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The outcome may not have gone the Hawks’s way, but that was the most exciting game I’ve watched since the first two. There’s more than enough to take away from this one, so let’s get to it.

– We’ll start with Victor Ejdsell. For a guy whose first game saw him on the top line between Saad and Kane against a team still fighting for home ice advantage, he looked utterly pristine. We were worried about his skating, but Ejdsell assuaged our fears with a long albeit syrupy stride. He had a quick one-on-one with Jones early in the first that he got nervous on, forgoing a wrister to try to get closer and finish with a weak backhand. But outside of that hiccup, his first period was close to flawless.

He finished the first with a stunning 61+ CF% (26.05 CF% Rel) and a couple of good passes and set ups. He ended the game with a strong 51+ CF (12.59 CF% Rel) and didn’t have any huge diaper shittings. It’s only one game, but Ejdsell impressed me, especially with his passing. The only time I saw him plop in front of the net was during the first period PP, but otherwise, he maneuvered around in the high slot most of the time, looking to make plays. He’s someone to watch over the next five games, as he has the look of something useful.

– Speaking of useful, wouldn’t it be useful if fourth liner Alex DeBrincat would forgo his gritty bodychecking ways and just commit to scoring? The fact that he’s on the fourth line is a continuous personal affront, but hey, he set up the game tying goal there. I sometimes worry that Q putting him on the third and fourth lines will sour DeBrincat down the line, but I’m probably just projecting. Top Cat was outstanding with his passing and positioning as usual, but perhaps most impressive was a sequence late in the third.

After losing his stick, DeBrincat was bothersome until he read the puck as just unplayable enough in his own zone. He streaked to the bench, got a new stick, started a rush up the ice, and nearly scored on the play. And he’s only 20. Once he eats a few more sandwiches with Dylan Sikura, he’s going to be a force.

– I’m always going to be a curmudgeon about people who say that the Hawks miss Hjalmarsson and that Connor Murphy just isn’t up to snuff. Tonight was strictly a peep show for me, as Murphy was outright ruthless in all aspects of play. His CF% was a robust 52+ (15.12 CF% Rel), he scored a goal with a UNITY slapper, and he was far and away the most positively noticeable Hawks D-man on the ice. Don’t let Pat “Let Me Sound Out My O-Face Over Hits Unless Connor Murphy Does It” Foley fool you: Hertl’s goal ought to be laid at the feet of Gustafsson—who both misread the pass out of his oZ then couldn’t read Murphy covering for him—and Forsberg, who was wedgied by Hertl all alone.

And Murphy found himself playing with Gustafsson most of the game, which makes sense to me. Gustafsson—despite all the shit we give him—DOES have offensive instincts, and with Murphy’s burgeoning confidence, I can see this pairing working in the long term, provided Gustafsson makes at least some effort at defensive responsibility. It’s not perfect, but it makes sense on paper. And hey, Gustafsson led the team with a 57+ CF% tonight against a team rate of 43+, so you’ll take it.

– Aside from the Hertl goal, Forsberg looked decent. As always, he looked behind himself more often than a professional goalie should, but I’m always going to have a hard time being mad at him. The first goal was the result of Rutta playing “don’t touch the lava” in the blue paint, trying to cheat toward the far side of the net to cut off Hansen, who was covered pretty well by Oesterle, leaving Sorensen a gaping goal mouth on the near side. The second was off a faceoff win by the Hawks in the oZ, which then saw Seabrook turn the win over to Boedker, who passed to Shitty Kane #2, who then made Seabrook look like John Daly stumbling down a bunker to look for either his ball or a cigarette butt with a pull left on it, whichever requires less effort.

– Ragging on Seabrook these days is like shouting at the wind, but holy shit did he look like a bag of chewed cuticles tonight. He finished with a 28+ CF% at 5v5, and that’s WITH Keith. Keith himself had a 27+ CF%. I get the temptation to put the band back together, but Seabrook sucks and Keith isn’t the “America Runs on Duncan” Keith that’s a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer anymore. If you’ve ever lamented the fact that you’ll be long dead before the sun burns out, just watch these two play together. It’s the same fucking thing. These two simply cannot play together next year if the Hawks want anything to do with a playoff run.

– Brandon Saad seems to be in the throes of a relative Renaissance. Paired with Ejdsell and Kane, he was aggressive and his passing was crisp. He fed Ejdsell a couple of prime chances, and finished with a Hawks-forward-leading 55+ CF%.

– Vinnie’s confidence continues to grow as well. He finished with a 53+ CF% and put on a one-man show in the third period, juking and jiving through defenders for a clean shot that Jones managed to stop. Fels said it earlier this month: We might have a Top 6 forward on our hands here.

