By Todd Reicher
It was bound to happen. A young team is bound to make mistakes and go on a losing streak, and it started this past week for the Rockford IceHogs. After going on a six-game point streak (5-0-1), the IceHogs have lost three straight, with all three losses coming against divisional opponents. Fear not, however, as the three losses were all close games with two empty-net goals scored against. Combine that with the fact that all three teams Rockford faced were all playing extremely well.
Rockford’s first loss came Thursday, Oct. 31, against the Charlotte Checkers, a team Rockford beat at home the week prior in a 2-1 shootout. But this was a different Charlotte team. Their goaltender, John Muse, was coming off two-straight shutout performances, and looking to make it three.
The Checkers got out to a 3-0 lead midway through the second period before Garret Ross tallied his second marker of the season at 14:22 of the middle frame, ending Muse’s shutout streak.
A five-on-three power play proved to be the turning point for Rockford as Mark McNeill and Jimmy Hayes both tallied with the man advantage to pull Rockford even at 3-3 with a majority of the third period left.
Aaron Palushaj deflated Rockford’s momentum with a snipe shot to the top left corner of the net just more than 2 minutes after Hayes tied the game.
The game was effectively over with just fewer than 5 minutes remaining when Brad Winchester was charged with a 5-minute major for interference by a hit in the far right corner. Charlotte sealed the game with 2 seconds remaining on an empty-net goal, and taking the game 5-3.
Friday, Nov. 1, the IceHogs made their first trip of the season to Milwaukee to play against the Admirals, who have gotten off to a hot start as well.
Similar to many previous games, Rockford’s opponent scored the first goal of the game, a power-play goal at 4:40.
Red-hot McNeill knotted the game at 1-1 with his seventh goal of the season 3 minutes later.
Milwaukee’s Miikka Salomaki answered back with just more than 5 minutes remaining in the period, putting the Ads up by one after the first.
The lone second-period goal by Anthony Bitetto of Milwaukee put the Ads in charge by a 3-1 margin at the end of two.
As we have seen in the past, Rockford staged a comeback, this time off the stick of Alex Broadhurst. A power-play goal with more than 13 minutes remaining pulled the ’Hogs to within a goal.
Just like their previous game, Rockford was unable to finish the comeback, and an empty-net goal with 37 seconds remaining sent the IceHogs packing with their second-straight loss. Kent Simpson was saddled with the loss, stopping 34 of 37 shots faced.
Rounding out their week, Rockford hosted the Grand Rapids Griffins, another team the ’Hogs beat earlier at home, in yet another shootout.
Rockford was coming up against another hot team, with the Griffins not losing a road game in regulation in their past 10 road games.
The first period was evenly matched, as both goalies, Antti Raanta and Tom McCollum for the Griffins, both pitched shutouts after 20 minutes.
A Rockford turnover gave Grand Rapids the lead at 13:12 of the second, and a weak goal let in by Raanta at 17:48 turned the tides in the Griffins’ favor.
As we have seen time and time again, a third-period power-play goal by Rockford gave the ’Hogs new life. With Winchester stationed at the front of the net, Klas Dahlbeck fired a shot at the net that beat McCollum on his right side, pulling the game to 2-1.
Although it was not an empty-net goal, a tally with 1:24 left in the game sealed the deal for Grand Rapids, and yet another road win, 3-1.
Keys for the week
Getting behind early has been a plague for the ’Hogs this season, with Rockford scoring first in only three of its 13 contests thus far. Even though Rockford has been able to battle back in many of those games, the offense needs to pick it up earlier in the game, or the defense needs to cease committing turnovers.
The second key is what I just mentioned: turnovers. At least once in each of the last three games, a neutral zone or defensive turnover has led to an opponent goal. With games as close as these previous three, that was the determining factor in the game.
Tighten up defensively to prevent more shots on goal. In all three games this week, Rockford’s opponent has registered at least 30 shots per contest, making it exceedingly difficult for the goaltender. Although Rockford’s backstoppers have been doing a great job, facing fewer shots, as a percentage, will make their job easier.
Rockford’s power play is clicking along well, as the man advantage struck four times, sending Rockford to 4-for-18 on the week. The power play certainly kept the ’Hogs in all of the games this week, but the ’Hogs can’t expect six power-play opportunities per game.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier in week six with Rockford heading back to Grand Rapids for an early 10 a.m. game against the Griffins Wednesday, Nov. 6. The ’Hogs turn around and come home for a double-header against the Iowa Wild on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8-9. The Wild, previously the Houston Aeros, will face the ’Hogs 10 times this season, five at both home stadiums.
From the Nov. 6-12, 2013, issue