Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have hit a rough patch. As the piglets prepare for three games away from the BMO Center this week, there’s an issue for the team to address. It is a problem previously absent from Rockford’s list this season.

Namely, scoring goals.

The Hogs are currently mired in a season-long four-game losing streak. Since beating Central Division-leading Texas in overtime January 3, Rockford has scuffled to a 1-5-1 mark. In those seven games, the IceHogs have just eleven goals. They haven’t scored more than two in any of those games.

This past week was particularly troubling, considering that Rockford was hosting three of the leagues worst teams in Grand Rapids, Springfield, and Chicago. The Griffins dropped four goals on the Hogs in the first four minutes of action, winning 5-2 on Wednesday night. On Friday, the Thunderbirds brought down the…uh…thunder, racing to a 2-0 advantage in the first ten minutes and crushing Rockford 7-2. Saturday, it was the Wolves turn to feast on the Hogs. Chicago, who led all the way, scored four times in the final frame en route to a 6-2 win.

Some lowlights:

  • The IceHogs went a combined one for fourteen on the power play in three games this week.
  • Rockford quickly found itself in a hole early in each of the games.
  • Dylan Wells gave up nine goals in his two appearances (he was pulled in favor of Mitchell Weeks 3:47 into Wednesday’s tilt). Arvid Soderblom, returning from a groin injury on Friday, showed plenty of rust, allowing all seven Springfield goals.
  • Soderblom, the Hawks “Goalie Of The Future”, has made six starts for Rockford this season. In those games, he is 1-4 with a 4.79 GAA and a .837 save percentage.

Now, let’s not pile blame on the Rockford goalies. Wells and Soderblom had plenty of help.

When the Hogs offense is firing on all cylinders, they play a fast-paced game that keeps opponents on their heels. If the pace slows and the passing suffers, as it has during this recent stretch, there are a lot of holes that open up in the defensive zone.

Both goalies were bombarded with waves of enemy skaters exploiting those holes, jumping on turnovers and getting Wells and Soderblom out of position trying to defend the resulting rush. The losing has been a true team effort; no one has been especially good.

Lukas Reichel was up with the Hawks for a spell, which didn’t help at the offensive end. In four games back since his last cup of coffee in Chicago, Reichel has just a single assist. He skated with Dylan Sikura and Cole Guttman on Friday and had no more scoring luck than he did the following night with Mike Hardman and Michal Teply. Which is to say none.

Rockford is in its worst stretch since opening the season 1-3 with three straight defeats. It happens. It happened against three very beatable teams this week, but the Hogs are playing opponents, not records.

The IceHogs (20-15-2-2, 44 points) sit in third place in the Central Division standings. They’re three points behind Milwaukee and just a point ahead of Manitoba and Iowa.

The piglets will attempt to right the ship on the road this week. They will have to start in an arena (Wells Fargo) in which they lost twice to the Wild on January 7 and 8 to start this current funk. After taking on Iowa on Tuesday, Rockford visits Milwaukee on Friday before a stop in Rosemont to tangle with the Wolves.

 

Roster Happenings

IceHogs captain Garrett Mitchell was taken down in the offensive zone midway through the second period by Griffins defenseman Simon Edvinsson Wednesday. Both skaters slid hard into the half-boards, after which Mitchell rose and skated off to the locker room holding his right arm.

Mitchell did not return to action. No update as of yet, but Mitchell, who missed a month with a shoulder injury earlier this season, could be looking at another stretch on the shelf. He was a scratch for both games this weekend. It has been a tough campaign for Mitchell, who is pointless in 24 games in 2022-23.

On Monday, the Chicago Blackhawks recalled goalie Jaxson Stauber, who played so well in his NHL debut Saturday. On Friday, Rockford did see the return of goalie Arvid Soderblom from a groin injury sustained on December 28. Unfortunately, he gave up all seven Thunderbirds goals in the loss.

Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A) has been out of the lineup since playing in Colorado on January 13. Again, no medical update has been released by the team. Last season, the IceHogs were consistently updating the status of injured players. This season, it’s largely been back to the usual guessing game.

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

 

Hockey

This past weekend, the Rockford IceHogs wrapped up the first half of the season with a split of two games in Colorado. It has been a successful 2022-23 campaign so far, but we only have one-half of the picture.

How did things go in the season’s first half? How might things go as the piglets enter the final 36 games? Set your timer; I’m free-wheeling for sixty minutes with a thought or two.

With 36 games in the books, Rockford is 20-12-2-2. The IceHogs are 10-5-1-2 at the BMO Center and 10-7-1-0. They’ve avoided long skids; after losing three straight in beginning the season 1-3, the Hogs have not dropped consecutive regulation tilts.

Rockford is tied with Milwaukee for second place in the Central Division with 44 points. Texas has put together an impressive run in the last two months and pace the division with 50 points. Manitoba is fourth with 39 points, while Iowa is fifth with 38.

Despite scoring just three goals over the weekend, the IceHogs are ninth in the AHL in offense, scoring at a 3.44 goals per game clip. Rockford is giving up 3.11 goals per game, putting the Hogs in the middle of the pack defensively. The power play is 13th in the league at 19.9 percent. Rockford’s is killing penalties with 80.9 percent efficiency, good for 17th in the AHL.

In short, the piglets are getting plenty of goals to win regular-season games. The goaltending was very shaky in the first month of the season. However, it has improved over the last two months, despite Rockford having to dip into their ECHL depth for a good portion of that time.

Rockford’s top three scorers were selected to the Central Division squad in this year’s AHL All-Star Classic. Brett Seney (15 G, 24 A) David Gust (18 G, 20 A) and Lukas Reichel (14 G, 23 A) have dominated the IceHogs scoresheet, though they have had steady contributions from veterans like Luke Philp (13 G, 14 A), Dylan Sikura (9 G, 13 A), and Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A). Rookie Cole Guttman overcame a concussion that kept him out of most of the first month of the season and has 12 goals and 11 assists.

Issak Phillips was one of the best defenseman in the AHL until being recalled by the Blackhawks. Adam Clendening (2 G, 16 A) and Jakub Galvas (1 G, 17 A) currently lead the Hogs blueline in scoring.

It certainly isn’t the way the organization drew it up in terms of the Rockford crease, but the play in net has been solid after some early struggles. The two goalies tabbed for the Indy Fuel at the start of the season have led the way for the Hogs.

Dylan Wells was an emergency call-up to Chicago. After securing an NHL contract, Wells has returned to Rockford and put together his best season of his four-year pro career. He currently leads Rockford in games played (13) wins (eight), goals against average (2.63) and save percentage (.909). This, after giving up five goals in two periods in his IceHogs debut October 23.

Wells was red hot in December, with a 4-0-1 record, a 1.95 GAA, and a .928 save percentage. Despite this, he went over three weeks between an impressive 3-2 overtime win in Texas December 21 and Friday night’s impressive 2-1 overtime win in Colorado.

Mitchell Weeks has been nearly as good (5-2-3, 2.67 GAA, .908 save percentage) for Rockford. Good thing, because injuries and call-ups have kept the opening night tandem of Arvid Soderblom (1-3, 4.17 GAA, .862 save percentage) and Jaxson Stauber (6-4, 3.0 GAA, .896 save percentage) from steady work for the IceHogs through the first half.

