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Hutton Settling In At Home

12/19/2011 1:58 PM - Mike Peck
Believe it or not, the IceHogs have been playing some better hockey on home ice. The team’s 6-10-0-0 still isn’t acceptable, but the club has won three of their last five and after beginning 1-5-0-0 at the BMO Harris Bank Center, Rockford is 5-5-0-0.

A big factor lately has been the play of Carter Hutton. Hutton has appeared in five games overall at the BMO and is 3-1-0-0 with a .936 save percentage and a 2.06 goals against average.

The biggest difference right now with Hutton is that he’s making the big bailout save for the IceHogs. A perfect example came on Saturday against Milwaukee. With Rockford leading 3-1 in the second period, a flukey bounce had Admirals winger Taylor Beck one-on-one with Hutton in front of the Rockford goal with not a player within 20 feet.

Hutton made a huge save to keep the game on Rockford’s side and eventually to a 4-2 IceHogs win. Think how much that game changes if Hutton doesn’t make that save. It would have been a one-goal game and Milwaukee would have had new life with all the momentum.

Here is a comparison of all three of Rockford’s goalies numbers on home ice:

Hutton:     3-1-0-0        2.06    .936
Richards:    1-5-0-0        4.44    .860
Salak:        2-4-0-0        3.16    .880

Here is a comparison of all three of Rockford’s goalies numbers on the road:

Hutton:        0-1-0-1        4.37    .870
Richards:    4-2-0-1        3.54    .904
Salak:        1-1-1-0        2.81    .921

Wednesday’s game against Toronto ends a stretch of 10 of 13 games at the BMO Harris Bank center for the IceHogs and through nine games, Rockford is 5-4-0-0. So a win gives the IceHogs a .600 winning percentage (tough math, I know!) which would be pretty solid.

After Wednesday, nine of the team’s next 10 games are on the road, and it’s not going to be easy. Road games include stops in Milwaukee, Peoria, Chicago (2), Houston, Texas (2), Oklahoma City and San Antonio.  Milwaukee, Houston and Oklahoma City are three of the top four teams in the Western Conference right now.

With the Christmas break upon us, the team is pretty split between guys going home and others staying in the area. Not that I’m complaining about a long weekend, but it would be different if we had Boxing Day off (Dec. 26 in case you’re wondering). Travel on Christmas Day just isn’t a great option if you’re living in rural Canada.

The break, however, is much needed. The team is playing better and really not in a horrible spot. Before you jump on me and remind me that the team has the second fewest points in the AHL, I will remind you that the IceHogs are only five points out of the final playoff spot.

Yes, I dropped the “p” word, but I believe that this team will only get better (ala last season) as they are the youngest team in the AHL. We’re already seeing rookies like Jimmy Hayes and Andrew Shaw really step up. The ceiling always seems to be a lot higher for improvement with younger teams compared to older teams in the AHL.

After the Christmas break, we’ll have a couple of weeks before we enter into the “Dog Days” of the hockey season. That’s the time of year when the rookies seem to hit a low and teams in general are stuck in the middle of the newness of the season and the playoff push.

I hope to see you out at the BMO Wednesday. If not, Merry Christmas!

Time To Get A Few Items Ironed Out

12/16/2011 3:34 PM - Mike Peck
This is shaping up to be one of the stranger IceHogs season on record, at least statistically speaking.

On the surface, it’s easy to see why the IceHogs are in last place in the Midwest Division as the team is dead last in the AHL giving up 3.65 goals per contest and the special teams have not been great. It’s hard to believe for as bad as the penalty kill was, that it’s not far from catching the team’s power play as rankings go.

Entering play on Friday, Rockford’s power play was ranked 22nd in the league (16.0%) while the penalty kill was 25th (78.0%).

Rockford is, however, the highest scoring team in the Western Conference, despite having the conference’s fourth lowest power play.

How about this: The IceHogs have scored the game’s first goal in just nine of their first 26 games (4-4-0-1), but have only been outscored 34-30 in the first period.  Rockford has led after the first period just five times this season (4-1-0-0).

Another odd stat: Rockford hasn’t won a game when they’ve scored four goals (0-1-0-2). Coming into this season, the IceHogs had won over 80% of their games when scoring four goals.

So unlike in the NFL where offense is king right now, apparently you need to play a little defense in the AHL. This does not directly fall on the IceHogs d-men shoulders.  Like offense, defense is a team thing.

When a team has a “good” defensive unit, it’s because everyone is chipping in. To compare it to the offense, look at the IceHogs blue liners and how they’ve been chipping in. Both Joe Lavin and Dylan Olsen have goals over the past week after jumping into the play in the offensive zone.

Rockford needs to clean up the turnovers and the team gets pinned in their own zone way too often. The team has been getting better goaltending lately though.  Carter Hutton and Alec Richards have both come up with some key saves and some bailout saves.

But a league worse 3.65 GAA is glaring and through 26 games, the IceHogs have yet to hold an opponent under two goals.  Last season, Rockford held the opposition to fewer than two goals 17 times.  The team also scored six or more goals just three times where they’ve already down that five times this season.

Not sure if tonight’s the night the GAA comes down as Peoria is in town. Through seven games in the two teams 12-game season set, Rockford has scored 28 goals (4.00 per game) while the Rivermen have tallied 30 times (4.29 goals per game).

Defenseman Brian Connelly has 11 of his 22 points on the season against Peoria while Ryan Stanton has chipped in five of his six assists on the season versus the Rivermen.

On the Peoria side, Adam Cracknell has tallied 10 if his 19 points on the season against Rockford.

Despite the bloated offensive numbers in the head-to-head matchup, Peoria puck stopper Ben Bishop has a 2.81 goals against average and a .925 save percentage against Rockford this season.  Weird.

Tonight, the IceHogs will see Jake Allen in goal and will go with Alec Richards. Check out these head-to-head numbers for Richards and Allen:

Richards vs. Peoria: 4gp 2-1-0 5.08 GAA  .870 SPCT
Jake Allen vs. Rockford: 2gp 1-1-0 5.97 GAA .852 SPCT

The Hogs healthy scratch is Ben Youds, joining the injured Alexander Salak and Kyle Beach on the sidelines with the suspended Jeremy Morin.

Peoria has a long list on the infirmary report: Chris Bruton, Jake Gannon, Brett Sonne, Mark Cundari and Kyle Hagel are all out.