High On The Hog: Hoping To Be More Offensive in 2017

Here’s hoping that 2017 is kinder to the Rockford IceHogs then the previous three months. To put it plainly, the 2016 part of this year’s campaign flat out sucked.

Through 32 games, the AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks has been struggling to stay out of the cellar of the Western Conference. Only the Charlotte Checkers have fared worse than the BMO boys heading into this week’s action.

How bad has it been? Hold your nose. I’m throwing out some numbers; they aren’t lemony fresh.

At press time, Rockford sports an 11-16-2-3 record. The Hogs dropped three of four games this past week, including losses in Iowa and Grand Rapids and Wednesday’s defeat at the hands of the Chicago Wolves.

That overall mark is good for a .422 points percentage. Only three teams in the AHL have lower figures in that column; Utica, Hartford and the aforementioned Checkers.

Only two AHL teams have failed to cross the threshold of double-digit regulation wins. Rockford and Hartford have just 8 victories in regulation.

The IceHogs are scoring at a 2.47 clip per game; that total is 26th in the league. On the road, Rockford’s offensive output is 1.73 goals per game. That is by far the worst in the AHL to date.

It should come as no surprise that the Hogs are 3-10-1-1 when playing in opposing barns. Their power play is clunking along at a 12.9 success rate (and that’s with a pair of goals Saturday night in Grand Rapids).

What’s telling is that Rockford is getting pucks to the net at an impressive enough rate. They rate fifth in the AHL and second in the West, firing 32.06 shots per contest. So why aren’t the Hogs hitting twine with those shots?

Two theories:

  1. The poor IceHogs are just having rotten luck for three consecutive months.
  2. As Griffins broadcaster Bob Kaser succinctly pointed out Saturday night, they just lack finishers.

I’ll leave theory number one to Pollyanna. Kaser is completely spot on with his assessment.

Spencer Abbott has been lethal from the left dot this season. His eight goals lead the club. Abbott shares the team lead in points (21) with Mark McNeill (5 G, 16 A). Nick Schmaltz came back from a three-game absence and could be an offensive spark.

Marcus Kruger’s designation to injured reserve, however likely means one of these guys are due for a call-up. I would guess Schmaltz, as he would provide help at center.

Unless something changes in drastic fashion, the Hogs will have to get down and dirty for offense in the new year. Rockford has to be more opportunistic when rebounds present themselves.

In past years, there have been several IceHogs clubs that have put things together later in the season. Those teams were a lot younger than this year’s bunch. I wouldn’t count on that happening this season.

On the other hand, Luke Johnson is skating with a bit more spring in his step in the last couple of weeks. Kyle Baun has been putting in the work around the net and its been paying off to the tune of five goals and seven helpers. Maybe the Hawks get healthier and a guy like Tanner Kero is sent back to Rockford and contributes.

 

Injury Front

Schmaltz, who was sidelined with an upper-body injury, was kind of a surprise to see back on the ice this past weekend. Hogs coach Ted Dent didn’t sound optimistic about his chances of playing anytime soon late last week. However, fortune shone on the Hogs and Schmaltz hit for a goal in Rockford’s 4-1 win over Iowa Friday night in his return.

Missing from the lineup on both Friday and Saturday was defenseman Erik Gustafsson. I didn’t seen anything in Wednesday’s game with Chicago that would indicate an injury, but he missed both games this weekend. Perhaps he was just sick, but I can only speculate.

Jonathan Carlsson was recalled from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel on Friday. He did not play over the weekend, though. On Monday, the IceHogs recalled Nick Mattson from Indy as well. (UPDATE-Tyler Motte was sent down to Rockford Tuesday morning. That afternoon, Abbott was recalled to Chicago.)

Speaking of speculation (and this is 100 percent the case in what follows), I saw Brandon Mashinter walking in the concourse of the BMO Harris Bank Center between periods on Friday. I haven’t heard anything concerning Mashinter’s health, though his last appearance was December 7 against San Antonio.

Dude looked all right to me; no casts, no limp of any kind that I noticed. Mashinter left that game midway through the second period after a fight with Mason Geertsen of the Rampage.

Mashinter was given a game misconduct for fighting at the faceoff; might he have been concussed in that altercation?

Again, this is pure speculation on my part here. The local media (read: the Rockford Register Star) doesn’t seem to have anyone on the beat this season. Besides, they wouldn’t normally ask that question if they were on the beat. I’ll leave it at that as I have more thoughts on this than I have time to explore this week.

I haven’t been able to find anything on Mashinter’s condition or a possible return date. Baun is reaping the benefits, as he has taken over Mashinter’s presence around the net (while keeping his gloves firmly on).

 

Recaps

Monday, December 26-Iowa 4, Rockford 1

The Hogs got on the board first, via the man advantage. Ville Pokka took in a slap pass from Erik Gustafsson and fired from the right dot. The shot squeezed through a miniscule opening in the top right corner of Alex Stalock’s net. Rockford took a 1-0 lead 7:53 into the game.