Soderblom has been out with a groin injury, but should be returning to action soon. Once that happens, he’ll probably be getting a big workload, with Wells and Stauber (who was just reassigned to Rockford Saturday) likely splitting the backup starts. It’s hard to ignore the success Wells has had of late, though. He might have earned more consistent work in net until Soderblom gets into a groove.

 

Speculatin’ Time

  • Can the Hogs keep up their winning ways? Sure, so long as there isn’t an exodus to Chicago post-trade deadline. As long as the goalies play to the form of the last six weeks, Rockford should be able to stay in the division hunt.
  • Physical teams like Colorado and Iowa have proved to be a bit problematic for the IceHogs. Rockford is built on speed and may have to adjust as the postseason draws closer.
  • Might some more physical help be obtained in trade? Perhaps. However, bigger forwards like Mike Hardman (2 G, 10 A) and Michal Teply (5 G, 7 A) could also help internally by asserting themselves a bit more.

 

This Week

Rockford has a three-game home stand this week, starting Wednesday night when Grand Rapids visits the BMO. The Hogs then host Springfield on Friday and the Chicago Wolves on Saturday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for news and thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

 

 

Hockey

With goalie injuries continuing to plague the Chicago Blackhawks, it appears likely that their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, will feel the pinch on their roster for another couple of weeks. The organization is stretched thin and has been for a good portion of the 2022-23 campaign.

Fortunately, the goalies stepped up for the Hogs this weekend.

Rockford beat Springfield and Hartford to sweep a two-game eastern jaunt, getting solid play out of Dylan Wells Friday in Springfield and an outstanding performance from Jaxson Stauber against the Wolf Pack Saturday. Each gave up two goals in their starts, which is certainly good enough to make the IceHogs a very competitive team.

Stauber’s performance against a struggling Hartford team doesn’t scream “goalie win” upon a look at the box score. The Wolf Pack is the worst offensive team in the AHL even before their leading scorer, Jonny Brodzinski, was recalled by the Rangers on Saturday morning.

But it was. You had to have been there for full appreciation. In this case, it was from BMO South, watching from my basement.

Stauber was solid in the first two periods, stopping all 15 shots he faced as Rockford built a two-goal lead. Once the Hogs went up 3-0, they stopped defending and allowed Hartford full access to the crease. Stauber had another 15 shots to face, most of them of the high-danger variety and right on his doorstep.

When the smoke cleared, the Hogs rookie had surrendered two goals. The first was a three-man unencumbered rush down the ice by the Wolf Pack, just after Stauber had denied a two-man rush. The second came on a Brandon Scanlin blast in the final seconds after Rockford just left a loose puck dangling in front of their goalie.

Stauber’s 28-save night was the best performance by an IceHogs goalie this season, in terms of allowing his team to win a game that could easily have slipped away. Wells also was an asset Friday; his workload was not as heavy, but he made the key stops.

If Rockford is going to allow opponents to close the gap on its net, the goalies have to limit the damage, much like Arvid Soderblom was able to do last season in similar circumstances. Of course, Soderblom is now with the Blackhawks, as is Stauber, who was recalled on Sunday. Rockford’s opening-day goalie tandem is now Chicago’s goalie tandem for the moment.

Even average goaltending would be a boon to the IceHogs over the next couple of months. This weekend was a good example of solid play in net making Rockford a tough opponent for the other teams in the Central Division.

 

Finding The Mark

Cole Guttman continues to impress since returning from an October 15 concussion that kept him out of action for nearly a month. Guttman (5 G, 5 A) had goals in both games on the way to a three-point weekend. In five games over the last two weeks, he has four goals and three helpers.

Dylan Sikura (7 G, 7 A) has also begun to put up points. He’s currently on a five-game point streak, with five goals and four assists in that span. Also on a five-game point streak is Lukas Reichel (10 G, 13 A), who has put up four goals and five assists in those games.

 

Around The Net, Just Not In It

Mike Hardman (1 G, 8 A)has had his share of opportunities, but his last lighting of the lamp occurred on October 29 against Belleville. His goal drought hit ten games this weekend.

Josiah Slavin has played in all 19 of Rockford’s games this season, but is still looking for his first goal of the season. Slavin has been in a fourth-line checking role for much of the campaign. He did not register a shot this weekend; his opportunities have not been few and far between on the offensive end.

Another player looking to find the twine for the first time is rookie Louis Crevier, who has been been a steady third-pairing defenseman in the Hogs lineup. Crevier is sans points in his last nine games.

D. J. Busdeker missed the entire month of November and made his return this weekend. He skated in both games for the IceHogs without registering a point. Like Slavin, Busdeker has been cast in a more defensive role so far.

 

Recaps

Friday, December 2-Rockford 4, Springfield 2

Lukas Reichel put the Hogs ahead 1-0 with his ninth goal of the season. The power-play goal came late on a Matthew Kessel interference call and was set up by Dylan Sikura and Brett Seney. Reichel took a one-timer from the top of the right circle to beat Thunderbirds goalie Joel Hofer at 10:51 of the opening frame.

Early in the second, Cole Guttman won control of the puck behind the Springfield net. He managed to thread a pass to a waiting Buddy Robinson in the slot for a 2-0 Rockford advantage at the 4:54 mark.

Springfield closed the gap to 2-1 on a Greg Printz goal with 4:58 remaining in the second period. A couple of minutes later, however, the IceHogs struck power-play gold once again. Guttman took a pass from Reichel across the goal mouth and snuck it past Hofel with 2:17 to play in the period.

Springfield rallied for a goal with 1:17 left when Hogs goalie Dylan Wells left a rebound in front of the net. Nikita Alexandrov nudged the puck across the goal line, cutting Rockford’s lead to 3-2 at the second intermission.

Just 39 seconds into the third, David Gust took a pass from Brett Seney and skated to the right post. He centered to Luke Philp, who beat Hofel from the front of the net to make it 4-2 Hogs.

A Thunderbirds goal midway through the final frame was waved off on an offside call. Springfield had ample opportunity to get back into the game, but the IceHogs stopped them seven times on seven tries on the man advantage. Wells made a number of big stops among his 23 saves to pick up the win.

 

Saturday, December 3-Rockford 3, Hartford 2

Dylan Sikura made Hartford goalie Louis Domingue pay dearly for misplaying a Lukas Reichel dump-in behind his own net. The puck slid in front of the Wolf Pack net, where Sikura poked it into the cage 14:03 into the contest for a 1-0 Hogs advantage.

Rockford doubled that lead 6:14 into the second period. The scoring play started with Sikura skating behind the Hartford net and sending a pass to Adam Clendening along the boards, just inside the blue line. Clendening sent a long, cross-ice pass toward the right dot, where Cole Guttman sent a one-timer into the top corner of the net.

Early in the third, Lukas Reichel drove to the left post with the puck. He was denied by Domingue, but stayed with the play, taking the rebound around the Wolf Pack net and banking home the goal off of Domingue’s pads. Rockford went up 3-0 1:58 into the third period.

The Hogs soon had a power play to potentially go up four goals, but Hartford had other plans. Rockford turned over the puck with seconds remaining on the man advantage, leading to a Bobby Trevigno goal at 6:06 of the third.

The last ten minutes were an adventure, as Hartford pushed hard and threw 15 shots to the net. Stauber stopped 13 of those shots, many of which were open looks on Rockford turnovers. Brandon Scanlin got the Wolf Pack to within a goal with five seconds left with a blast from the slot, but the Hogs survived to post their second-strait win.

