Tales from the Trough: IceHogs lose two straight in week five, drop below .500

Rockford IceHogs rookie forward Brandon Saad (20) attepmts to leap over a puck inbound for the net on Admirals goaltender Jeremy Smith (30) while Mike Moore (21) and Ben Ryan (16) fight for position Saturday, Nov. 10. Saad would score his first professional goal Friday, Nov. 9, in a losing effort against the Grand Rapids Griffins. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

Rockford’s up-and-down season continues, as the IceHogs lose both games in week five to drop themselves below .500. To make matters worse, Rockford lost to two divisional opponents, which allowed the two teams to climb above Rockford in the divisional standings.

The IceHogs’ first divisional opponent of the week, the Grand Rapids Griffins, have not fared well against Rockford in the past. In their previous meeting this year, Grand Rapids jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead against Rockford, only to lose 6-5 in overtime. With confidence on their side, the Griffins once again scored quickly, 2:10 into the contest, to give them the early lead.

But Rockford wasn’t about to fall behind early as they had in recent games, as Shawn Lalonde beat Petr Mrazek from the point to tie the game up.

Rockford struck again quickly, but this time it was rookie Brandon Saad scoring his first professional goal to put the ’Hogs up by 1. Jimmy Hayes, who assisted on Lalonde’s previous goal, fed Saad, who floated behind the Griffins’ defense alone for a breakaway. Saad made a nice move to fake out Mrazek to put Rockford ahead.

Two more goals were scored in this first period, but both were tallied by the Griffins. Brendan Smith evened the score at 12:40 with his second tally of the year, and Riley Sheahan scored his second goal of the night to give Grand Rapids a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes.

Smith extended the Griffins’ lead to 4-2 early in the second with his second of the game, a powerplay goal at 4:37.

A little more than a minute later, Kyle Beach, who was recently named the AHL Player of the Week for Week 4, was tagged with a match penalty for a check to the head, sending him to the locker room and leaving Rockford to fight off a five-minute penalty. The AHL would announce Saturday, Nov. 10, that Beach would be suspended for the game against the Admirals. The penalty would actually benefit the ’Hogs over the Griffins, with Rockford turning the tables when Hayes lit the lamp at 7:50 with a shorthanded goal, marking his third point of the night. Hayes quickly moved into the Griffins’ zone after receiving the puck from Marcus Kruger, and fired off a quick-wrister, which surprised Mrazek and found the back of the net.

The ’Hogs would fight off the Beach match penalty and head into the final period trailing by 1.

But the Griffins’ defense tightened up, allowing only six Rockford shots in the final period. Francis Pare scored an empty-net goal with 8 seconds remaining in the game to secure a 5-3 victory for Grand Rapids.

The following night, Saturday, Nov. 10, Rockford returned home for a game against the Milwaukee Admirals for their first of 12 meetings this season.

Once again, Rockford let in an early goal to fall behind. Chris Mueller scored his team-leading fifth goal of the season at 1:54 of the game to give the Ads a quick 1-0 lead.

Brandon Pirri, the team goal leader for Rockford, would score his sixth goal of the season at 8:39 to even the score at 1-1, which would stand until the end of the first period.

The game started to get away from Rockford in the second period as Milwaukee scored three unanswered goals, including two in a span of 36 seconds, to put Milwaukee ahead 4-1 at the midway point of the game. Defenseman Mike Moore scored the first two second-period goals for Milwaukee, and Austin Watson capitalized on a defensive zone turnover by Rockford for their third goal of the period.

Jeremy Morin would stop the bleeding and score for Rockford at 13:07 of the second period, with a quick shot past goaltender Jeremy Smith.

IceHogs’ leading goal scorer last year, Peter LeBlanc ringed a shot hard off the iron midway through the final frame, but that’s the closest Rockford would get to scoring, as stingy defense once again prevented Rockford from scoring a third-period goal, and the Ads would hang on for a 4-2 road win.

Keys for the week

1. Playing from behind. For the third week in a row, this has been on my keys of the week. It may be getting beaten to death, but Rockford MUST find a way to score early and keep their opponents off the board early in the game.

2. Defensive zone miscues. A number of opponent goals this season have come from defensive zone miscues by Rockford. Milwaukee’s fourth goal of the game was a direct result of not being able to get the puck out of the defensive zone. Once Rockford can eliminate these errors, I believe that will help with my first key of having to play from behind.

3. Leaders missing. This may be a little speculation on my part, but Rockford seemed to be playing without the spark they had when Dylan Olsen and Andrew Shaw were playing with the team prior to their suspensions.

Looking forward

Rockford has a three-game week in Week 6 with two home games, one Wednesday, Nov. 14, against Peoria and Friday, Nov. 16, against the Houston Aeros. The third game of the week is against the same Houston Aeros, but is taking place in St. Paul, Minn., the home of Houston’s NHL affiliate, the Minnesota Wild.

From the Nov. 14-20, 2012, issue

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