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High On The Hog: IceHogs Enter March Like A Lamb

The Rockford IceHogs, Chicago’s AHL affiliate, finished this week’s action as the leader in the Central Division standings. However, this team is definitely entering March like a lamb.

Rockford has dropped seven of its last ten. Three of those losses have come in overtime, which has kept them on top of the division for the time being. Finishing February at 3-4-3-0 suggests that this group could use a jolt of…well…something as they enter the stretch run of the 2015-16 season.

Where might that jolt come from? Allow me to grasp at a few straws…

Michael Leighton’s Second Wind, Please

Leighton in January: 8-0-2, 1.22 goals against, .954 save percentage, three shutouts.

Leighton in February: 3-2-2, 4.34 goals against, .856 save percentage, pulled twice…

…which would have been three if coach Ted Dent had filled out his lineup card correctly February 17.  The veteran was dominant in the first month of 2016. It would be unrealistic to think that he could have kept up that pace the rest of the way; he certainly did not.

Leighton is 34 and has been used in 41 games so far this season. He played in 42 all of 2014-15; splitting time with Scott Darling and Antti Raanta left him pretty fresh when the team had to lean on him in the spring.

He hasn’t had that luxury in 2015-16. Since January 2, Leighton has played in 18 of Rockford’s last 22 games. In a similar stretch last season, he played just 12 of 21 games.

You sure can’t pin all of Rockford’s woes on the goalie. With 22 games remaining in the regular season, however, Leighton is going to need to find his A game for the Hogs to finish strong.

 

New Blood Could Provide A Spark

Last year, Spencer Abbott arrived in a trade with Toronto and took advantage of the change of scenery. Abbott, who had 24 points in 46 games with the Marlies heading into the trade that sent T.J. Brennan back to Toronto, had 21 points (12 G, 9 A) in those 19 games with Rockford to close out the regular season.

Perhaps that could happen this spring with some new additions to the roster. For instance, one of the players that will be coming to town as a result of the trade for Andrew Ladd.

Matt Fraser was not having a memorable season with Manitoba at the time of his acquisition by the Blackhawks. He had just five goals and nine helpers for the Moose in 44 games.

In his first two full AHL campaigns, however, Fraser racked up 70 goals for the Texas Stars. The 27-year-old wing is just a season and a half removed from a 20-goal effort in 44 games with Providence.

Neither Fraser nor Jay Harrison, the other player picked up in the trade with Winnipeg, skated for the IceHogs this weekend. In fact, they still haven’t been assigned numbers as of Sunday, according to the team website.

Harrison is a veteran of 372 NHL games and should provide some leadership if not a lot of scoring from the blue line. Maybe Fraser comes in, flourishes with some talented teammates and provides the kind of boost Abbott brought to the team a year ago.

 

Carruth Back In The Fold…For Now

Sunday brought the news that Hogs goaltender Mac Carruth was released from his AHL deal with Rockford so that he could be signed to a two-way NHL contract with the Blackhawks.

Chicago neglected to ink the 23-year old Carruth after his entry-level deal expired last summer. Why the renewed interest?

It’s hard to say; Carruth has been solid if not overly spectacular since his call up to Rockford. That happened January 22 in the aftermath of Mark Visentin’s injury.

With just three goalies in Chicago’s stable up through Sunday, I’d guess that this signing is primarily insurance. To give Carruth credit, he has played well enough to win both of his starts since his recall. He also was excellent and gave the IceHogs a real chance to climb back into the game Friday night in relief of Leighton.

Carruth is 0-2-1-0 this season in six appearances with Rockford. The numbers aren’t real impressive; a 3.32 goals against average and a .882 save percentage. It would appear, however, that Visentin is not going to return in the immediate future. You’ve got to figure, unless there are plans I can’t fathom, that Carruth will finish the season as Leighton’s backup.

(UPDATE-2/29, 3:00 p.m.: The Blackhawks sent D Dennis Robertson to Carolina in exchange for another veteran goalie, Drew MacIntyre. This gives Rockford three players at this position with NHL contracts: Leighton, MacIntyre and Carruth.)

 

Roster Moves

Besides the aforementioned trade with Winnipeg that also sees Marko Dano depart for the Jets, Rob Scuderi was sent to the Los Angeles Kings for Christian Ehrhoff, who doesn’t appear to be coming to the Rock.