 

Back To The Central Division

Rockford has a three-game home stand this week, starting Wednesday night with Milwaukee. The piglets host Iowa for back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are just short of the quarter pole in the 2022-23 season. So far, the team has had little problem putting the puck in the net. Rockford is competing, though this is a team that should be able to find another gear in regards to challenging for a Central Division title.

With injuries forcing the IceHogs to use the latter half of their depth chart at goalie, Rockford has had to put up huge offensive numbers in order to win. Through 17 games, they have been able to supply the necessary goals to compete on a nightly basis.

I’ve been a broken record in my concerns for the goal-keeping. If Arvid Soderblom returns to the Hogs for a stretch and plays to form, it could push the piglets into that aforementioned gear. Here’s a closer look at the season through the first two months.

 

The Numbers So Far

This is how the 9-7-0-1 piglets are faring 17 games into their 72-game schedule:

The IceHogs sit right in the middle of the Central Division standings. That would be fourth place, with 19 points. Milwaukee leads the Central with 24 points, followed by Texas (22) and Manitoba (20).

Rockford is tied with Milwaukee atop the AHL in scoring with a 4.06 per game average. Defensively, the Hogs give up 3.59 goals per game, 26th in the league. They’re fourth in the league in shots (33.53) per game, and 26th (32.35) in shots allowed. The latter number is consistent with last year’s team.

The IceHogs are converting 23.2 percent of their power play opportunities, while snuffing out 77.3 percent of their opponent’s chances. Rockford has given up five shorthanded goals, tied for the worst in the league, while potting just one shorty themselves.

The Hogs have four players in the top 20 scorers in the AHL. Brett Seney (10 G, 13 A) is tied for third. David Gust (10 G, 12 A) is tied for fifth. Lukas Reichel (8 G, 11 A) is tied for tenth, while Luke Philp (11 G, 7 A) is tied for 13th. Philp leads the team with his eleven goals and is fourth in the AHL in that category.

Issak Phillips (2 G, 12 A) leads the league in skater rating (plus-16) and is tied for fifth in scoring among defensemen. Jakub Galvas (1 G, 11 A) is tied for 12th. Alex Vlasic (1 G, 5 A) leads AHL rookies with a plus-11 rating.

 

How Are Those Veteran Pickups Doing?

Go back a couple of paragraphs. They’re spanking fantastic.

The firm of Gust, Seney, and Philp have accounted for 31 goals and 36 assists in 17 games. That’s 45 percent of the IceHogs team goal total of 69. Can this be sustained? Probably not, but several players are starting to find the range.

Dylan Sikura (6 G, 5 A) had back-to-back two-goal games this weekend and could be poised for a December to remember. Buddy Robinson (4 G, 3 A) is chipping in and has been a threat around the net for most of the season so far.

Defenseman Adam Clendening has been a bit underwhelming, though he does have a goal and eight assists. Five of those apples have come on the power play. Clendening is a player who can be attacked in the defensive zone. Hence, his minus-14 rating, which is the lowest in the AHL at the moment. The Hogs didn’t sign Clendening to be a defensive stopper, but there is room for improvement.

 

What About The Kids?

Cole Guttman is starting to pick up some steam in his rookie season. Guttman missed almost a month of action after suffering a concussion on October 15. In eight games since returning to the lineup, he has three goals and four assists.

Phillips, Galvas, and Vlasic have been the backbone of the Hogs blueline. Rookie Louis Crevier (0 G, 2 A) has played 16 games and been a solid third-pairing defender. At 6’8″, Crevier moves pretty well and is adjusting to the pro game.

Michal Teply (3 G, 6 A) started the season slowly but is getting to the net a lot more. Like some other young prospects, Teply is having to compete for ice time. Hogs coach Anders Sorensen recently placed him on a line with Reichel, so his offensive production could soon take off.

 

Roster Happenings

Captain Garrett Mitchell was missing from the lineup for the past three games after injuring his shoulder in Rosemont on November 19. No announcement from the team; until that happens, I’d assume that Mitchell will be out for at least three or four weeks.

Buddy Robinson had a scare on Wednesday night, taking a hit from the Stars Rhett Gardner along the boards by the Rockford bench in the first period of action. Robinson was helped from the ice, unable to put weight on his right leg. He did not return to the game, but was in the lineup for both games against Milwaukee.

After a strong performance in net in Wednesday’s victory, Mitchell Weeks was returned to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Despite being Rockford’s top-performing goalie so far this season (3-1-1, 2.95 GAA, .909 save percentage), Weeks is the current odd man out because both Jaxson Stauber and Dylan Wells are on NHL contracts.

On Thursday, Ian Mitchell returned to the IceHogs from Chicago. He played in both games with the Admirals this weekend, picking up an assist on Friday night.

Friday saw D Cooper Zech being assigned to the Fuel. Since being swapped for Evan Barratt a month ago, Zech has been a healthy scratch in all but two games on October 29 and November 2. Zech was scoreless in both contests. Incidentally, since the trade, Barratt has played just two games in Lehigh Valley, with one assist.

 

Recaps

Wednesday, November 23-Rockford 7, Texas 2

Rockford chased Matthew Murray from the crease with three goals in the first 10:30 of action, cruising to a win over the visiting Stars.

The IceHogs wasted little time carrying the attack to Texas, converting on a turnover to take a lead they would never relinquish. Cole Guttman picked off a pass along the halfboards of the Stars zone, skated to the right dot, and sent an offering that beat Murray to the far side at 1:24 of the first period.

Guttman’s tally was quickly followed by a goal by Brett Seney at the 3:26 mark. Issak Phillips‘ strike from the right circle at 10:30 of the first ended Murray’s evening with three goals allowed on seven Rockford shots. The Texas net was filled by Anton Khudobin for the remainder of the game.

Down 3-0 entering the second stanza, Texas got on the board when Stars captain Curtis McKenzie redirected a Ben Gleason shot past Hogs goalie Mitchell Weeks at the 3:24 mark. Rockford quickly re-established the three-goal advantage at 4:56 when David Gust guided a loose puck into the Stars net for his ninth goal of the season.

Rockford limited Texas in the Hogs zone, breaking up centering attempts and effectively preventing a lot of traffic in front of Weeks. The Stars put on some pressure in the final twenty minutes, but Weeks stopped 15 of 16 shots in the third period. Only Alex Petrovic‘s shorthanded goal got past the Rockford rookie, while the Hogs lit the lamp three more times.

Seney’s second goal of the night midway through the third gave Rockford a 5-1 lead. After Petrovic cut the lead to 5-2, Luke Philp and Lukas Reichel got in on the scoring in the final minutes of action.

 

Friday, November 25-Rockford 6, Milwaukee 4

When the smoke cleared, the IceHogs stood tall in this Central Division track meet. Rockford broke the Admirals’ four-game winning streak with a come-from-behind victory.

Milwaukee took an early 2-1 lead on a pair of goals by Tommy Novak, sandwiched around a power-play tip-in by Rockford’s Cole Guttman. Bobby Lynch tied the game midway through the first period with a put-back of Carson Gicewicz‘s initial shot. However, Cole Schneider converted a power-play chance for the Admirals, who led 3-2 after 20 minutes.

