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.

Hockey

Who was good, who was bad, and who was just running heavy, heavy fuel this past week. 

The Dizzying Highs

Patrick Kane – Much like last year, we could just put him in this spot every week and it would almost certainly never be wrong. Four goals, seven points in three games, which kept him top ten in the scoring race. If the Hawks were even close to the playoffs, he’d probably drumming up MVP talk again, because he’s had to do it with so many different teammates who are either having off years or just plain suck. McDavid has Draisaitl, MacKinnon has, at least part of the season, Makar and Rantanen. Huberdeau has Barkov. Even Jack Eichel has had Olofsson, though not anymore. Alex DeBrincat could argue to at least be standing outside this club begging the bouncer to let him in, but Kane hasn’t spent all that much time on his line. Toews was off when Kane was there, and now it’s Ryan Carpenter and Sikura. But I digress. Kane’s rocketing toward another 100-point season, which would be his third. Since he came into the league, the only players to have three 100-point seasons are Crosby, McDavid, Malkin, and Ovechkin. Worse company to be in.

The Terrifying Lows

Dennis Gilbert – This probably isn’t fair to him per se, because he is what he is. And it’s hard for even me to reconcile that Gilbert is vomit-on-ice, and yet the Hawks have nothing to lose by playing him every night. Still, he was on the ice for four goals against in Vancouver, and routinely is either chasing hits that put him out of position, lazily getting back to the front of the net, or both. Oh and he’s slow. But again, he didn’t force anyone to put him in a position he’s clearly no way equipped for. And fuck, he watched Brent Seabrook do this for years, so how can we blame him for emulating that?

The Creamy Middles

Dylan Sikura – Look, if him scoring his first NHL goal and the reaction from him and his teammates after didn’t bring a smile to your face at least, then I don’t really know why you even watch sports in the first place. There’s no way it wasn’t weighing on him, and even the organization could use it as a cudgel against him, or at least an excuse to ignore all the stuff that Sikura does do. He’s no star-in-the-making, but Sikura can be a useful bottom-six player on a good team. Perhaps a Michael Frolik type. He has NHL-level speed, which the Hawks sorely lack. He doesn’t need a GPS in his own zone, and there’s more skill than his waiting a year for a goal would suggest. Hopefully breaking that chain will give him the confidence and relax him a bit to let it all hang out, because you feel like there’s more there. Unlike Alex Nylander, whom he has replaced in the lineup, Sikura isn’t afraid to play in tight spaces despite his small size and he has actual instincts. Hopefully he gets a long look and pots a few goals, because he’s doing more than immediately meets the eye.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Even in the midst of a shitty Hawks season and an even shittier Red Wings season (not that those are anything new in those parts), it still feels nice to watch the Hawks get a nice win over that trash heap franchise from that trash heap city. I just wish this win hadn’t felt so… itchy. Let’s get into it:

DETROIT SUCKS

so do the Hawks, just a little less

-As good as the win over the Wings felt, it took the Blackhawks way too damn long to realize that they were playing an AHL team, and react accordingly. They were straight up asleep for the first period and a decent bit of the second period as well – despite having 55% of the shot attempts, they still lost the scoring chance battle 9-6 and the high danger chance battle 3-1 in the first. While they started playing in the second period, it wasn’t until they were able to quickly strike back-to-back goals with just shy of five minutes left in that frame that it really felt like the Hawks came to life. Not the most encouraging  play against an opponent like this, but in the end getting the win is still much better than it would’ve looked had they lost to this Detroit group, so I won’t bitch too much.

Alex DeBrincat was a gosh darned force tonight, with straight up dominant metrics across the board. He posted a 68.75 CF%, 70 FF%, 71.6 xGF%, and a 55.56 SCF% (scoring chances for). He also made two great plays in the leadup to Strome’s opening goal for the Hawks, first to get the puck of the Hawks’ defensive zone onto the rush, then winning the puck off the boards behind the net and then feed Strome in the slot. The results have unfortunately not always been there for Top Cat this year, but he’s been playing solid so if he keeps up more games like this (easier said than done) he will start to see the production rise.

