The Rockford IceHogs enter tonight’s game with an overall record of 33-28-5-4 (75 points). They trail the Milwaukee Admirals by six points for third place in the Midwest Division. With their recent run of 3-6-0-1 (7 points) in their last ten games – the IceHogs have fallen to ninth in the Western Conference. They are on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
When you think back to where this downward trend begins for the IceHogs you can look back to exactly ten games ago: 3/7/14, in Milwaukee, losing 8-3. The very next night: 3/8/14, in Rockford against Milwaukee, losing 6-2. They then had six full days to rest up and prepare for another clash against the Admirals. The result: 3/14/14, in Milwaukee, losing 6-5 in a shootout.
In the last ten games the IceHogs have a goal differential of -19 (29 GF, 48 GA) from open play. They have also allowed 16 goals purely from the power-play – out of 43 kill opportunities.
So… an IceHogs team that is in a rut, angry, and desperate. What’s the worse that could happen?
Coming into tonight’s contest the IceHogs leading scorer is defenseman Adam Clendening. The 21-year old New York native has the second most points scored by a d-man in the AHL this season: 56 points (12 goals, 44 assists). The top scoring defenseman in the AHL remains to be T.J. Brennan of the Toronto Marlies with 66 points (22 goals, 44 assists).
Clendening is tied for the team lead in points when it comes to the head-to-head against the Admirals. He has 8 points (1 goal, 7 assists) in nine games. The bloke he is tied with is Jeremy Morin who has 8 points (5 goals, 3 assists) in nine games.
That name provides a crucial point when it comes to tonight’s game: Morin is currently up with the Chicago Blackhawks. To me, he has been the most lethal player in the season match up. He just seemed to generate confidence and downhill skating for the IceHogs whenever he was on the ice. With him out, Mark McNeill (3 goals, 4 assists) and Garret Ross (1 goal, 6 assists) are the top forward scorers against the Admirals this season.
The other forwards to keep watch of in tonight’s game are Alex Broadhurst and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Both bring great pace and creativity to the IceHogs roster. The two have a combined 56 assists this season. Without Morin – they could be the real spark plugs to lookout for.
In the month of March: Simpson played four games, allowed 20 goals, won one game, had a 5.71 GAA, and a 0.841 SV%. In April he has played in two games (one in relief, one getting yanked from a start), no decisions, a 6.09 GAA, and a ludicrous 0.556 SV% (4 goals from 9 shots).
LaBarbera, as hinted by getting pulled in his last start, isn’t having it that easy either. I would say though – it’s still better than the stretch for Simpson. LaBarbera played seven games in March, won three and lost four, had a 3.49 GAA, and a 0.889 SV%. In April he has played twice, lost both games (extending his current run to three-straight defeats), has a 3.90 GAA, and a 0.815 SV%.
The Milwaukee Admirals enter this game with a record of 34-23-6-7 (81 points). They are third in the Midwest Division and sixth in the Western Conference.
While the Amtrak Rivalry against the Chicago Wolves has been a bit of a mess this season for the Admirals, 3-4-2-1 (9 points from ten games), the series against the IceHogs has looked much much better.
Nov. 1 vs. Rockford: W, 4-2
Nov. 27 @ Rockford: L, 2-1 (OT)
Dec. 21 @ Rockford: W, 3-1
Jan. 24 vs. Rockford: W, 3-2
Jan. 25 @ Rockford: L, 2-1
Jan. 26 vs. Rockford: L, 4-3 (OT)
Feb. 22 @ Rockford: L, 4-1
Mar. 7 vs. Rockford: W, 8-3
Mar. 8 @ Rockford: W, 6-2
Mar. 14 vs. Rockford: W, 6-5 (SO)
The Admirals are 6-2-2-0 (14 points) against the IceHogs in ten games this season. These next two games for them, tonight at home and Friday in Rockford, are the final meetings between the two this season.
I had the opportunity yesterday to trek into morning practice and talk with the likes of Dean Evason, Joe Piskula, Mikko Vainonen, and Francis Wathier. You can listen and read up on all that happened then right here: Chatterbox, Vol. 29.
The big news that followed all of the fun at practice came in the return of Colton Sissons to the Admirals following a month long stay in Nashville. In his latest stint he recorded his first career NHL goal and played thirteen games. He may have been a healthy scratch in the Predators last game – but I expect him to hit the ground running tonight.
Though Sissons has missed out on AHL playing time, and therefore the team lead in scoring, it is worth pointing out his points per game is tied for the team best in that respect: 0.73 Pt/G. The man he is tied with, Taylor Beck, has played in four more games than him. In fifty-six games, the 20-year old first year pro has 41 points (24 goals, 17 assists) – including 8 points (5 goals, 3 assists) in nine games against the IceHogs.
Scott Darling has started in net for the Admirals in their last three games. In those games he has won twice, has a 0.98 GAA, 0.964 SV%, and a shutout. The last time Darling made three consecutive starts for the Admirals: 12/29/13, @ Iowa: W, 4-0… 1/3/13, @ Lake Erie: L, 4-2… 1/4/14, Jan. 4 @ Lake Erie: L, 6-1.
Should we see Marek Mazanec – it will be his first game played since a 3-1 defeat to the Grand Rapids Griffins in the Ads final game of March. In the month he played in eight games, won five, had a 2.87 GAA, and a less than ideal 0.886 SV%. However, he did break his run of allowing 2 goals or more on 3/26/14 @ Rochester when the Admirals won 3-1.
What shall we expect tonight for the Admirals? What sort of IceHogs team will the Ads be playing against tonight? How do you think Colton Sissons will fair in his return to the Ads lineup? Should Scott Darling make his fourth consecutive start or should Marek Mazanec get a game ahead of this weekend’s three-in-three?