There was no scoring in the second period, though the pace did not slow. Both teams dismantled rushes up and down the ice, contesting passes and checking hard at both ends. Milwaukee goalie Devin Cooley made 15 saves in the middle frame to keep his club in the lead.

At the other end, Hogs netminder Dylan Wells wasn’t as busy, stopping eight Milwaukee attempts. However, he might have made the two biggest saves of the night midway through the second.

Wells stood his tallest when Brett Seney was stripped of the puck at the Milwaukee blue line by Luke Evangelista. The Admirals forward streaked toward the Hogs’ net completely unchallenged. Wells denied the shot attempt, as well as Zach Sanford‘s follow-up shot to snuff out the scoring threat.

The IceHogs got power-play goals from Lukas Reichel and Dylan Sikura early in the third period, surging to a 4-3 lead. Schneider’s second goal on the man advantage pulled Milwaukee even at four 9:32 into the period before Rockford took over the game.

Seney, whose slashing infraction had led to the Admirals’ equalizer minutes before, skated to the high slot in time to take in a backhanded pass from behind the net by Alex Vlasic. Seney’s aim was true, and the Hogs led 5-4 on his tenth goal of the season at the 12:18 mark.

Wells sent a couple of Milwaukee shots away over the next few minutes, allowing Sikura the chance to put the game away with 3:04 remaining. Sikura maneuvered into the slot and sent a shot through some well-placed traffic to get it past Cooley and into Twinesville to close out a busy night of scoring.

Sikura’s two goals earned him First-Star honors. Reichel and Seney, each of whom had a goal and two helpers, were Second and Third Stars, respectively. Guttman (1 G, 1 A) could also claim a multi-point evening.

Wells recovered from a frustrating opening frame to stop 15 of Milwaukee’s last 16 shots on goal. He picked up his third win of the season with 24 saves on the night.

 

Saturday, November 26, Milwaukee 5, Rockford 3

The Admirals gained a measure of revenge on visiting Rockford at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena Saturday night, using a big third period to split the weekend home-and-home with the IceHogs.

Milwaukee wasted little time in building a lead. Egor Afanasyev pounced on a rebound in front of Hogs goalie Jaxson Stauber and flipped it into the basket 2:19 into the contest. The Admirals added tallies from Cole Schneider and Roland McKeown. Schneider attempted a centering pass to Tommy Novak in front of the Rockford net. Defenseman Adam Clendening denied the pass, but the puck came off his stick and into the goal at the 7:36 mark.

McKeown made it a 3-0 game at 10:22 of the first. Taking a pass from Kevin Gravel, McKeown launched it from the right point past Stauber, who was screened by Zach Sanford and Tommy Apap.

Midway into the opening period, the IceHogs were in a hole. Dylan Sikura started the digging for Rockford, jumping on loose pucks for a pair of goals in the last 3:53 of the first. Both were set up by defenseman Issak Phillips, who had three helpers on the night. The IceHogs were able to draw even with Milwaukee 7:04 into the second stanza when David Gust streaked to the right dot and went to the far post with his shot past Admirals goalie Yaroslav Askarov.

Milwaukee regained the lead 3:18 into the third period. With Stauber way out of his net, Afanasyev skated around the Rockford cage and completed the wraparound attempt just ahead of the stick of Hogs defenseman Louis Crevier.

The Admirals lead became 5-3 after the IceHogs first penalty of the evening. Alec Regula was called for slashing 7:08 into the third period. At 8:47, Markus Nurmi , set up by Afanasyev, sent a shot over Stauber’s glove from the left circle. Rockford attempted to load up for another comeback, pulling Stauber in the final minutes for an extra skater, but Askarov kept the puck out of harm’s way for the remainder of the game.

Askarov finished with 23 saves for Milwaukee. The Admirals rookie is now 7-3 on the season with Saturday’s win. Stauber stopped 23 of 28 shots in a losing effort.

 

Head East

Rockford travels to Springfield (Friday) and Hartford (Saturday) this weekend.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs as the season progresses.

 

Hockey

Back before the Rockford IceHogs home opener the previous weekend, I predicted that the scoring potential of this veteran-laden team would result in a slew of goals. Rockford put up four goals in a pair of losses at the BMO Center.

Turns out I was just a week off. The piglets were flying around the BMO ice this past weekend, and the offense came out to play.

The Hogs sent 13 shots to the back of opposing nets in a pair of wins, beating the Wolves 5-3 on Friday, then clobbering the Belleville Senators 8-2 on Saturday night. Rockford evened up its overall record to 3-3 while racing up the AHL offensive leaderboard.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows; the IceHogs are dangerously thin in their own cage. That situation may have become exacerbated with an injury to rookie Jaxson Stauber that may take a few days to evaluate.

Stauber took a puck to the mask in the second period in Saturday’s win that stuck in the eye hole. He left the game under his own power, but his immediate status is unknown. Regardless, the organization needs to address the lack of a veteran backstop for Rockford.

 

The Best Line In The AHL?

You could definitely make an argument that David Gust, Lukas Reichel and Brett Seney have been the league’s most effective forward line. They certainly are the hottest.

Gust had a tremendous weekend, following up a five-point effort against his former team with a pair of assists against Belleville. He’s tied for second in the league with eleven points (3 G, 8 A).

Reichel (4 G, 6 A) and Seney (4 G, 6 A) are tied for ninth in AHL scoring, with each player totaling ten points.

 

Goalie Depth Stretched To The Limit

Jaxson Stauber took a puck to the eye in the second period of Saturday’s win. After stopping seven of eight Senators shots, Stauber left the contest and did not return. Dylan Wells came in for the remainder of the game. Although he gave up a goal, he denied sixteen shots. The evening before, Wells picked up the win over the Wolves, stopping 24 of 27 shots.

Assuming that Rockford isn’t going to post five or six goals every night, the Hogs are dangerously thin in net at the moment. With Arvid Soderblom up in Chicago with the Blackhawks for the foreseeable future, the potential of Stauber missing some time does not give Rockford much experience in the crease.

Wells has 25 games of AHL action in four professional seasons. Stauber was removed from just his third AHL start when he was injured. In hindsight, the Blackhawks organization may have wanted to pick up a veteran who could have slipped through waivers and floated back and forth from Chicago to Rockford when needed.

If Stauber isn’t ready to play by Rockford’s game with Milwaukee Wednesday, expect Mitchell Weeks to be recalled to the IceHogs from the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. Weeks is 3-0 for Indy, with a 3.00 GAA and a .899 save percentage.

 

Loose Change

  • Friday morning, the IceHogs were 31st in the AHL (out of 32 teams) in offense with a 2.25 goals per-game average. Monday morning, Rockford was ninth at 3.67 goals.
  • The IceHogs power play was also 31st in the league, at just 6.1 percent (1-16). Monday morning, Rockford was…well, 25th, but at least they got their success rate (16.1, 5-31) into double digits.
  • Minus Adam Clendening, who did not play in either game this weekend, the D scored their first three goals of the season. Alec Regula had one in each game; Jakub Galvas pinched in on Friday for the lamp-lighter that ignited Rockford’s scoring explosion.
  • It was good to see Dylan Sikura and Buddy Robinson get their first goals over the weekend. Both players, especially Robinson, were just missing on prime chances until Saturday night. The line of Sikura and Mike Hardman, centered by Luke Philp, has the potential to be just as effective as the firm of Seney, Reichel, and Gust.
  • Carson Gicewicz and D.J. Busdeker are two of the few AHL holdovers from last season getting regular work so far this season. They’re toiling on the fourth line with good returns so far. Gicewicz tipped in an Issak Phillips slap shot for the sixth Hogs goal on Saturday, a play on which Busdeker was awarded the secondary assist. Both are high-motor skaters that helped anchor a group that killed ten of eleven penalties over the weekend.
  • Garrett Mitchell, Rockford’s captain, sat out the Belleville game, with Bobby Lynch joining the fourth line.
  • Lost in the shuffle of Saturday’s goal-fest was new acquisition Cooper Zech getting his first start on the IceHogs defense. Zech didn’t break into the scoring column.