Vinnie Hinostroza was reassigned to Rockford by the Blackhawks on February 22 and had three goals this week. Nick Mattson and Daniel Ciampini were sent to the Indy Fuel that same day.

Viktor Svedberg was reassigned to the IceHogs and should be available to play this week for Dent. Pierre-Cedric Labrie also returned to action after a lower body injury kept him out for two weeks.

With the NHL trade deadline Monday afternoon, there’s always the possibility that Dent will have a new player or two to work into the lineup. There could still be an addition this week as AHL contracts can still be traded.

 

Recapping The Past Week’s Play

Wednesday, February 24-Rockford 6, Milwaukee 4

The Hogs got a goal explosion; they needed it on a night where the Admirals scored on all three of their power play chances. A trifecta of goals put Rockford in the driver’s seat early in what proved to be a prolific evening in terms of scoring.

Ryan Haggerty got things started in the fourth minute with a nice individual effort. Haggerty drove into the Ads zone up the left side, swooping across the crease and getting Juuse Saros down on the ice. At 3:35, Haggerty simply lifted the puck into the cage for a 1-0 IceHogs lead.

A few minutes later, Vinnie Hinostoza came up the right side with the puck with a pair of teammates alongside him. Ville Pokka took the pass near the circles and hit Tanner Kero streaking to the left post for the easy tap in at 7:45.

Up 2-0, Rockford struck again at 13:09 of the opening frame. Ryan Hartman picked off a Taylor Aronson pass in the corner and hit Mark McNeill in the slot. The shot eluded Saros, who soon after skated to the bench in favor of Marek Mazanec.

The Admirals got on the board via the power play in the second period. However, Hinostroza got to the front of the crease to tip in a centering pass from Kero at 11:59 for a 4-1 IceHogs advantage. Seconds later, Hinostroza took in a stretch pass from Cameron Schilling which found him behind the defense. Solving Mazanec with the backhand, Hinostroza scored for the second time in 23 seconds. Rockford was now up 5-1.

A pair of Cody Hodgson tallies with the man advantage got Milwaukee back to 5-3 by the middle of the third period. Bryan Bickell struck for the Hogs power play goal when his one-time blast caught the ropes at 8:04 of the third. Colton Sissons added a late goal for the Ads before Rockford skated off with the win.

Back in the second period, Mike Liambas dropped the gloves with Cody Bass and scored an impressive decision over the former IceHogs scrapper. Bass, who had just returned to Milwaukee from the Predators, and Liambas last squared off February 7, 2015, when they were wearing the sweaters of their former teams.

Hinostroza, Hodgson and Kero were the games three stars, respectively.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Marko Dano-Mark McNeill (A)-Ryan Hartman

Garret Ross-Jake Dowell (C)-Kyle Baun

Bryan Bickell-Tanner Kero-Vinnie Hinostroza

Mike Liambas (A)-Chris DeSousa-Ryan Haggerty

Cameron Schilling-Ville Pokka

Rob Scuderi-Kirill Gotovets

Jonathan Carlsson-Nolan Valleau

Michael Leighton

Scratches-Kyle Cumiskey, Dane Walters, Dennis Robertson, Pierre-Cedric Labrie

Power Play (1-5)

Dano-McNeill-Hartman-Ross-Schilling

Kero-Bickell-Hinostroza-Baun-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Milwaukee was 3-3)

Dowell-Liambas-Schilling-Pokka

McNeill-Hartman-Scuderi-Gotovets

Kero-Dano-Carlsson-Valleau

 

Friday, February 26-Lake Erie 5, Rockford 4

The Hogs played catch-up most of the way but couldn’t quite draw even with the Monsters, who chased Michael Leighton in the second period.

Lake Erie scored on special teams twice in the first period. Alex Broadhurst converted a power play chance to open the scoring at the 10:56 mark. Manny Malhotra potted a shorthanded goal at 12:40 to put the Hogs back on their heels.

Vinnie Hinostroza got Rockford back in the thick of things after coming down the left side and finding some space between Brad Thiessen and the left post. The goal came at 15:52 of the first and gave a measure of hope going into the intermission.

That hope was tempered by a pair of Monsters goals in the first 1:01 of the middle frame. Mac Carruth came in for Leighton and the IceHogs chipped at the three-goal deficit.

