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

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.