Yes, the Hawks lost, but the younger guys looked good doing it. If Ejdsell can keep up what he did tonight, I would love to see him anchoring the third or fourth line next year, depending on what Kampf and/or Sikura end up being. Call me romantic, but I think there’s hope yet for this team.

Beer du Jour: Boulder Beer – Shake Chocolate Porter.  One of the best porters I’ve had in a while.

Line of the Night: “The Blackhawks won the first period, no question. That should have been a 3, 4–1 period for the Blackhawks.” –Burish during the second intermission, despite the Hawks posting a 43+ CF% and a 2/7 high-danger Corsi For percentage (i.e., the Hawks had two high-danger shots to the Sharks’s five)

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Sharks 43-23-9   Hawks 31-36-9

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THEY CAN’T AFFORD IT EITHER: Fear The Fin

A friend of the program, one Kevin Kujawa–guitarist and singer for great local band of the past Mannequin Men– used to refer to the first game after the trade deadline as “New Toy Day.” Well, the Hawks didn’t get that this year as it was clearance sale time, but Hawks fans will get some of that this week as the Hawks show off what they hope will be a couple pieces that matter in the future.

The first one arrives tonight in Victor Ejdsell, probably referred to from here on out as “Eggshell.” He’s a big center, whom they’re probably already envisioning taking Anismov’s place so they can punt him to the nearest taker this summer that’s also on his list (YOU’RE ON OUR LIST. HE NAMED NAMES!). Ejdsell comes with plus-hands, so we’re told, though the Hawks are probably already telling him to get his ass to the front of the net which will kneecap his playmaking abilities we’re told he has a bit. Whatever, there will be plenty of time to worry about that next year. The big concern is whether or not he can skate enough to make any of it matter, or if he’s just a monolith the Hawks hope they can park at the other crease but which hurts you in every other aspect. He’d better be the former, otherwise the trade of a definitely useful Ryan Hartman is just simply running in place (because he was a first-round pick at #30, which seemingly everyone evaluating that trade forgot). The Hawks were after Ejdsell when he chose the Predators, and generally the European players they’ve been hot on tend to work out at least ok (Jan Rutta excluded and they’re going to give that one another go anyway).

The other one is Dylan Sikura, who will arrive Thursday. We’ll talk more about him then but he’ll be an interesting watch because he’s got a big chance to more than just ballast on the team next year, even if he’s in desperate need of a sandwich. Just a shame he couldn’t bring Adam Gaudette with him.

As for the rest of the story with the Hawks, there isn’t one really. Toews is still out, with some mystery injury that definitely isn’t either “tired of this shit” or “has been playing with something for months and can’t be bothered anymore but don’t think it’s a head injury” or “we’re actually trying to tank.” After Anton Forsberg looked decent against the Isles he’ll get the start again, but we know what it’s looked like when he’s tried to put two starts together. So JF Berube should probably be properly warmed and stretched, as Q pulls a goalie switch for the 46th time this season.

This game matters a little to the Sharks, though not that much. They’ve pretty much held off either the Kings or Ducks for the second spot in the Pacific, especially with the seven-game winning streak they’re currently on (you can do that?). They’re four up on the Ducks and have a game in hand, and six up on the Kings with a game in hand. So they’ll start the playoffs at home against either, and really they should beat either. But these are the Sharks, and without a healthy Thornton anything is possible for them. Pavelski has been great at center, and that should be enough to see off either of their California brethren. But again, the Sharks have found a way in the past to drive their car into a swimming pool.

After a hiccup around the turn of the year, Martin Jones has been excellent the past two months and the Sharks would enter either series with the better goalie, which is a leg up (sorry Jonathan Quick but we know what you are). While it doesn’t jump out at you, the Sharks are deeper than most teams even without Thornton. Pavelski and Evander “I’m The Other Fuckstick Named…” Kane have been quite the force on the top line, Couture and Hertl have dovetailed on the second line, and Tierney andLeBanc have been a surprise on the third. A Thornton return along with Joonas Donskoi (who’s only day-to-day) only adds to that. They’ll be deeper up front than either the Ducks or Kings, that’s for sure.

You know the story on the blue line. Marc-Eduoard “This Is What Seabrook Was Supposed To Be” Vlasic and Justin Braun are the human shield for Brent Burns on the second pairing, and he simply runs wild. Again, a unique weapon to have. And Brenden Dillon and Dylan “Fine And” DeMelo on the third pairing aren’t really a disaster. Again, sneaky depth.