 

Recaps

Friday, October 28-Rockford 5, Chicago 3

The IceHogs broke a three-game skid in a big way Friday night.  With a pair of goals and three helpers, Gust factored in on every Rockford goal in the victory. Rockford picked up its first win this season at the BMO Center, thanks in part to a flurry of second-period goals.

The Wolves started strong, taking a 1-0 lead midway through the first on an Alexander Pashin tally. Rockford created some scoring opportunities late in the period but trailed by that score heading into the locker room.

The goal that got the Hogs rolling came off the stick of defenseman Jakub Galvas, who drove to the right slot and went far side on Chicago goalie Zachary Sawchenko. This tied the game at a goal apiece just 2:12 into the middle frame. Gust gave Rockford a 2-1 lead at the 6:15 mark, taking a pass from Brett Seney before splitting the defense and backhanding the puck into the Wolves net.

Chicago knotted the game at 8:39 of the second period when Nathan Sucese put back a long rebound of a David Ferrance attempt. However, the IceHogs responded by capitalizing on a Wolves turnover in their own zone. Mike Hardman deflected a pass attempt to Gust, who sent a shot from the slot past Sawchenko at 14:30 of the second.

The key sequence in the contest came in the closing minutes of the period. With 1:27 remaining, Max Lajoie appeared to tie the game for Chicago. The officials, however, ruled that Lajoie had knocked in the puck with a high stick, disallowing the goal. Rockford took full advantage, getting a deflection of a Galvas shot by Seney with two seconds to play in the second. This gave the IceHogs a 4-2 advantage at the second intermission.

An Alec Regula slapshot 25 seconds into the third period provided plenty of insurance. The Wolves Jamieson Rees closed out the scoring a few minutes later, but the Hogs held on behind Dylan Wells, who picked up his first win in net with 24 saves.

 

Saturday, October 29-Rockford 8, Belleville 2

After scoring five times in a win over Chicago on Friday, Rockford erupted for eight goals at the BMO Center.

The IceHogs got to work early, scoring 51 seconds into the contest with Dylan Sikura‘s first goal of the season. Less than a minute later, Lukas Reichel worked a two-man rush with Brett Seney and scored from the right post to put the IceHogs up 2-0.

Sikura got his second of the night at the 11:36 mark of the first period, the first of what would be four Rockford power play tallies. The one-timer from the top of the left circle trickled through the pads of Senators goalie Kevin Mandolese, prompting Belleville coach Troy Mann to remove him from the game for Mads Sogaard.

Belleville, who was outshot 9-1 by Rockford, stopped the bleeding and went into the locker room down 3-0. Instead of a push back from the Senators, the Hogs turned the offense up a notch.

The middle frame was a wild affair. Rockford put up four goals in the span of 2:15, starting at the three-minute mark with a power-play goal by Alec Regula. Buddy Robinson (PP), Carson Gicewicz, and Reichel quickly followed suit.

Mann removed Sogaard from the action after Reichel’s second of the evening in favor of Mandolese. it didn’t mater. Mike Hardman quickly sent a shot off the right post and into the net at the 7:40 mark.

Jake Lucchini broke up the shutout with a goal at the 11:03 mark, but Belleville trailed 8-1 at the second intermission. From there, it was mostly the teams trying to run out the clock and the officials trying to prevent garbage-time fights. Angus Crookshank converted on a power-play chance midway through the third to close out the scoring.

 

Busy Week Ahead

The piglets will rise early to take on Milwaukee in a 10:30 a.m. start on Wednesday. After getting its first gander at the Admirals, Rockford ends the seven-game home stand Saturday and Sunday. Saturday at 7:00 p.m., the Hogs open the season series with Grand Rapids. The following afternoon, the Iowa Wild visit the BMO Center for a 4:00 p.m. puck drop.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs opened the refurbished BMO Center (note the refurbished name) with a pair of disappointing losses. On Friday, the Chicago Wolves picked up an easy win over Rockford. The next afternoon, Manitoba moved to the top of the Central Division standings behind a half-dozen goals.

What went wrong over the weekend? Allow me to share some thoughts before this week’s recaps.

  • Offensively, Luke Philp and Brett Seney have been as good as advertised. Each has three goals and an assist in Rockford’s first four games. Lukas Reichel (2 G, 4 A) paces the piglets with six points, but looks to be pushing the action a bit, rather than slowing down and letting scoring opportunities develop.
  • Aside from David Gust’s goal in Manitoba October 15, the firm of Philp, Seney and Reichel have accounted for all of Rockford’s goal scoring. Some diversity is sorely needed.
  • The IceHogs were better Sunday in terms of creating legit scoring chances. They just didn’t convert. Passes connected but couldn’t be hauled in. Pucks were in the crease with no one to jump on them. In short, this Rockford offense is just a tad out of synch.
  • Players like Buddy Robinson and Dylan Sikura had some chances that weren’t fully realized. Hopefully Hogs coach Anders Sorensen can get three lines that click in practice this week, then get the occasional greasy goal from players like Josiah Slavin and Evan Barratt.
  • The goalie situation suffered with Arvid Soderblom being recalled to the Blackhawks Friday after a injury to Petr Mrazek. A tandem of Jaxson Stauber and Dylan Wells is not the tandem of a contending AHL team. It was on full display this weekend, particularly on Sunday. If Soderblom is to be with the Blackhawks for an extended period of time, a move needs to be made to obtain a veteran goalie to pick up some slack in Rockford.
  • Adam Clendening had a rough game on Saturday, taking three penalties and encountering trouble quarterbacking the power play. He was better on Sunday, with a secondary assist on Seney’s third-period goal. The first power play unit is four forwards and Clendening. On several occasions, opponents have been able to generate shorthanded opportunities by skating hard up the ice and forcing Clendening to defend.
  • Rockford was 1-8 on the man advantage this weekend, while giving up four power play goals on ten opponent chances. The lack of success on the penalty kill had a big effect on the Hogs fortunes; both Chicago and Manitoba swung the games in their favor with two power play strikes in the second period.
  • Morgan Adams-Moisan made his IceHogs debut on Sunday afternoon. He scrapped with Jeff Malott and Mikey Eyssimont in a ten-minute span of the third period and was given a game misconduct for doing so. He now leads Rockford with two fighting majors and 20 penalty minutes.
  • On Saturday morning, the IceHogs announced that rookie forward Cole Guttman was in concussion protocol, dating back to October 15 in Manitoba when he appeared to hit his head on the ice in a fall.
  • Alex Vlasic and Alec Regula added to the blueline depth in Rockford. Both Vlasic and Regula played in both games this weekend.

