Can We Start Using The P Word?
03/06/2012 4:21 PM - Mike Peck
It’s hard to believe that it took the IceHogs 51 games to get back to the .500 mark. On Oct. 28, the IceHogs topped Peoria 6-4 to move their record to 4-4-0-0. Then the next night, the Rivermen reversed the tables on Rockford, beating them 5-2 at the BMO.
The team twice bottomed out at seven games under .500 - Dec. 31 (11-18-1-3) and Jan. 11 (13-20-1-3). But since Jan. 11, Rockford is 13-6-1-2, a winning clip of .659, bringing the team to 26-26-2-5 with 17 games remaining on the regular season slate.
So what are the team’s chances of making the Calder Cup Playoffs?
If Rockford finishes the season at the same pace they’re winning at now, the team would go 11-5-0-1 (.676) over their final 17 contests, giving them 82 points in the standings. This is not an unrealistic scenario, but making the playoffs with 82 points is.
What Rockford has going for them is the playoff format and their opponent schedule.
The new AHL playoff format has the IceHogs just eight points out of fourth in the Western Conference and six out of the final two playoff spots. After the three division winners, the next top five point totals gets into the postseason.
So this means that Rockford’s remaining games against some non-divisional opponents such as Hamilton, Lake Erie and Houston are just as valuable as the club’s five remaining tilts against Milwaukee.
Of Rockford’s 17 remaining games, 14 of them are against teams that the IceHogs can realistically catch in the standings. The only two outliers are Oklahoma City and Charlotte (the Hogs are done with Toronto.)
Something else to be concerned about down the stretch is three-point games. For example, on Tuesday morning, Houston and Abbotsford played and the Aeros beat the Heat 7-6 in a shootout. As close as the standings are, we need to root for regulation wins. Now both teams put some more distance between them and Rockford.
In my opinion, beginning with this weekend’s two-game set with Milwaukee, Rockford needs to go 7-2-0-0 over their next nine games to stay in contention for a playoff spot. Again, not unthinkable, but that would be a continuation of a hot stretch that Rockford has been riding. If the IceHogs do compile that record, that would make them 13-2-0-1 over a 15 game stretch, but would not necessarily put them in the top eight in the Western Conference.
With Carter Hutton playing as well has he’s been lately and a resurgent penalty kill, it is possible for Rockford to climb back into the top eight. But for a second straight season, midseason slumps might wash out playoff hockey in the Forest City.
Speaking of the PK and goaltending, look at these numbers over Rockford’s last 22 games since falling to seven games under .500 on Jan. 11:
Penalty Kill: 90.3% (9-93)
This number includes Charlotte going 3-3 against Rockford on the power play on Jan. 26 and then tallying on their first PP chance on Jan. 27. So four of the nine power-play goals tallied against Rockford since Jan. 13 came on four straight failed kills in Charlotte. Take those out, and Rockford’s PK is 94.3% during that stretch.
Rockford’s penalty kill was at 74.2% (30th in the AHL) on Jan. 11th and now sits at 80.5% (22nd in the AHL), an increase of 6.3%.
Goaltending: 2.10 goals against average and a .927 save percentage
Carter Hutton’s numbers are ridiculous during this stretch. Hutton is 11-4-0-2 with a .938 SPCT and a 1.78 GAA. In eight of his 17 decisions he’s allowed zero or one goal, and in 13 of the 17 he’s let in two or fewer markers.
Rockford’s GAA bottomed out at 3.75 (worst by far in the AHL) after the Jan. 11 loss and has now risen to 26th in the league to 3.17 GAA.
I’m not sure which turnaround is more impressive, but it’s been a very odd season for the IceHogs. If they have proven anything, it’s that it’s a lot easier to win games by keeping the puck out of the net rather than trying to run-and-gun, and outscore the opponent.
Rockford may be giving up just 2.10 goals per contest over their last 22 games, but they’re only scoring 2.23 goals per game during that time. The IceHogs have outscored their opponents 49-47 over their past 22 games. The team was averaging 3.11 goals per game heading into Oklahoma City (a 2-1 OT win) on Jan. 13 and 22 games later are averaging 2.78 gpg.
If anything, Hutton and the IceHogs have made things interesting heading into the playoff push!
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