That advantage held up until the waning minutes of the period, when Iowa netted a power play goal of its own. This one came off the stick of Mario Lucia, who skated into the slot and got his shot over the glove of Hogs goalie Lars Johansson 18:06 into the first. The teams skated into intermission tied at one goal.

Rockford was victimized late in the middle frame for a pair of goals. Teemu Pulkkinen blocked a Cameron Schilling shot, chased down the puck and converted a breakaway shot past Johansson at the 16:42 mark for a 2-1 lead. Just under two minutes later, Christoph Bertschy brought the puck into the Hogs zone, skated to the slot and five-holed Johansson for a 3-1 Wild advantage.

The third period was eventful only in that Pokka, for the second time in as many games, was hit in the face with a puck. After trailing blood all the way to the Rockford bench, Pokka went to the locker room and did not return.

Iowa held the Hogs at bay and got an empty-netter from Pulkkinen in the closing moments. Rockford’s three-game win streak came to an end.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Spencer Abbott-Sam Carrick-Kyle Baun

Mark McNeill (A)-Luke Johnson-Martin Lundberg

Pierre-Cedric Labrie-Jake Dowell (C)-Jeremy Langlois

Evan Mosey-Tyler Barnes

Ville Pokka-Erik Gustafsson

Carl Dahlstrom-Cameron Schilling

Viktor Svedberg-Nolan Valleau

Robin Norell

Lars Johansson

Power Play (1-2)

Abbott-McNeill-Baun-Pokka-Gustafsson

Lundberg-Carrick-Barnes-Dahlstrom-Schilling

Penalty Kill (Iowa was 1-3)

Baun-Lundberg-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Mosey-Johnson-Pokka-Schilling

Carrick-Dowell-Gustafsson-Norell

 

Wednesday, December 28-Chicago 6, Rockford 2

In a bit of a role reversal from the previous Wednesday night game with the Wolves, Chicago got four goals in the middle frame to take control of the contest. They also got a hat trick from Wade Megan to snow under the Hogs.

Rockford drew twine first in the contest with a power play goal 2:10 into the second period. The IceHogs took a while to get set up in the Wolves zone after a Kenny Agostino tripping minor. Late in the man advantage, however, Ville Pokka sent a slap shot that Chicago goalie Ville Husso sent away with the left pad.

The puck came out to Mark McNeill at the right dot. One nifty cross-ice pass to Spencer Abbott later, the slab was safely in the net. Abbott’s one timer from the bottom of the left circle gave Rockford a 1-0 lead.

Agostino was credited with the equalizer at 4:06 of the period after a scramble in front of Lars Johansson. Megan’s first goal of the night was a put-back of a Jordan Caron shot at the 8:45 mark.

Megan set up a shorthanded goal later in the period, threading a pass to teammate Mackenzie MacEachem as he was coming across the Hogs blue line. MacEachem caught the defense napping and got a clear shot in front of Johansson to make it 3-1 Wolves at 16:44.

The IceHogs closed the gap just over a minute later with their second power play goal of the night. Pokka gathered in McNeill’s faceoff win and sent the puck to the net. Kyle Baun got a piece of the shot and off went the horn. Rockford trailed 3-2 with 2:04 remaining in the second.

Chicago responded with its own power play goal, seconds after Sam Carrick caught MacEachem with a high stick. Agozzino swiped the puck from Robin Norell behind the Hogs net and centered to Megan, who got his second of the night with 42 ticks remaining. Rockford went to the dressing room down 4-2.

Mac Carruth replaced Johansson to start the third period. The Wolves offense continued to pile on, however. Petteri Lindbohm sent a one-timer past Carruth 1:57 into the third for a 5-2 Chicago advantage. Megan completed the hat trick with a one-timer from the slot at the 16:20 mark to close out the scoring.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)-Chris DeSousa-Evan Mosey

Spencer Abbott-Sam Carrick-Kyle Baun

Mark McNeill-Jake Dowell-Martin Lundberg

Luke Johnson-Tyler Barnes

Robin Norell-Nolan Valleau

Cameron Schilling-Ville Pokka

Erik Gustafsson-Viktor Svedberg

Carl Dahlstrom

Lars Johansson

Mac Carruth

Power Play (2-4)

Abbott-Baun-McNeill-Gustafsson-Pokka

Barnes-Carrick-Lundberg-Schilling-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Chicago was 1-4)

Dowell-Baun-Norrell-Pokka

Carrick-McNeill-Dahlstrom-Schilling

Johnson-Mosey-Svedberg-Valleau

 

Friday, December 30-Rockford 4, Iowa 1

The Hogs turned the tables on Iowa after Monday’s loss, scoring four unanswered goals after falling behind early in the contest.

Mario Lucia beat Hogs goalie Mac Carruth from the right post 48 seconds into regulation. Carruth would stop the next 25 Wild shots on goal and was voted the game’s second star for his effort.

