Tales from the Trough: IceHogs’ skid hits four games to end Week 10

Rockford’s Marcus Kruger slaps a one-timer into the back of the net past Hamilton Bulldogs goaltender Robert Mayer in the first period of Saturday’s game. Despite the goal, Hamilton bested Rockford 6-4. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

After riding a 7-3 streak through 10 games recently, the Rockford IceHogs find themselves on the opposite end of the win column, and show a 0-3-1-0 record in their last four games, including a 0-1-1-0 record in Week 10.

Rockford only played two games this week, with the first game Friday, Dec. 14, in Milwaukee against the division rival Admirals.

Forty seconds into the contest, Nick Leddy put the IceHogs ahead with a quick shot to the far side of the net to put Rockford up early. As Leddy was transitioning into the offensive zone on the rush, he fired a shot toward the far-side post, which beat Jeremy Smith. Marcus Kruger and red-hot Adam Clendening assisted on the goal.

However, Milwaukee’s Gabriel Borque scored two powerplay goals in a span of 4:30 to give Milwaukee a 2-1 edge after 20 minutes of hockey.

Midway through the second period, Michael Latta padded Milwaukee’s lead scoring his fourth goal of the season to put the Ads up 3-1.

With time winding down in the period, Brandon Pirri picked a perfect time to score his ninth marker of the season. Eight seconds remained on the clock when Pirri, assisted by Ben Smith, pulled the ’Hogs to within one.

Martin St. Pierre, who remains hot for Rockford, scored his 10th of the season on a quick slapshot from a nice feed from Brandon Bollig to tie up the score. Kyle Beach, who received 19 penalty minutes in the first period, assisted on the game-tying goal.

Neither side was able to carry their team to victory in regulation, so the game was headed to overtime.

It was bound to happen, as Rockford lost their first game in the overtime session this season. Rockford did have a shootout loss on the season, but had yet to lose in the overtime session until Kevin Henderson scored 1:45 into the 5-minute overtime session to give Milwaukee the extra point, and the victory over the IceHogs.

The following night, the ’Hogs headed back to the friendly confines of the BMO Harris Bank Center to face the Hamilton Bulldogs for the first of two matchups this season. Rockford has not fared well against the Bulldogs since their tenure in the AHL, holding a 2-6 record against their Canadian opponent. Unfortunately, Rockford would add another number to the loss column as Hamilton lit up Rockford in a 6-4 win.

Saturday’s game had a strange aura about it, with a great number of penalty minutes and scoring in the first period. If you knew the rosters for both teams, you knew there would be at least two fights in the game as Hamilton employs former IceHogs skater Kyle Hagel, a well-known pugilist on their squad, as well as league-known ruffian Zack Stortini. The people who thought there would be two fights were correct in the first 5 minutes of the game with Hagel and Stortini dropping the mitts with Bollig and Shawn Lalonde. In fact, Stortini registered another fight in the first period against Ryan Stanton, who is not known as being a fighter, although he will stick up for teammates, which is what he did in this instance. Stanton fared well against the bigger, tougher Stortini and came out ahead in the fight.

Did I mention there was hockey played as well? Aside from the fighting, there were a total of six goals scored in the first period; three by Hamilton and three by Rockford, with the middle four goals (two by both teams) scored in a span of 1:40.

Hamilton’s Joonas Nattinen scored at exactly 4:00 into the game to draw first blood (at least on the scoreboard).

Smith scored just after the midway point of the first period to knot the score at 1-1, which started the scoring frenzy. Brandon Saad and Stanton assisted on the goal.

Former IceHogs skater Mike Blunden, who played with the ’Hogs during the second AHL season for the IceHogs along with Troy Brouwer, Nicklas Hjalmarsson and Kris Versteeg, scored the first of his two goals on the night 31 seconds after Smith tied the game for Rockford.

But St. Pierre would return the favor 12 seconds later with his first goal of the night to once again knot the score.

The 1:40 scoring frenzy ended 57 seconds later with Brendan Gallagher tallying his seventh goal of the season to bring Hamilton back to the front with a 3-2 lead with a powerplay goal.

Goal No. 6 of the period was scored by Kruger with just under 2 minutes remaining in the period for the game’s third tie of the night.

After all was said and done, the first period showcased six goals, 22 shots (11 by both teams), three fights and 40 penalty minutes.

Hamilton came out firing in the second period and scored the go-ahead goal 1:44 into the sandwich stanza (as IceHogs announcer Mike Peck terms the second period) to put Hamilton in the lead once again.

The Bulldogs, behind Blunden, extended their lead to 5-3 31 seconds shy of the midway point of the game, which also signaled the end of starting goaltender Carter Hutton. Hutton, who has struggled this season as the starting goaltender, gave up five goals on 20 shots before being pulled in favor of Alec Richards, who fared much better than Hutton, stopping all 13 shots he faced through the remainder of the game.

St. Pierre pulled the ’Hogs to within one just more than 3 minutes after the goaltending change with his team-leading 12th goal of the campaign. Once again, Saad and Stanton assisted on St. Pierre’s goal.

In an almost complete turnaround from the first period, the second period featured only one penalty, a 2-minute slashing penalty on Hamilton. Rockford failed to convert on the opportunity.

The third period had more penalty minutes than the second, but no scoring until the last 13 minutes of the game when Gabriel Dumont scored an empty-net goal for Hamilton to seal a 6-4 victory for the visiting Bulldogs.

Although Rockford has slumped somewhat in the last few weeks, the remainder of the division has struggled as well. The five teams in the Midwest have won either five or six of their last 10 games while losing four or five. The team still remains tied for first place in the tight Midwest Division with the Grand Rapids Griffins, and a total of only 2 points separates first place from last place.

Keys for the week

1. Inconsistent goaltending — There are times this season that Hutton has looked to be in the same form he was in late last season, stopping almost anything and everything, and times when he looks like he is unsure of himself, allowing multiple goals in a short time span. Surely, it is unfair to expect Hutton to play at the level he played late last season, and the defense holds part of the blame of the high scoring allowed this season as well. But average goaltending is not going to carry this team into the post-season.

2. Keeping scoring against to minimum — While on their recent 8-2 streak, the ’Hogs gave up 26 goals while scoring 39, averaging 2.6 goals per game against and almost 4.0 goals for per game. In contrast, in their current four-game skid, Rockford has allowed 16 goals, a four-goal-per-game average, while only scoring 10, which is slightly above two goals per game. You can’t expect the team to keep a pace of almost four goals a game. Likewise, you cannot expect a team to average four goals a game against. While this is only a small picture of the season, Rockford’s defense needs to tighten up like they did late in the last two seasons, and the goaltending must do its part to keep the scoring against to a minimum.

Looking forward

With the holiday coming up, Tales From the Trough will have shortened pieces because of Christmas and New Year’s. After the new year, Tales will return.

Rockford will play three games in Week 11, which include two straight games at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee against the Admirals. Rockford returns back to the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford Saturday, Dec. 22, to face the Western Conference-leading Abbotsford Heat. Saturday’s game is Blackhawks Night, and will feature Chicago Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita making a special appearance.

From the Dec. 19-25, 2012, issue

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