On Monday, Dec. 31, the Rockford IceHogs had a first place showdown with the Grand Rapids Griffins at Van Andel Arena.
Tied with the Griffins in the standings and an opportunity to grab a hold of sole possession of first place, the IceHogs played a rather flat game and fell 3-1 to the Griffs. There should have been little doubt that Rockford would return to form as the IceHogs spent time in either first or second place for six straight weeks heading into the New Year.
But the opposite happened and Rockford slipped to 7-11-1-1 in the 20 games since and have been in third place or lower in the Midwest Division for 12 games now.
There is reason for optimism, however, for the IceHogs. The playoff chances did take a big hit over the past 20 games, but I think there are some reasons to think the Hogs can pull back into contention in the Western Conference.
Scorers Start Scoring Again: Martin St. Pierre and Brandon Pirri are both shaking out of their coldest stretches of the season. With their past history, especially St. Pierre, they are due to heat up and resume their offensive output.
Return of Ben Smith: Ben Smith was injured on Friday, Jan. 11 and the IceHogs have gone 6-8-1-1 without him in the lineup. After a slow start to the 2012-13 season, Smith was arguably the best player on the IceHogs. Smith could be back as early as Friday night against Grand Rapids.
Balanced Offense: Entering Week 20, the IceHogs have six different players who have goal totals between 13-17 from players who aren’t playing in Chicago. The power play has been extremely consistent this season and this team is as deep offensively as any Rockford has had over the past five seasons, and that’s with Saad, Kruger and Shaw now in Chicago.
Morin Taking The Next Step: For me, the most improved player this season has been Jeremy Morin. I’m not saying that Morin wasn’t effective or average before. But to me, Morin has taken the next step in his development. He’s really effective in the offensive zone, I think his d-zone coverage has been solid and he’s been an effective penalty killer.
Goaltending Rounding Into Form: Over the IceHogs last 10 games, the team is just 4-6-0-0, but the goaltending combo of Carter Hutton and Henrik Karlsson have been pretty solid. The two have a combined save percentage of .918 and a goals against average of 2.48.
I’ve also really liked the additions of Kenndal McArdle and Brad Mills. Neither guy is going to put up a ton of points, but they are type of players that can be difference makers in close games, or even in the playoffs.
Moving forward though, the biggest nemesis for Rockford will be consistency. The team can’t afford any more losing streaks and needs to win 70.0% of their points from here on out to be in contention for a playoff spot. That would give the IceHogs 85 points if they can snag 35 of a possible 50 remaining points on the table.
So what that basically means, is that the IceHogs can’t lose more than seven games in regulation over their final 25 outings.
For the IceHogs, the playoff push is here, so sit back and enjoy!