Even with all that, it’s hard to know if the Sharks are that good. Their special teams for sure are, and that’s gotten them a long way. But this is one of the more boring Sharks teams we can remember, who play in a terrible division and when you watch them nothing really jumps out. Then again, that’s the exact kind of team that comes alive in the playoffs when things get choppier. Secondly, in that division there’s no one who’s going to turn up the pace on them that they can’t handle, which is what Edmonton did last year and the Penguins the year before. You could see if they ran into a misplaced Colorado team in the second round where that could be a problem, but that’s one line and specifically one guy. Vegas, if it somehow shambles its way out of the first round even without Fleury, will see it all pop against the vastly more experienced Sharks. Really, this team merely has to stand still to get to a conference final, where it probably will be laced by Nashville or Winnipeg, assuming there’s anything left of either of those teams after they’re done bludgeoning each other in the second round.

Let’s have fun with our new toys these last two weeks. It’s all we got.

Game #77 Preview

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The Rockford IceHogs have battled their way into a spot in the AHL’s postseason party…for now.

With nine games left heading into action Monday, the Hogs are a point ahead of Iowa for the final playoff spot in the Central Division. Rockford overtook the Wild with two regulation wins in three games this week, including a 5-2 win in DesMoines last Monday.

This season is far from over. Just two of Rockford’s final nine games is at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Iowa and Milwaukee, who beat the IceHogs in Rockford Friday night, are still within striking distance. The Admirals sit just three points back of Rockford, who like Iowa and Milwaukee have played 67 games this season.

The Hogs draw a tough assignment to start this week’s action. Rockford is in Winnipeg for two games with the division-leading Moose on Monday and Wednesday.

Manitoba is not the same red-hot squad of earlier this season and they have been much better on the road than in its own building. However, the Moose have won both contests with Rockford this season. Manitoba is second in the AHL in scoring with 3.39 goals per contest. They have a lethal power play (21.6 efficiency) and are fast and physical on the ice.

The Moose have five 40-plus point scorers on the active roster. By contrast, Rockford’s top point producer, Anthony Louis, has 38 points on the season. The Hogs have been grinding out a lot of wins lately, though Rockford is putting up an average of 3.03 goals a game.

I figure that the IceHogs are going to have to win six of these last nine games to make the postseason. A split up north is vital to making that happen. Following Wednesday’s tilt with the Moose, Rockford hosts San Jose on Saturday night.

 

Viktor S Scores A Viktor-E

It is very apparent that the IceHogs will set a franchise record for courtesy this season. This weekend, a Rockford skater earned a fighting major for just the tenth time this season. The Hogs will obliterate the previous low of 39.

That tenth scrap came in the third period of a tight game with the Chicago Wolves, when Viktor Svedberg got tired of the antics of Wolves forward Keegan Kolesar. What made this fight memorable is the fact that for the first time this season, a Rockford skater scored anything resembling a clear win over an opponent.

In his second dropping of the gloves this month, Svedberg landed several blows and bloodied the nose of his adversary. The 6’9” defenseman spent the next five minutes icing his right hand, so hopefully he’s none the worse for wear.

Svedberg has been a healthy and effective part of the lineup in 2017-18. In 64 games this season, he has set career highs in goals (six) and points (21).  His skater rating of plus-16 is tied for the team lead.

 

Roster Moves

The IceHogs saw the arrival of forward Victor Ejdsell this past week, as well as his departure. Ejdsell played two games with Rockford before be recalled by the Hawks. The 6’5″ Swede impressed me with his skating and positioning in his appearances at the BMO this weekend. He had an assist against Milwaukee Friday.

Rockford also signed D Joni Tuulola to a PTO on Friday. Tuulola had been playing in his native Finland this season.

 

Recaps

Rockford won two of three games this week, good enough to move into fourth place in the Central Division. The Hogs are 34-25-4-4 in 2017-18.

Monday, March 19-Rockford 5, Iowa 2

The Hogs posted a key road win over the Wild, paced by a pair of goals by Chris DiDomenico.

Rockford got on the board in the sixth minute when Graham Knott got a piece of a Luc Snuggerud shot on its way to the net. At the 12:23 mark, Luke Johnson made it a 2-0 game after taking a pass from Cody Franson and skaking to the right dot.

Iowa pulled back to 2-1 on a Mitch McLain goal, but DiDomenico won control of a loose puck in the Rockford zone and brought it all the way back into Wild territory. Shooting from the left circle, the puck glanced off the crossbar, off defenseman Alex Grant and into the cage for a 3-1 Hogs lead 17:19 into the first period.

DiDomenico made it a 4-1 Rockford advantage with a power play strike 3:18 into the second period. The goal was set up by Adam Clendening, who found DiDomenico at the top of the right circle for the slap shot.

