Figure we should keep the Hogs’ exploits separate from the rest of the kiddies. And that’s partly because they’re probably not going to be as uplifting as reading about Phillip Danault or Broadhurst or the others. It’s been a stuttering start for the Hogs, and that’s being a bit kind.
One habit they’ve gotten into, which is detrimental to anything you want to accomplish, is blowing leads. They scored first in all three games they played this week, and yet only managed to win one. That’s not very good. They also love to take penalties, and dumb ones at times. But the combination of a pretty ferocious kill and some gymnastics by Carter Hutton have kept them from getting lacerated so far. The biggest injustice of the season is that the IceHogs’ only win came without Hutton in net, because he’s deserved it the most.
The week kicked off on Friday in Peoria, and really who wouldn’t want to start their weekend there? Peter LeBlanc gave the Piggies the lead early in the 1st, and for most of that frame they looked all right. But they were run over in the 2nd period, where the Rivermen scored twice — including one from what looks to be a very big, future pain in the ass Jaden Schwartz. The 3rd was spent chasing a game, and they never really looked like they’d get that equalizer. They also took nine penalties, though some were fighting majors that generally came after a teammate had been clocked. This is the Blues’ affiliate they were playing, after all.
The next night the Hogs opened the home portion of the schedule against the Charlotte Checkers. It was a much more open contest, with the Checkers outshooting the hosts 42-36. Once again the Hogs took the lead in the 1st, with Marcus Kruger sniping one home. This time the Hogs waiting until the 3rd period to blow it, with Drayson Bowman overpowing Shawn Lalonde in front to poke home a scramble. A 5-minute Philippe Paradis boarding call stunted the comeback attempts, though the Hogs did kill it all off. They also made a trip to the box nine other times.
Last night, the Hogs upped their game by blowing a two-goal lead. Martin St. Pierre started it off a nice play from Kruger, and Brandon Pirri blasted one home from the top of the rings. But it only took about a minute for the Checkers to tie it up, as the Piggies’ PK starts to buckle under the weight. This time it was a Brandon Bollig delay of game that they cashed in on.
However, last night was the first time that the Hogs actually outplayed the opponent by some distance, and Jimmy Hayes, St. Pierre, and Leblanc made sure they actually got their rewards. Hayes’s first tally came off a simply gorgeous 3-on-2 rush that St. Pierre eventually presented a tap-in off of for him. The Checkers again of course tied it up, but then a beautiful Joe Lavin rush on the power play — the kind you’d swear Nick Leddy should be making — gave Hayes a one-timer that he didn’t miss.
Brandon Bollig wrapped it up after some nice work from Kruger and Chicken Hawk (Andrew Shaw), though the Checkers did get a late consolation to make it 5-4.
What’s to learn from all this? Well, other than Hayes who has been probably the Hogs best forward all season, none of the other players who matter have done all that much. Marcus Kruger looks every bit the NHL-er playing a level below, but that’s not all that surprising. But beyond those two? Shaw’s forechecking isn’t anywhere to be found. Nick Leddy is playing on the left side — apparently a special request from the Hawks according to Chris Block — and looks like he’s adjusting to driving a car in the UK. Dylan Olsen has been hit and miss. Ben Smith has merely made up the numbers, and Brandon Saad can’t even manage that, as his performances in the first three games made him a weekend long scratch.
But it’s only five games, and it’s not enough to get worried about yet. If Saad’s still looks like this in a month, then we’ll talk. On the other side, Martin St. Pierre continues to be effective with his comically long stick and limited skills, as does Leblanc. Lavin has showed flashes, as has Lalonde (though it’s not a good thing when Lalonde looks like your most consistently patient in his own zone).
So in other words, I need the NHL back.