– Congratulations to Dylan Sikura on his first NHL goal. It only took him more than half a regular season’s worth of games to get it.

I kid, I kid. Sikura hasn’t exactly bloomed in the way that I think many of us would have preferred He didn’t get a ton of ice time tonight (just 9:39 at evens) but made the most of it with a nice 56.25 CF% and adding that goal. Just build off of it moving forward and please don’t make us wait another 43 games for the next one.

Adam Boqvist fucks. He is so offensively skilled and creative, he just needs to tap more into those abilities both as a PP QB and at 5v5 play. He has all of the tools to be a true force and produce at a 1D level in the NHL. His goal tonight was a thing of pure beauty and I look forward to many more like it coming.

– It cannot be overstated – God Bless Corey Crawford. While the team was figuring their shit out tonight, Crow was solid and kept them much more in it than they should’ve been for a while, including an awesome series of saves after a really rough play in front of the net by Duncan Keith. May Crow live on in our hearts forever.

– Blackhawks go next on Tuesday against the Flames.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 18-17-6   Canucks 21-15-4

PUCK DROP: 9pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

GARBAGE THROWERS: Canucks Army

The Hawks start 2020 in Vancouver, which in some way was where everything started. Not only was it their biggest rival and site of some of their biggest wins, but it’s where Seabrook, Keith, and Toews won a Gold Medal before they’d won a Cup, which you could argue only set off their appetite for more silverware. Now they’re just barely alive in the playoff race. Tonight they’ll see another one chasing the postseason after an absence, which hasn’t been something that’s gone well for them in the past.

The Vancouver Canucks have won five in a row, which actually has them in the third spot in the Pacific but only one point above the trap door in the West with the Flames, Jets, and Oilers right on their ass. You’d think the Flames will get their act together soon, which probably means the Canucks are still looking at a wildcard spot. The Hawks claim they’re looking at those two. Which would make this something of a four-pointer. But the Hawks have biffed pretty much every one of these when they’ve had the chance. You remember games against the Avs, Stars, or Coyotes last year where they couldn’t even manage a point that they needed. If they’re serious, a regulation win is needed and then to be backed up with a bunch more.

So how did the Canucks get here? Mostly goaltending. Jacob Markstom has been great in December, with a .927 SV%. The Canucks mostly have been getting domed in games of late, but Markstrom has seen them through. They don’t do anything particularly well other than the power play, which is just an extension of their magnificent top line. The trio of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson (WHO WANTS TO WALK WITH ELIAS?!), and Brock Boeser has some of the best metrics in the league, and has been murder in both zones. Earlier in the year they were some of the best defensive marks in the league, though that’s slipped of late.

But beyond that, the Canucks have the common problems of not enough depth. Jake Virtanen has done what he does which is score goals you’ll never remember, and Bo Horvat is much more comfortable as a second center behind Pettersson. But beyond that there isn’t much, and that’s something the Canucks will have to improve in the near future.

There is a genuine star on the blue line in Quinn Hughes, who has 25 assists. Tyler Myers sucks, has always sucked, and will always suck, but the Canucks were hard-ons to sign him as a free agent for years so he’ll be polluting their third-pairing for the next five years. Christoper Tanev and Alex Edler are still here, though one might think moving both at the deadline will improve the Canucks long-term. But the long-term has never been their priority, and if they’re in the thick of it–given the nature of the Pacific they probably will be–they’ll never justify stripping their blue line of the two dependable veterans they have.

For the Hawks, nothing much should change. One would think Robin Lehner will continue to ride the roll he’s been on, though they won’t want Corey Crawford to go stale. Sikura has earned another game, there’s not much more he can do honestly. Maybe Koekkoek comes in for again but you’d tend to doubt it.

As stated above, the Hawks have utterly sucked in games against direct competitors at the bottom of the picture. They won’t get anywhere if they can’t change that. As we’ve said, the schedule is a little light right now. They’ve won three in a row, but they’ll need more. They need weeks of this, not days. So keep it going.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Devils 11-19-5   Hawks 15-16-6

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

PARTS UNKNOWN ALWAYS MEANS DOWNTOWN NEWARK: In Lou We Trust

The Hawks will head into the Christmas break, with one more home game, and a chance to build something that looks like momentum with a three-game winning streak, against one of the league’s dumpster-dive-discoveries in the New Jersey Devils. You can’t really ask for much more, which is why it probably feels like the Hawks will fuck this one up with the bus already running. Still, even 75% of usual attention should be enough to get past this outfit at home. You’d think, but silly things have happened against New Jersey the past couple seasons.