Tanner Kero took a feed from Kyle Baun between the circles and fired past Thiessen to cut the Lake Erie advantage to 4-2 3:45 into the period. A few minutes later, Ryan Hartman was part of the Hogs penalty kill when he gained control of the puck and brought it out of the defensive zone.

Hartman faked a pass to create some shooting space once he crossed the Monsters blue line. Uncorking a slap shot from the right dot, Hartman made it 4-3 Lake Erie at 8:01.

Thanks to Lukas Sedlak sneaking Trent Vogelhuber’s centering pass between Carruth and the right post at 18:54, the Monsters led 5-3 going into the third period. Kero struck twine on the power play midway through the final 20 but that’s as close as the Hogs could get.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Garret Ross-Mark McNeill (A)-Ryan Hartman

Bryan Bickell-Tanner Kero-Vinnie Hinostroza

Pierre-Cedirc Labrie (A)-Jake Dowell (C)-Ryan Haggerty

Mike Liambas-Chris DeSousa-Kyle Baun

Cameron Schilling-Ville Pokka

Nolan Valleau-Jonathan Carlsson

Kirill Gotovets-Dennis Robertson

Michael Leighton

Mac Carruth

Power Play (1-5, gave up shorthanded goal)

Kero-Labrie-Hartman-Bickell-Pokka

Ross-Hinostroza-McNeill-Dowell-Schilling

Penalty Kill (Monsters were 1-8, Rockford did have the shorthanded goal)

McNeill-Dowell-Schilling-Pokka

Labrie-Hartman-Robertson-Gotovets

Liambas-Kero-Schilling-Pokka

 

Saturday, February 27-Lake Erie 3, Rockford 2 (OT)

The IceHogs tied this game midway through the third period but wasn’t able to get over the hump. A point was secured but the game ended on a Monsters Gus Macker tally.

Lake Erie drew first blood midway through the first when Josh Anderson picked off a weak pass by Bryan Bickell. Anderson went unchecked right to the front of Mac Carruth’s net, where he five-holed the Hogs goalie for a 1-0 advantage.

Ryan Haggerty helped tie the contest early in the sandwich stanza after picking off a clearing attempt by Monsters goalie Anton Forsberg. Haggerty passed to Mark McNeill for the one-timer past Forsberg at 4:51 for the equalizer.

Soon after, Ville Pokka, Tanner Kero and Dennis Robertson all found themselves assigned to time out for various infractions. Lake Erie’s extended 5-on-3 time resulted in a Oliver Bjorkstrand goal at the 9:43 mark.

The score remained 2-1 Monsters until midway through the third, when Rockford put together a highlight-reel goal to re-knot the contest. The play started on the half boards of the Hogs zone, where Tanner Kero won a battle for the puck and hit Ryan Hartman for the breakout.

Hartman skated into Lake Erie territory before dropping a pass to Hinostroza. The rookie eluded a defender, toe-dragged into a half-spin and found Kero in front of the Monsters net with a backhand pass. Kero redirected the biscuit to Hartman at the left post, resulting in a rubber and twine mash up.

Having secured a point in regulation, Rockford was unable to prevail in the overtime session. Daniel Zaar got an open look on the net when the Monsters came down the ice with numbers. Carruth couldn’t get across the goal mouth in time to prevent Zaar’s attempt from finding the back of the net.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Garret Ross-Mark McNeill (A)-Ryan Hartman

Bryan Bickell-Tanner Kero-Vinnie Hinostroza

Pierre-Cedirc Labrie (A)-Jake Dowell (C)-Ryan Haggerty

Mike Liambas-Chris DeSousa-Kyle Baun

Cameron Schilling-Ville Pokka

Nolan Valleau-Jonathan Carlsson

Kirill Gotovets-Dennis Robertson

Mac Carruth

Power Play (0-2, gave up shorthanded goal)

Kero-Labrie-Hartman-Bickell-Pokka

Ross-Hinostroza-McNeill-Dowell-Schilling

Penalty Kill (Monsters were 1-5)

McNeill-Dowell-Schilling-Pokka

Labrie-Hartman-Robertson-Gotovets

Liambas-Kero-Schilling-Pokka

 

Another Shot At The Monsters

Rockford concludes a five-game road trip Wednesday night in Grand Rapids. It’s then back to the BMO Harris Bank Center for a pair with Lake Erie Saturday and Sunday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my mid-week musings on all things IceHogs as well as game updates.

 

 

 

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