Hockey: Tales from the Trough: After hot January, ’Hogs cool off in February

Peoria Rivermen goaltender Ben Bishop (30) stops a Brandon Segal (14) shot en-route to a 36-save shutout performance Wednesday, Feb. 15, at BMO Harris Bank Center. Peoria’s lone second-period goal was enough to beat Rockford 1-0. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

It was just like someone had turned on a light switch, and then a month later, it was turned back off.

The 2011-2012 season for Rockford was trending downward throughout the calendar year of 2011. Then, just like someone turned that switch on, Rockford heated up in January going 9-3-0-1 for the month. Once February hit, the switch was turned back off.

Since the flip in the calendar, Rockford has gone a dismal 1-5-1-0 in their last six games, pulling them further away from a playoff spot.

The first game of the week took place at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford with the Peoria Rivermen coming to town.

In what turned out to be a rare defensive game against these two teams, it was Peoria coming out with a 1-0 win. The only goal of the game came 20 seconds into the second period on a redirected shot from the point by Brennan Evans.

From the start, the game took a physical tone, with Brandon Bollig dropping the mitts with Anthony Peluso only 2 seconds into the game. After an evenly-matched scrap, both players were sent off the ice, and Rockford started their offensive onslaught.

The ’Hogs had three first-period power-play opportunities, including 30 seconds of a five-on-three advantage, but Rockford couldn’t get one past AHL All-Star goalie Ben Bishop, and both teams went to the locker room tied at 0-0 after the first. Rockford outshot Peoria 14-5 in the first period.

Period two started off with the aforementioned Peoria goal on their sixth shot of the game. But Rockford kept firing at the net.

A few minutes into the period, Bishop took himself out of the game after stopping 17 straight Rockford shots. Backup Jake Allen came in and stopped the next six ’Hogs shots before Bishop came back in 8:46 later.

The third period was much of the same with Rockford firing shot after shot on the net, and Bishop stopping everything thrown his way.

Rockford would get seven power-play chances on the evening, coming up empty on all chances. In the end, Rockford could not crack Bishop, and Peoria’s goalie stole a 1-0 win on the road.

The ’Hogs held the Rivermen to 13 shots on goal: a record for the lowest shots on goal by an opponent in the IceHogs’ AHL era. Rockford fired a total of 42 shots on net with Bishop stopping 36 of the 42 shots, and Allen stopping the other six.

Friday, Feb. 17, Rockford headed to Toronto for their first — and only — time this season to take on the Marlies. The momentum shifted from period to period, but ultimately it was Toronto taking the game in overtime after holding a 3-0 lead.

Marcel Mueller started the scoring midway through the opening frame on a three-on-one rush.

Just before the halfway mark of the second period, Ryan Hamilton scored shorthanded, putting the Marlies up by two with a nice move while one-on-one with goalie Alexander Salak.

Three minutes later, Matt Frattin put Toronto up by 3, notching his 12th goal of the season.

Rockford’s comeback started at 18:16 of the second period when Jeremy Morin notched his 10th goal of the season. Morin skated in at the middle of the ice with one defender in front of him. Morin used the defender as a screen and wristed a shot past goaltender Mark Owuya to put Rockford on the board.

Peter LeBlanc tapped in his 17th of the season to put Rockford within one at the 7:06 mark of the final period. Rostislav Olesz fired a shot at the net, and the rebound came out to LeBlanc, who tapped in the puck.

Morin would score again later for Rockford to tie the game up at 3-3 after the midway point of the final frame. Once again, it was Olesz getting the primary assist as he fed the puck to a trailing Morin, who was between the blue line and faceoff circle, and fired the shot to the back of the net.

Rockford’s thin defense allowed Joe Colborne to skate into the offensive zone to set up his own goal. Once in the offensive zone, Colborne turned away from the net and fed the puck to teammate Philippe Dupuis, who fired a shot at the net. The rebound came right out to Colborne, who beat Salak for the overtime winner.

Salak would get his third consecutive start the following night, and looked good early against the Hamilton Bulldogs, stopping 27 of the first 28 shots he faced in the first two periods.

However, a defensive breakdown allowed Hamilton to score an astounding three goals in 37 seconds to allow Hamilton to come back, and eventually win the game 5-2.

The first of Hamilton’s three goals came on a neutral zone turnover by Blake Geoffrion. As Rockford came up the far boards with the puck, Geoffrion stole the puck and made haste to the Rockford zone, where he fired a shot to the top corner and beat Salak for the tying goal.

Twenty-two seconds later, on an odd-man rush, Gabriel Dumont scored on an assist from Ian Schultz. As Schultz was bringing the puck into the zone, Dumont got behind the defense and slid the puck past Salak before bumping into Salak in the crease. Salak jumped out of the crease to argue the puck was kicked in, then took exception to a Hamilton player and shoved his glove into the face of the Bulldogs player, resulting in a roughing penalty.

The Bulldogs took advantage of the foul-tempered Salak and fired another puck past him 16 seconds later to give Hamilton a commanding 4-2 lead.

A late empty-net goal with 46 seconds left sealed the win for Hamilton, sending Rockford away for their third loss of the week.

Rockford’s two Brandons — Segal and Pirri — tallied markers for Rockford with Segal scoring the first goal and Pirri netting the second for his team-leading 20th of the season.

Keys for the week:

1. Defensive breakdowns and turnovers — Once again, communication breakdown and turnovers plagued the IceHogs, especially in the Hamilton game.

2. Catching up and falling apart late — Rockford has been good at coming back late when behind, but have not been so good when leading late in a game. This week was a perfect example, as Rockford came back against Toronto to grab at least 1 point, and fell apart against Hamilton.

Looking forward:

Another series of three games in three days is in store for Rockford this weekend, Feb. 24-26. Rockford first faces Chicago at the Allstate Arena at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 24, then Milwaukee at the BMO Harris Bank Center at 7:05 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 25, then the Wolves once again at 5 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 26. If Rockford is able to win at least two of the three games this weekend, Rockford will gain ground in the playoff hunt, but losing at least two of the three games will dramatically hurt Rockford’s chances in reaching the post-season.

From the Feb. 22-28, 2012, issue

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