Rockford took control of the game in the second period. The equalizer came on Nolan Valleau’s first goal of the season at the 7:18 mark. The play was set up by Kyle Baun, who scooped up a rebound near the right post and sent it over to Valleau. The door was open and the second-year defenseman did not dissapoint, sending the puck past Wild goalie Steve Michalek.

In the 13th minute, Sam Carrick capped off some back and forth action between the two teams, resulting in the game-winner. Carrick deftly maneuvered from the top of the right circle to the Iowa doorstep, backhanding up and over Michalek’s glove at 13:11 of the middle frame.

The IceHogs put the game out of reach in the final period, first with a dazzling bit of stickwork by Nick Schmaltz, making his return to the lineup. Schmaltz made his way to the slot and fired on net, aided by a Mark McNeill screen. Michalek make the stop, but Schmaltz followed his shot, pounced on the rebound and knocked home some insurance via the backhand.

Up 3-1 8:41 into the third, Rockford was firmly in control of this one. Cameron Schilling picked up his seventh goal of the campaign in the 16th minute with an empty-netter to complete the scoring.

Spencer Abbott took a spill near center ice midway through the third period and slowly made his way to the bench favoring his right wrist. On his way to the locker room, he also seemed to be limping a bit. He did not return to action.

Valleau (first star) and Baun (third star) rounded out the three stars for the IceHogs.

Lines (starters in italics)

Martin Lundberg-Jake Dowell (C)-Evan Mosey

Spencer Abbott-Sam Carrick-Kyle Baun

Nick Schmaltz-Mark McNeill (A)-Luke Johnson

Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)-Chris DeSousa-Tyler Barnes

Robin Norell-Viktor Svedberg

Nolan Valleau-Ville Pokka

Cameron Schilling-Carl Dahlstrom

Mac Carruth

Power Play (1-3)

Abbott-Baun-McNeill-Schmaltz-Pokka

Barnes-Carrick-Lundberg-Schilling-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Iowa was 0-4)

Dowell-Baun-Norrell-Pokka

Carrick-McNeill-Dahlstrom-Schilling

Johnson-Mosey-Svedberg-Valleau

 

Saturday, December 31, Grand Rapids 5, Rockford 2

The IceHogs got on the scoreboard early in the opening period. Spencer Abbott took a Cameron Schilling pass out of the left corner of the Rockford zone. Looping unchecked to the left dot, Abbott took aim and fired from his favorite shooting spot. The biscuit slipped between Griffins goalie Cal Heeter and the near post for a 1-0 Hogs lead just 1:31 into the contest.

Things took a dramatic turn in the second stanza. The Griffins, who were held to just four shots on goal in the first period, sent 19 pucks to the net in the second.

Penalties by Martin Lundberg and Robin Norell within 20 seconds of each other game Grand Rapids a lengthy two-man advantage. At 7:22 of the period, Robbie Russo tied the game with a blast from the high slot.

Midway through the second, Viktor Svedberg lost the handle on the puck as he was preparing to break out of the defensive zone. Ben Street took a point-blank shot at the doorstep that Carruth was able to keep out of the net. Eric Tangradi knocked in the rebound and the Griffins led 2-1 at the 11:32 mark.

The bad got worse for Rockford as the Griffins got set up in the Hogs zone for a long shift. Backing the defense to the edge of the crease, Dan Renouf sent a shot towards the net. The puck glanced off of Carl Dahlstrom and ducked into the five-hole of Carruth. The goal put Grand Rapids up 3-1 with just 52 seconds left in the second period.

Rockford got back to within a goal early in the third period. Sam Carrick got to a bouncing puck in front of the Griffins net and knocked it home at the 1:58 mark of the final frame. Unfortunately, that’s as close as the IceHogs could get.

Tomas Nosek took a stretch pass into the Hogs zone and beat Carruth for a 4-2 Grand Rapids advantage seven minutes into the third. The Griffins added a shorthanded, empty-net goal in the waning seconds to close out the scoring.

Lines (starters in italics)

Martin Lundberg-Jake Dowell (C)-Evan Mosey

Spencer Abbott-Sam Carrick-Kyle Baun

Nick Schmaltz-Mark McNeill (A)-Luke Johnson

Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)-Chris DeSousa-Tyler Barnes

Robin Norell-Viktor Svedberg

Nolan Valleau-Ville Pokka

Cameron Schilling-Carl Dahlstrom

Mac Carruth

Power Play (0-4)

Abbott-Baun-McNeill-Schmaltz-Pokka

Barnes-Carrick-Lundberg-Schilling-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Griffins were 1-3)

Dowell-Baun-Norrell-Pokka

Carrick-McNeill-Dahlstrom-Schilling

Johnson-Mosey-Svedberg-Valleau

 

Another Busy Week Of Action

The IceHogs have another four-game week to negotiate, starting Tuesday night in Milwaukee. From there, Rockford travels to Allstate Arena Friday to meet the Wolves. The Hogs will be in Grand Rapids again on Saturday before coming to the BMO to host Chicago Sunday afternoon.

Check in with me on twitter @JonFromi for tidbits of Hogs-related thought throughout the season.

 

 

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