Since the last time the Hawks saw them, the Devils have lost five of seven and traded Taylor Hall, so they’re even less interesting than they were before. None of the pieces they got for Hall are on display, and none of them are anywhere close to surefire pieces that will contribute down the line. This is why you don’t hold onto to valuable players when you suck and you know that there’s little chance of them re-signing for your sad sack organization. Hall would have gotten them at least one viable piece at the draft, or at least deadline, but here we are. Know what you are, know your role, people.

So the Devils will focus squarely on what it looking like another top five pick in June to add to Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, neither of which have really popped yet. The Devils will wait around to see if they can get more lottery tickets for Wayne Simmonds or Sami Vatanen at the deadline, and maybe see what’s out there for Kyle Palmieri too who has another year left on his deal. This team needs a lot of things, especially on the blue line and in the crease, and they’re going to need a lot of spins to get them through the draft and prospects.

For now, the Devils do their best to keep things tight to keep it in range of their very limited defense. You may remember these two teams playing a Geneva Convention violation a few weeks ago in Newark, because the Devils were determined to gum things up and the Hawks didn’t even have Boqvist or Keith to force their way through any trap. You can bet on the road it’ll be the same again, probably even more conservative. That’s if the Devils can locate a fuck to give in the last game on the road before three days off. One would think that’s hardly a gimme of a bet.

For the Hawks, it’ll be the same again as Saturday, with Corey Crawford replacing Robin Lehner in net. The win over the Avs was probably their best game of the season, and at least something to try and build off of. The spreading out of the scoring with DeBrincat pairing with Dach started to show some life, as it took a few games for those two to figure out things with each other. Hopefully it grows from here.

There will be a new addition, as John Quenneville is the latest to get a look ahead of Dylan Sikura and not Matthew Highmore for some reason. We can’t also discount that the Hawks might think this is somehow a “revenge” game for Quenneville, as this is his former team for which he barely played. We know that’s how they operate at times. Sikura went from getting a look with Toews and Kublaik–and not looking out of place–to this. Life is cruel. Look for Quenneville to operate with Strome and Nylander for a period and a half before Kelvin starts double-shifting Kane anyway.

No matter how boring the Devils try and keep it, the Hawks should get this one. The schedule the next month isn’t particularly daunting, so if the Hawks have a run in them it’ll be here. But that isn’t going to happen without a win over a team simply aching to give you one right now. So do that, and let’s head off into the holiday not bemoaning our lot in life.

Hockey

@  

Game Time: 8:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago+, WGN-AM 720
Alpenglow Botanicals: Mile High Hockey

For the second time in a month, the Hawks and Avalanche will be playing one another for the second time in a week. And for the second time in a month, the Hawks will be looking to avoid getting blanked in earning any kind of points in the standings whatsoever. Maybe this time it will be different.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs finished the month of November with an 8-3-0-1 record. The ‘Bago County Flying Piglets have picked it up on the offensive end, rising from the league basement to a more-than respectable three goals per contest. Not bad for a team that is as green as the IceHogs.

Rockford’s average age on its current roster is 23.12 years. That is the second youngest in the AHL behind only San Jose. The piglets are the least experienced club in the league by a fair sight. Rockford skaters have played just 2, 359 AHL games combined, nearly five hundred less than the Barracuda.

As in past years, it’s been offense by committee in Rockford. The Hogs have no veteran scorers squirreled away to bolster the organization, so the kids will be shouldering the load for better or worse. Recently, it’s been the former.

Here are some of the contributors to the recent surge:

The Brothers Sikura

Whether they are teamed on a line or on separate units, Dylan and Tyler have been Rockford’s biggest point producers. The two brothers each have eight goals and five assists to pace the Hogs offense.