Recaps

Saturday, October 22-Chicago 4, Rockford 1

A rash of penalties in the first two periods was too much for the IceHogs to overcome despite several key scoring opportunities. The Wolves spoiled Rockford’s home opener, beating their Central Division rival in convincing fashion.

Chicago took a 1-0 lead at the 14:28 mark of the opening period, after the Hogs sent an early flurry of pucks toward Wolves goalie Zachary Sawchenko. William Lagesson struck from the left post to give Chicago a lead they would never relinquish.

Rockford had a chance to tie the score when Bobby Lynch was awarded a penalty shot at 16:37 of the first period. Lynch got Sawchenko down on the ice, but couldn’t get the backhand shot over the goalie’s pads.

The Wolves began the middle frame with a short power play held over from a slashing penalty by Hogs defenseman Adam Clendening. Chicago needed just 16 seconds to convert. Jack Drury knocked in a feed by Anttoni Honka for a 2-0 Wolves lead.

The IceHogs closed the gap to 2-1 with a one-timer off the stick of Lukas Reichel. Assists went to Brett Seney and former Wolves forward David Gust at the 14:08 mark.

Seney was called for tripping late in the second period, leading to Brenden Perlini‘s first goal of the season with 51 seconds remaining. Outshot by Chicago 26-16 through 40 minutes, the IceHogs trailed 3-1.

The pivotal point in the final period was near the midway point, when Griffin Mendel and Ryan Dzingel committed penalties 51 seconds apart, leading to a 5-on-3 advantage for Rockford. The Wolves hustled defensively and killed both infractions, ending the Hogs best chance to get back into the contest. Malte Stromwall closed out the scoring with an unassisted shorthanded goal with 1:25 to play, sealing Rockford’s fate.

Hogs goalie Jaxson Stauber made his pro debut Saturday following Arvid Soderblom‘s recall by the Blackhawks. Stauber stopped 19 of 22 Wolves shots. Sawchenko made 27 saves to pick up the win for Chicago.

Sunday, October 23-Manitoba 6, Rockford 3

The IceHogs got off to a solid start, attacking the Manitoba net and scoring the first goal of the game. It came off the stick of Brett Seney, who buried home Lukas Reichel’s feed 4:04 into the game. The Moose surged in the latter stages of the first period, tying the contest at the 18:03 mark. Jansen Harkins gathered in a rebound of Ville Heinola’s initial shot and beat Rockford goalie Dylan Wells to the twine.

Things went south for Rockford five minutes into the middle frame. Jeff Malott put Manitoba up 2-1 at 6:41 of the second period. Eight minutes later, Henri Nikkanen scored to put Rockford into a two-goal hole. The wheels came off for the IceHogs in the final five minutes of the second.

Two Rockford penalties gave the Moose a chance to put the game out of reach. They did just that, needing just seven seconds to convert on a Buddy Robinson interference penalty. Declan Chisholm sent a slap shot past the glove of Wells at 15:29 for a 4-1 Manitoba advantage.

Shortly thereafter, Reichel sent a puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. At 17:09, Kevin Stenlund scored his second goal of the season and put the IceHogs down 5-1 heading into the second intermission.

Rockford was able to mount a response in the third period, picking up a Luke Philp goal and Seney’s second of the game, sandwiched around a Mikey Eyssimont tally for Manitoba.

Seney’s two-goal night earned him First Star honors in a losing effort. Eyssimont had a goal and two assists in being named Second Star. Reichel was Third Star on the strength of two assists. Heinola also recorded two helpers in the contest.

Wells had a rough night, giving up five goals on 21 shots before being lifted for Jaxson Stauber to start the third period. At the other end of the ice, rookie Oskari Salminen went to 3-0 on the season with the win, with 28 saves on the afternoon.

 

This Weekend

Rockford continues what is to be a seven-game home stand this weekend. The Wolves come back to play another Illinois Lottery Cup game Friday night. The Belleville Senators come to the BMO Center on Saturday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have a new look entering the 2022-23 AHL season. It’s a real paradigm shift for the organization, and I’m pretty excited about heading into another season of keeping you informed on the action out west of I-39.

Back in the spring, Hawks GM Kyle Davidson announced that bringing in veterans to raise the talent pool in Rockford was a priority. This was an easy statement to take with a grain of salt, since the IceHogs roster has been comprised mostly of prospects since Rockford became Chicago’s AHL affiliate in 2007.

Turns out, the organization followed through.

Over the summer, the Blackhawks, who enter their second full season of ownership of the ‘Bago County Flyin’ Piglets, made good on reshaping the roster. Veterans with serious AHL upside were brought in to fortify last year’s bunch of overachieving prospects.

The 2021-22 crop scrapped their way to fourth place in the AHL’s Central Division and won a play-in series with Texas before falling to the Calder Cup Champions, the Chicago Wolves. Leading the way was rookie Lukas Reichel, who is back for another season at the BMO after a strong debut of 21 goals and 36 helpers.

In addition to Reichel, the current IceHogs roster now has three players that paced their clubs in scoring last season. Many of the solid defensive pieces are back and are enhanced by a familiar face.

Let’s dig into the roster!

Forward

NHL Prospects: Lukas Reichel, Mike Hardman, Josiah Slavin, Michal Teply, Evan Barratt, Cole Guttman.

AHL Contracts: Garrett Mitchell, David Gust, Bobby Lynch, D.J. Busdeker, Carson Gicewicz, Morgan Adams-Moisan.

Veteran Oomph: Dylan Sikura, Brett Seney, Luke Philp.

Guttman is the only rookie in this group. The returning prospects all were big contributors to Rockford’s success, as were Busdeker and Gicewicz. Mitchell enters his third season as the Hogs captain.

Gust (16 G, 20 A for the Wolves last season) is a player who’s been on my wish list for several years, though he’s exactly what the organization has avoided in past campaigns. The Orland Park native is a strong AHL player with a winning pedigree, having skated with the last two Calder Cup winners.

Lynch will chip in on the bottom six; he totaled eight goals and 13 assists in 46 games with Manitoba. Adams-Moisan is a big, physical forward that may wind up splitting time between Rockford and the Indy Fuel of the ECHL.

The addition of Sikura (73 points with the Colorado Eagles last season), Seney (59 points to lead the Toronto Marlies), and Philp (44 points with a strong Stockton Heat club) figures to give Rockford the kind of potency on offense that’s been missing in past seasons. If this forward group can consistently light lamps from the raising of the curtain, this could be a formidable group.

As the Hawks roster fluctuates, Buddy Robinson, who has cleared waivers, will probably wind up with the IceHogs at some point. The same goes for rookie Jaren Luypen, currently on injured reserve with the Blackhawks.

(UPDATE-The Blackhawks assigned Robinson to Rockford on Friday morning.)

Defense

NHL Prospects: Jakub Galvas, Issak Phillips, Nicolas Beaudin, Louis Crevier.

AHL Contracts: Adam Clendening, Cliff Watson, Koletrane Wilson.

The major addition is the return of Clendening for his third tour of duty with Rockford. The 29-year-old defenseman is coming off a five-goal, 37-assist season with Lehigh Valley, his best point output since his 59-point season with the Hogs back in 2013-14.

The signing of Clendening to a one-year AHL contract was the opening salvo of the new development philosophy. He’ll be a mainstay on the Rockford power play and provides yet another upgrade to the talent pool.

