By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD – The Rockford IceHogs are starting to find their identity and their way into the win column.
Rockford won two of three games last week, including dealing Toronto its first regulation loss of the 2019-20 season. The ‘Hogs have now won five of the last six games and is 7-3-0-0 over their last 10 contests. The Hogs’ seven wins over their last 10 games are tied for the second-most in the AHL behind only Tucson (8-2-0-0).
“They’re starting to play for each other,” coach Derek King said, something his young club struggled with out of the gate, evident by a spotty 5-5 start.
“Sometimes teams take a while to gel as a team,” King said. “Players in a young group figure out how to play as a team. Everybody’s has bought in to playing for each other. And when they do that, everyone looks good on the ice.”
The ‘Hogs tied their franchise record for the longest win streak against the Chicago Wolves after winning a fourth straight game in the series on Sunday. The only other time the Hogs have won four straight in the series was Nov. 20 – Dec. 27, 2009.
Kevin Lankinen notched his third consecutive win with 19 saves on 20 shots against Toronto. Lankinen has allowed two or fewer goals in three straight games and limited opponents to three or fewer goals in each of his last eight starts dating to last season. He boasts a 2.25 GAA and .920 save percentage (206 saves on 224 shots) over those eight games.
“The mood is up,” Lankinen said. “Everybody is getting excited.”
Matthew Highmore scored an empty-net goal against Chicago on Sunday to reach the 30-goal plateau for his AHL career. He is averaging better than one goal every three games with his 30 career markers in 89 total contests. He has scored at least one goal against six of the seven Central Division opponents (except Manitoba) and against nine total AHL teams during his career.
Philip Holm notched the longest point streak for an IceHogs skater this season with assists in four straight games from Oct. 30 – Nov. 6. His six assists over the last six games since Oct. 30 are the second-most in the AHL behind only Jansen Harkins (10a in 5 games).
“We’ve been playing better, especially in the D-zone,” Holm said. “We’re getting pucks out quicker and spending more time in the offensive zone. In the beginning, we were trying to make hard plays. In the last couple games, we’ve learned that sometimes the easy plays are the right plays when you have time make sweeter moves and better plays, it’s right for us. The last couple games it’s been right for us. We’ve made good decisions with the puck.”
Rockford scored a pair of shorthanded goals Sunday against the Wolves, pushing their total to five SHG in 13 games this season. The IceHogs share the league lead in shorthanded goals entering the week (also Cleveland) and the five total SHG are one more than their total of four power-play goals.
Reese Johnson posted a +1 rating with six penalty minutes over the Hogs’ three games last week. With the effort, he is now first among AHL rookie forwards in PIMs (29) and tied for second in plus/minus on the season (+4).
“Our guys know they’ve got to work together and work smart,” King said. “The game is on the line every time you get over those boards. We’re getting more opportunities because we are winning battles. We’re spending tome in their one instead of trying to get the puck out of our zone. Good things happen when you have the puck in the offensive zone. You’re bound to score some goals. Whether it’s a little luck or a need to break the ice, guys are starting to find the net and feel comfortable.”
Friday, Nov. 15 at Grand Rapids
The IceHogs travel to Grand Rapids seeking their first road win streak of the 2019-20 season. The Hogs open the 2019-20 series with the Griffins boasting a 7-3-0-0 clip against Grand Rapids last season.
Saturday, Nov. 16 vs. Grand Rapids
Rockford caps a two-game week with Military Appreciation Night at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Veterans and active military members will receive a free ticket for the contest and the first 1,500 fans in attendance will take home a free pair of IceHogs camo socks, courtesy of Rose Pest Solutions.