Sikura The Younger kicked off November with a hat trick on the third of the month. Two of his five goals last month were of the game-winning variety. A four-game point streak was snapped Saturday, but Dylan is getting pucks on net at a steady rate. His 83 shots on goal is by far the team lead in that category.

Sikura The Elder was just named captain of the IceHogs Friday night. Tyler had eight points in November (4 G, 4 A) and is instrumental at evens and on both special teams.

 

Brandon Hagel, Forward

Hagel put up five goals and three assists in twelve games last month. He leads the IceHogs rookies in scoring with ten points (5 G, 5 A) this season. Hagel, who was also a plus-six in November, has shown a knack for driving hard to the net with the puck. It’s paid off for him this past month.

 

MacKenzie Entwistle, Forward

Entwistle’s defensive play has shown up on the scoreboard. He has been solid at both ends and had three goals and three helpers in eleven November appearances. His skater rating of plus-six is tied for the team lead among forwards. Along with Dylan Sikura, he shares the team lead with two game-winning goals.

 

Lucas Carlsson, Defense

Carlsson took advantage of some increased opportunities during Adam Boqvist’s stint in Chicago and showed off his own offensive prowess in November to the tune of two goals and six assists. His nifty moves produced a highlight-reel goal in a win over the Wolves November 10.

 

Matt Tomkins, Goalie

Tomkins was in net for that November 10 win over Chicago. It was one of two victories he had over the Wolves and one of three wins the former Ohio State goalie posted this past month. Tomkins gave up just five goals in those three games.

With a 4-1 record in 2019-20, Tomkins leads the Hogs goalies with a 2.38 goals against average. He also sports a .921 save percentage and has worked his way into a tandem with Kevin Lankinen the past couple of weeks.

 

Roster Moves

Just before Friday’s game, the Blackhawks recalled defenseman Ian McCoshen and assigned forward Matthew Highmore back to Rockford. Highmore skated for the Hogs on Saturday night.

I would have figured that Philip Holm would have been in line for the call up to Chicago. Unfortunately, Holm did not play over the weekend. The most productive of Rockford’s defensemen must be a little banged up at the moment, paving the way for McCoshen’s promotion.

Alexandre Fortin sat out Saturday’s game with some bumps and bruises, according to Hogs coach Derek King. Mikael Hakkarainen continues to be on the shelf after being injured in Rockford’s first game October 4.

 

Recaps

With a pair of home wins this weekend, the IceHogs improved to 11-8-0-1 this season. Their 8-3 home record would be the best in the Central Division, save for the juggernaut that is the Milwaukee Admirals. Milwaukee, who visits Rockford for the first time this season on December 7th and 10th, are 8-1-1-1. By the way, the Ads have won 13 straight games heading into play this week.

The Hogs inhabit fifth place in the division standing with 23 points, though they have at least two games in hand on the rest of the Central. Rockford’s .575 points percentage is third-best in the division.

 

Friday, November 29-Rockford 4, Chicago 2

Rockford won over its Interstate 90 rivals for the fifth time in five meetings, scoring three times in the second period to pick up two points.

John Quenneville gave the Hogs a 1-0 advantage late in the first, taking the puck from Alexandre Fortin and looping into the slot. His snipe zipped past Wolves goalie Oscar Dansk at the 15: 25 mark.

Fortin would put Rockford up 2-0 3:50 into the second period when his putback of a Dennis Gilbert shot beat Dansk from the left post. Dylan Sikura converted on Phillipp Kurashev’s pass on the rush for a 3-0 IceHogs lead 6:01 into the second.

Chicago got a goal from Ben Jones midway through the second to cut the lead to two goals, but Brandon Hagel came up with a great individual effort from neutral ice, swiping a puck and beating Dansk on the breakaway at the 11:27 mark.