Galvas and Phillips may see time in Chicago, rotating with other prospects like Alec Regula (currently with the Hawks) and Ian Mitchell (injured). Beaudin is back for his fourth season in Rockford. It’s likely his final chance to realize his potential as a former first-round draft pick.

Crevier, a seventh-round pick from the 2020 NHL Draft, is a big (6’8″) rookie who should see the ice on a regular basis. He will need to adjust to AHL forwards and contribute in the offensive zone.

Watson saw action in 20 games with Rockford and spent the rest of his season with the Fuel. Wilson has spent his first two years of pro hockey in the ECHL with the Kansas City Mavericks.

 

Goalie

NHL Prospects: Arvid Soderblom, Jaxson Stauber.

Anchoring an experienced team in net are two youngsters. Primary starts are likely to go to Soderblom, who was very impressive in stretches of his rookie season. In 38 appearances, Soderblom was 21-15-2 with a 2.76 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.

Stauber was signed to a two-year entry contract by the Hawks after two seasons at Providence College. Last season, he posted a 2.10 GAA and a .921 save percentage in 37 games.

 

Coaching Staff

Anders Sorensen, who really had his young bunch playing well despite being outmanned most nights, took over early in the season as the interim coach when Derek King was promoted to Chicago. Sorensen was retained to helm the Hogs in 2022-23.

Assisting him will be a pair of former IceHogs. Jared Nightingale was brought in mid-season and did a great job with the blueline and penalty kill. He’s back as well, and rightfully so.

Joining Sorensen, Nightingale, and goalie coach Peter Aubrey is Rob Klinkhammer, a former IceHogs favorite who is making his debut in the coaching ranks after wrapping up his well-traveled pro career with six seasons in the KHL.

 

Outlook

The Central Division is no cakewalk, starting with the defending champs over in Rosemont. The Wolves lost a lot of pieces from last year’s juggernaut but are always built to compete. Manitoba returns most of last season’s second-place squad, and Milwaukee and Grand Rapids will also be tough opponents.

The IceHogs, on paper, look to be as experienced and as talented as any of their division rivals. Slow starts have always been an issue in Rockford. That’s been especially true in the last two seasons, which featured the greenest roster in the AHL by a wide margin. That shouldn’t be the case this fall.

The AHL season is full of ups and downs as roster moves by the parent clubs can have a huge effect on their affiliates. For the time being, it appears that Rockford is stocked with a veteran cast that should spend most of their seasons with the IceHogs. Davidson wants his prospects to play meaningful games well into the spring. Rockford is set up to do that; now it is time to see what the next seven months hold for this team.

 

Jerkin’ The Curtain In Manitoba

Rockford gets to work this weekend, opening the 2022-23 season with a pair of weekend matinees with the Manitoba Moose.

The action begins at the BellMTS Iceplex in Winnipeg Saturday, October 15 with a 2:00 p.m. CDT puck drop with the Moose. Rockford and Manitoba are at it again on Sunday, October 16 at 2:00 p.m. CDT

The IceHogs were 5-3 last season against the Moose but did not fare well on the road, managing just one win in four attempts in Manitoba.

The Moose had nine players that finished 2021-22 with at least 30 points. Seven of those players return to the team this season, including leading point producers Mikey Eyssimont (18 G, 24 A) and Jeff Malott (23 G, 18 A).

Manitoba’s projected starting goalie, Arvid Holm, was 0-3 vs Rockford last season with a 3.80 goals-against average and an .823 save percentage. Soderblom, who will start at least one of this weekend’s games for the IceHogs, was 3-2-0 with a 3.04 goals against average and a .919 save percentage against the Moose.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for in-game thoughts this weekend as well as throughout the season.

 

 

 

Hockey

We all have our security blankets. Mine is comparing Alex Nylander to a pile of microwaved dog shit. Perhaps yours is drugs, or alcohol, or comparing us to a pile of microwaved dog shit (see?). Stan Bowman’s is trading for/signing players he had under contract before, presumptively because they’re a known known. So god damn it if we aren’t remotely surprised to see Brandon Pirri coming back to Chicago, because fuck you.

Back when the Hawks were doing the will-he-or-won’t-he with Dylan Sikura, plenty of writers spilled plenty of ink talking about how Sikura fought through confidence issues to become a force at Northeastern. He went from a guy to a Hobey Baker finalist, which as we all know from past Blackhawks Luminary Drew LeBlanc is worth about as much as a two-cherry pull tab with a rug-burned scrotum as the last symbol. Despite being a sixth-round pick, there was always an overabundance of hope for him, especially from our quarters.

And aside from not scoring, Sikura wasn’t bad while he was here. In his only sustained stint here in 2018–19, over 33 games, here’s what he did:

  • Led all Hawks skaters in CF% (55+)
  • Led all Hawks forwards in xGF% (50+)
  • Finished top 5 among Hawks skaters in GF% (55+)

Those are decent peripheral stats for a guy who’s just that: a peripheral player. But much like Beavis, he never scored, which was always a fly in the ointment for Sikura. But for a team whose defense is a straitjacket made entirely of human shit and gristle, having players who can keep possession of the puck is paramount. Sikura could do that, but it obviously wasn’t good enough for a team willing to jam three minutes of John Quenneville in your face in an elimination game in the playoffs. We screamed and moaned for Sikura to get playing time over ANY of the following:

Each of whom got more time than Dylan Sikura over the past two years and each of whom brings between dick and ass to the table compared to Sikura. Though Sikura was never going to be a world beater, he could have been a role player on the third line, and that’s all he ever needed to be. It’s what he’ll become in Vegas to be sure. But instead, we got motherfuckers like John Quenneville skating in meaningful games over here. Tightly run ship, that.

Now what, pray tell, does Brandon Pirri bring to the table that Dylan Sikura couldn’t? He had a nice scoring run in Florida six fucking years ago, with 40 goals over 122 games there. And in 18–19, he scored 12 goals for Vegas. His career CF% is slightly lower than Sikura’s despite spending much more time in the offensive zone. Like Sikura, he’s had a hard time sticking in the NHL.

But Pirri is almost 30 and costs $25k more than Sikura. For a team that’s dry humping the cap, every dollar matters. Pirri is the older, balder, fatter son that the Hawks thought Sikura could be. And he’s been here before, which is apparently good enough.

This is the second time in three years that the Hawks have gone from drooling over the potential of one of their picks to trading him for a police horse’s fully filled diaper, Harju being the other. In both cases, you got the sense that they were in some kind of doghouse despite solid play. With all the hype that surrounded Sikura as he made his way to the Hawks, you’d have thought he’d get more than the 47 total games he got here. What’s frustrating is that other than the whole “not scoring” thing, he didn’t do all that much wrong. Certainly, he did more right than any of the aforementioned palookas who played more than him over the past two years.

Brandon Pirri will shuttle between Rockford and Chicago as he’s done throughout most of his career, while Dylan Sikura goes on to become an even stronger possession player on one of the best possession teams in the league. When he pots 15–20 goals next year, the Hawks will justify the trade as we can’t afford that.

It’s a fart in the wind in the long term. Sikura barely got a shake here, and now he’ll go to a team that’s nothing but guys who barely got a shake. How’s that gone for the rest of the league? But this is the state of things, wherein Bowman tries to win the 2014 Stanley Cup yet again.

