only leaves one spot for any kind of signing or trade (assuming the Hawks don’t grow a pair and move Jokiharju for something, or get some bayou shaman to curse another team to take on Seabrook).

On a lower level, Koekkoek showed absolutely nothing that warrants getting another look, and as we’ve just illustrated depth really isn’t a problem. His $925K hit is a nothing, so that’s not the problem. Thinking he’s anything is. And if you think Stan Bowman will simply discard a player he likes, I’ll remind you how many games we sat through David Rundblad. At least Koekkoek didn’t cost a 2nd round pick.