Kyle Rau scored midway through the second period to close the gap to 4-2, but that was as close as things got in DesMoine on this night. Viktor Svedberg banked a clearing attempt off the glass and into an empty net in the closing minutes to seal the win.

No lines tonight; Robin Norell skated as a forward. The Hogs were two of five on the power play. Jeff Glass stopped 31 of 33 shots to pick up his 13th win of the season. DiDomenico and Franson (two assists) were named the first and third stars of the game.

 

Friday, March 23-Milwaukee 5, Rockford 2

Things got away from the IceHogs in the final period. The desperate Admirals dropped four goals on Rockford to end an eight-game Hogs points streak.

Tyler Sikura got a shot past the pads of Anders Lindback 5:01 into the game. The puck slowly slid toward the goal line until Henrik Samuelsson gave it a last push to the net to give the IceHogs the lead.

The score would remain 1-0 through the majority of the first two periods. Milwaukee tied the game with 25 seconds left in the middle frame on an Anthony Richard goal.

The third period was a wild affair that did not end well for Rockford. Former Hog Mark McNeill gave the Ads a 2-1 lead after Adam Clendening whiffed on a pass attempt from deep in his own zone. Midway through the third, Lance Bouma slipped a shot between Lindback and the left post to tie the game. From there, it was all Milwaukee.

Bobby Butler hit on the game-winner with a backdoor goal 10:09 into the final period. McNeill and Richard both added empty net scores in the last minute to finish off the Hogs.

Lines (starters in italics)

Tanner Kero (A)-Graham Knott-Kyle Maksimovich

Lance Bouma-Chris DiDomenico-Anthony Louis

Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura-Victor Ejdsell

Alex Wideman-Luke Johnson (A)-Matheson Iacopelli

Adam Clendening (A)-Carl Dahlstrom

Cody Franson-Viktor Svedberg

Darren Raddysh-Robin Norell

Jeff Glass

Power Play (0-1)

Johnson-Sikura-DiDomenico-Clendening-Franson

Louis-Ejdsell-Iacopelli-Samuelsson-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Ads were 1-4, though that goal came with the Hogs net empty.)

Bouma-Sikura-Svedberg-Franson

Knott-Kero-Norell-Dahlstrom

Johnson-Samuelsson-Clendening-Raddysh

 

Saturday, March 24-Rockford 5, Chicago 3

The IceHogs rallied from a 2-0 first-period deficit to post the win over the Wolves.

Chicago got goals from Brandon Pirri and Teemu Pulkkinen in the first 20 minutes to put the Hogs in a hole. Rockford came out digging in the second period.

In the opening minute of the middle frame, William Pelletier had a shot deflect off of Wolves defenseman Griffin Reinhardt. The puck was gathered in by Lance Bouma at the left circle. His shot got the best of Chicago goalie Max Legace and made it a 2-1 game 49 seconds into the second.

Rockford tied the game at the 8:37 mark when Matheson Iacopelli zipped a wrist shot from the left point that caught the far side corner past Legace. A few minutes later, the Hogs took the lead.

Tyler Sikura went behind the Chicago net to chase down Luc Snuggerud’s shot attempt. Finding Henrik Samuelsson open at the right dot, Sikura’s pass was rifled into the back of the Wolves net at the 15:28 mark.

Less than a minute later, Darren Raddysh broke up a entry pass by Wade Megan and got the puck to Chris DiDomenico skating the other way. DiDomenico hit Bouma coming into the Wolves zone and Bouma handled the rest, twining his attempt past Legace for a 4-2 Rockford advantage at 16:17 of the second period.

Pulkkinen answered for Chicago late in the second to cut the Hogs advantage to 4-3. However, that was it for the Wolves offense. Collin Delia made several outstanding saves on point blank Wolves attempts late in the second to preserve the one-goal lead. Rockford added an empty-netter from DiDomenico with 1:50 remaining to put a ribbon on a fine comeback effort.

Bouma and DiDomenico were the game’s first two stars. Delia wound up with the victory, with 33 saves on the evening.

Lines (Starters in italics)

William Pelletier-Tanner Kero-Luke Johnson

Lance Bouma-Chris DiDomenico-Anthony Louis

Henrik Samuelsson-Victor Ejdsell-Tyler Sikura

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Adam Clendening-Carl Dahlstrom

Darren Raddysh-Luc Snuggerud

Colin Delia

Power Play (1-4)

Sikura-Johnson-DiDomenico-Clendening-Franson

Samuelsson-Iacopelli-Louis-Ejdsell-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Chicago was 1-4)

Bouma-Sikura-Svedberg-Franson

Knott-Kero-Raddysh-Dahlstrom

Johnson-Samuelsson-Clendening-Snuggerud

 

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates of the IceHogs push to the Calder Cup Playoffs.