The retreads will continue until morale improves.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 20-20-6    Senators 16-22-7

PUCK DROP: 6:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

BULWORTHS: Silver Seven Sens

The Hawks get to remain in the remedial class after their win against the Ducks tonight, and arguably tomorrow, as they’ll head for the Eastern Canada swing. They kick it off tonight against the equally-rebuilding-as-the-Ducks Senators, before decamping east into La Belle Province to face another floundering O6 team in Montreal on Wednesday. But first things first, a contest out in the middle of nowhere Ontario. Even though basically Ontario is nowhere, and deep down even Ontario knows that.

The Senators aren’t quite as bad as they were supposed to be. This was supposed to be a Wings-like outfit, with a sad little point total as they raced to the #1 pick in June. And the Senators certainly aren’t good, but they haven’t redefined stink as we know it like the Motor City cadre. Still, they’re tied for the second-fewest regulation wins in the league with the just-conquered Ducks and two ahead of the Wings. Perhaps they just couldn’t anticipate just how bad the Wings would be. Who could?

Not that the Sens do anything well. They’re bottom-five in both goals-for and goals-against in the league. Their metrics aren’t much better, though they’re a little weird. They give up a ton of attempts, and have one of the worst Corsi-shares around. But their expected-goals marks are basically middle fo the pack, in that they don’t give up a ton of great chances. They’re not a great defensive team by any sense of the word, and they don’t have nearly enough firepower to make any team capable of breathing sweat. But they do limit the kinds of things they give up, which is more than you can say for the Hawks. In fact, if they were getting any kind of goaltending, they might barely be on the fringes of they playoff picture.

But the thing is, Craig Anderson is now three days older than water and Anders Nilsson is the very definition of “replacement level goalie.” So this is what you get.

The Sens have gotten breakout seasons from Anthony Duclair (spotlighted earlier) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the latter of which figures to be a pretty valuable commodity around the deadline. He’s cheap now at $3M and will make a decent 2-3 center for some contender down the stretch. He also is an impending UFA, so he’s going to get a major raise which probably isn’t in the interest of the Senators.

The only pieces that figure to be around whenever this thing turns in Ottawa is whichever garbage Tkachuk son resides there and Thomas Chabot. You may have heard about Chabot playing 37 minutes in a game recently and averaging about 27 minutes per night the past couple months. I mean, why not play your future pieces into dust now while you suck raw sewage, eh? I suppose names like Filip Chlapik, or Rudolfs Balcers (which sounds like a gastrointestinal problem), or Drake Batherson (which definitely was a character in Knives Out) could make the list before the year is out but they have some work to do. The road is long for the Sens, let’s just say that.

For the Hawks, Robin Lehner gets his “revenge” game or whatever as a former Senator before Corey Crawford gets the hometown start in Montreal tomorrow, where he generally has flourished. Thanks to the demotion of  John Quenneville, which was done because the Hawks actually feared putting him on waivers, means that Dylan Sikura gets back in the lineup. Zack Smith also has this as a homecoming, having spent his entire career in Ottawa before moving south.

Neither the Senators or Canadiens are any damn good, so the Hawks might want to gobble up these points before seeing a rejuvenated, if not beat up, Leafs squad on Hockey Night. They’re getting close to the bye, which generally has seen them turn the motor off. And that’s fine if they’ve scratched this season. If they’re still planning on making something of it, these are games you have to have. Well, they have to have them all but we know how they do against other teams actually competing for playoff spots, but you know how this goes.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Flames 22-17-5   Hawks 19-18-6

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

COVERED IN HORSESHIT: Flames Nation

This week, the Hawks get a chance to put a couple things…well, not right but at least improve. One is their home record. They moved just over .500 with the win over Detroit, but they simply have to be better on Madison St. Second, they can get a couple wins over teams around them in the standings, which they can claim they are competing with for wildcard spots. They did get one over on the Flames last week, which was a departure, but generally this has been a sore spot for them. Calgary is visiting tonight and Nashville on Thursday, and those just happen to be two of the three teams between them and the final playoff spot.

Obviously, not much has changed with Cal and Gary since these two spent New Year’s Eve together (I assume loudly singing along to Lizzo like everyone else). They beat the Rangers at home on the 2nd and then snuck out of St. Paul with a shootout victory on Sunday. So the issues are basically the same. As we like to say around these parts, they can’t hit a bull in the ass with a banjo. They have the fourth-worst SH% at evens in the league, which belies the talent on display here through Monahan (Lisa needs braces…), Gaudreau, Tkachuk, et al. You still have to figure that will correct at some point and send the Flames toward the automatic spots in the Pacific, which they’re only two points behind and two of which are occupied by the Coyotes and Oilers. Most would guess those teams will deflate before the end of the season.

Still, something is more amiss up in Southern Alberta. This team was something of a possession monster under Bill Peters, which is something he just tended to do for his teams (as well as kick them and be racist toward them). This year, even before his dismissal, that’s not been the case. Some of it is Mark Giordano aging, and some of it is just no one else stepping up to fill in some of that gap. Recently they’ve split Gio and T.J. Brodie, perhaps to get some more push from a different pairing. But Brodie’s always been a bit lost without Giordano, so that’s a risk.

Another problem for them is a top line that just hasn’t fired at the pace they’re accustomed to. Monahan and Gaudreau have been point-per-game players before, and neither are there at the moment or anywhere close. Gaudreau especially seems to have eschewed getting to the middle of the ice, and is doing something of a mini-Getzlaf act on the outside. This has hurt Monahan’s game, as he thrived on the havoc Johnny Hockey used to cause in the offensive zone. They attempted to replicate this by moving Mikael Backlund to wing on the line and getting him in the middle, but that had middling results. Now they’re shuttling Elias Lindholm between 2C and 1RW, which is also having the benefit of making it clear what the Flames need to go get before the deadline.

Either way, this was a team that until the last meeting had given the Hawks fits, because it’s one of the many that is significantly faster than them. They weren’t much at the races against the Hawks for the first 30 minutes last Tuesday, allowing the Hawks a 4-0 lead. But once they realized they were about to be embarrassed, traffic flowed in only one direction and the Hawks were even somewhat lucky to get out of there with a rare regulation win. You can expect the Flames to be a little more attuned tonight.

Still, their goaltending has been a little wayward. Big Save Dave has given up 11 in his last three starts (including the Hawks game), and Cam and Magic Talbot gave up three at home to the Rangers. So maybe the Hawks can find some joy there.

As for the Hawks, I wouldn’t expect any changes. Robin Lehner wasn’t in the starter’s net at the morning skate and is still working through his minor leg problem. Look for him Thursday. There’s no reason to change any of the lineup, though Dennis Gilbert took a shot off the ankle at practice. But that couldn’t make him any slower. Maybe Fetch slides in for him, which whatever. After scoring his first NHL goal it would be heavily cruel to sit Dylan Sikura and lose the confidence he just gained. So Alex Nylander’s useless ass can stay in a suit.

As we’ve said, this is a part of the schedule the Hawks can make their season meaningful in. The Flames are a confused bunch, and the Preds even more so after firing their coach. The Ducks suck, and then they’ll get two games against either a rebuilding dreck like the Senators or yet another confused bunch in the Habs before having to try and catch the Leafs in Toronto. Either you are or you aren’t, and these next two weeks should tell us which. Even if you think you already know.