Brandon Pirri snuck in a power play goal 15:42 of the middle frame, but that’s as close as things got. Hogs starter Matt Tomkins picked up his third straight win with 31 saves. Quenneville, Tomkins and Sikura were voted the game’s Three Stars.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Quenneville-Tyler Sikura (C)-Alexandre Fortin

Dylan Sikura-Phillipp Kurashev-Brandon Hagel

Tim Soderlund-Jacob Nilsson (A)-Joseph Cramarossa

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-MacKenzie Entwistle

Lucas Carlsson-Dennis Gilbert (A)

Joni Tuulola-Adam Boqvist

Nicolas Beaudin-Chad Krys

Matt Tomkins

Kevin Lankinen

 

Saturday, November 30-Rockford 3, Grand Rapids 1

Despite falling behind in the opening frame, the Hogs prevailed behind two first-time scorers and 29 saves by Kevin Lankinen.

The Griffins got on the board 6:17 into the game, just after a Nicolas Beaudin slashing penalty came off the board. Brian Lashoff faked a shot from the point, drove to the left circle and sent a shot to the Hogs net. Lankinen got his pads on the shot but not enough to prevent it from trickling into the cage.

It took a while, but the IceHogs evened things up late in the second period. The scoring play capped a very productive shift in which Rockford kept the pressure on Griffins goalie Pat Nagle. Tim Soderlund, brought the puck around the Grand Rapids net and out to Dennis Gilbert at the left point. GIlbert slid a pass to fellow defenseman Lucas Carlsson, who sent a shot off the end boards.

The carom came out to Soderlund, who was salivating near the bottom of the left circle. His attempt caught twine at 17:38 for Soderlund’s first professional goal. The teams went into the second intermission tied at one.

The Hogs took a 2-1 lead 8:49 into the third when Joni Tuulola guided Phillipp Kurashev’s pass past Nagle. Tuulola had missed on a slap shot on net seconds earlier but looped back into position at the left circle to get his stick on Kurashev’s feed for his first goal of the season.

Rockford potted some insurance seconds after Nagel skated to the bench with just over two minutes left in regulation. MacKenzie Entwistle picked up a loose puck, skated to center ice and sent the biscuit into the empty basket to make it a 3-1 final.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Quenneville-Tyler Sikura (C) Dylan Sikura

Matthew Highmore-Phillipp Kurashev-MacKenzie Entwistle

Joeseph Cramarossa-Jacob Nilsson (A)-Brandon Hagel

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Tim Soderlund

Lucas Carlsson-Dennis Gilbert (A)

Joni Tuulola-Adam Boqvist

Nicolas Beaudin-Chad Krys

Kevin Lankinen

Collin Delia

 

This Week

The Manitoba Moose pay a visit to the BMO Harris Bank Center on Tuesday night before Rockford goes to Grand Rapids Friday. The Hogs get their first look at white-hot Milwaukee on Saturday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for tidbits on the Hogs throughout the season.

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs had themselves a roller-coaster weekend on the road, earning three or four points in the first two games of a three-game Lone Star set. The Blackhawks AHL affiliate let leads slip away in Texas before dropping a 7-6 decision via shootout. The next afternoon, the resilient piglets stormed back from two goals down in the final half of the third period to beat San Antonio in overtime.

Goalie Collin Delia did not play in either affair; he backed up Kevin Lankinen on Saturday, then was a scratch Sunday. After Lankinen let in six goals on 36 Texas shots, he backed up Matt Tomkins against the Rampage.

It was the Hogs AHL signee who posted the standout performance of the weekend for Rockford, keeping the Hogs in contention with 21 saves on 23 shots until the offense got on track late in the contest. In his first action in two weeks, Tomkins won his third game in four starts this season.

Tomkins has allowed two goals or less in each of those three victories. He currently has a 2.48 GAA to go with a .915 save percentage. You can forgive Lankinen for a stinker, considering he’s been excellent in his other five starts this season.

Delia’s goals against average remains at 4.09 after sitting out the weekend. It would seem like Hogs coach Derek King would give Delia the net on Tuesday in the rematch with San Antonio, but time will tell soon enough.

 

Roster Move

On Wednesday night, it was announced that the Blackhawks had traded Graham Knott, Chicago’s second-round selection in the 2015 NHL Draft, to Pittsburgh in exchange for veteran forward Joseph Cramarossa. Cramarossa, 27, was on the ice for the Hogs in both games this weekend.

This move was a response to the retirement of Kris Versteeg earlier in the week. In Cramarossa, the Hogs get a physical, veteran who is joining his fifth AHL team in Rockford. The six-foot, 195-pounder has a rugged style that is in short supply on the Hogs roster.

Cramarossa found himself in a scrap behind the Stars net early in Saturday’s game in Texas, then played a key part in Rockford’s first goal against the Rampage. He should be able to make the Hogs a little tougher to play against. Cramarossa kills penalties pretty well, is not a stranger to dropping the gloves, and can chip in offensively on occasion.

The price for this veteran pickup was Knott, which is to say that Chicago bolstered the AHL roster without giving up a piece of said roster. With his entry contract expiring this season, Knott spent the first two months of the season in the ECHL. Knott had five goals and four assists in 13 games with the Indy Fuel but has has been assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton by the Penguins.

 

Recaps

The IceHogs (9-7-0-1) own a .589 points percentage, though they are sixth in the Central Division with 19 points. Rockford is 7-2-0-1 over their last ten games and have several games in hand compared to the rest of the division.

Saturday, November 23-Texas 7, Rockford 6 (SO)

Rockford blew a two-goal lead in the second period and rallied to tie the game in the closing minutes. Ultimately, the Hogs came up short in the shootout in a wild affair at Cedar Park.

Alexandre Fortin put Rockford ahead 1-0 with his second goal of the season 6:31 into the game. The Stars scored twice to take the lead on goals by Jason Robertson and Michael Mersch before an unassisted power play marker by Tyler Sikura tied it at two goals at 15:25 of the first period.

John Quenneville’s pair of goals resulted in a 4-2 Rockford advantage by the mid-point of the contest. However, Texas would return fire with power play goals by Joel L’Esperance and Nicolas Caamano. Late in the second, Anton Wedin tipped in a caroming puck for a 5-4 Hogs lead after 40 minutes.

The Rockford lead would turn into a 6-5 deficit after Gavin Bayreuther and Robertson found the back of Kevin Lankinen’s net. It would take a Brandon Hagel put back with 3:24 to play in the game to draw the teams even once more.

The outcome remained up in the air following Gus Macker Time. In the shootout, Robertson and Dylan Sikura traded goals in the second round before L’Esperance beat Lankinen in the fourth. New IceHogs acquisition Joseph Cramarossa was stopped by Texas goalie Landon Bow to give Texas the win.

The Hogs power play found the net on both attempts, though Rockford did give up three power play goals to the Stars.

 

Sunday, November 24-Rockford 3, San Antonio 2 (OT)

The Rampage scored on their first shot of the afternoon. Ryan Olsen guided a deflected centering pass under IceHogs goalie Matt Tomkins at 3:30 for a 1-0 San Antonio lead. That lead was extended at the close of the first period on a Derek Pouliot goal with five seconds left.

Rockford broke the lock Adam Wilcox had on the net midway through the third period. Joseph Cramarossa found Adam Boqvist skating into the offensive zone. The shot was stopped by the Rampage goalie, but the rebound came out to Boqvist, who skated toward the right post looking for a pass recipient.

Tyler Sikura was in the slot waiting; Boqvist found his stick and Sikura cut the San Antonio lead to 2-1 with ten minutes left to play. Tomkins, who kept Rockford in the game throughout the third period, was brought to the bench in the final minutes for an extra skater.

As the final seconds ran out, Matthew Highmore gained possession of a loose puck off the half boards. Highmore found Dylan Sikura at the right post; Sikura the Younger elevated the puck over the glove of Wilcox to tie the score 2-2 with three seconds left.

Overtime did not last long. Boqvist got the biscuit to Jacob Nilsson at the Hogs blue line. Nilsson did the rest, splitting the defense to spring himself for a breakaway. One backhand later, the Hogs had pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat.

Tomkins played very well between the pipes for Rockford, saving 21 of 23 shots to post his second win of the season. Neither team was able to score on the power play; San Antonio was stopped three times, while the Hogs failed to convert their only opportunity.

 

This Week

The road trip concludes with another tilt in San Antonio Tuesday night. Rockford then comes back to the BMO Harris Bank Center for post-Thanksgiving clashes with Chicago (Friday) and Grand Rapids (Saturday).

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