It’s been awhile since the Milwaukee Admirals and Rockford IceHogs have clashed. In fact, I would almost say that I’ve missed it. Will I be feeling the same way four-games from now when these two will have played three times? Let’s buckle up and find out together, shall we?
The IceHogs enter tonight’s game with a 17-6-1-2 (37 points) record. Their 0.712 points percentage has them on top of the Central Division and second in the Western Conference behind the Ontario Reign’s 0.762 points percentage.
When these two last met it was the end of November and the Admirals won on home ice 2-1. Marek Mazanec was brilliant in net, stopping 27/28 shots on goal, and the Admirals penalty kill went a perfect 6/6 on the night. Vladislav Kamenev scored on a breakaway, Dennis Rasmussen scored off a net front redirect, and Pontus Åberg scored the game-winner in the third period after collecting his own rebound from a blocked shot.
Since that game? The IceHogs have gone 5-1-0-0 in a six-game span which included a five-game winning streak that was snapped by the Grand Rapids Griffins’ freight train Saturday night. Their offense has been scoring 3.8 goals per game since last playing the Admirals. Their power-play has gone 28.6% (6/21) and penalty kill 79.9% (15/19). Additionally, the University of Wisconsin alumni/relie Jake Dowell has been incredible for the IceHogs in the last six-games: 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists). This recent surge has him tied for the IceHogs’ team lead in scoring with Ryan Hartman at 17 points.
Earlier in the season the IceHogs had a pair of kiddos that were exploding out of the gate and earned some NHL time as a result. Marko Dano and Tanner Kero are both back with the IceHogs at the AHL level. Interestingly though, both have since been unable to score a point of offense since returning from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Dano had 8 points (1 goal, 7 assists) in his first nine AHL games of the season, went up to Chicago for all of November, and has been part of the last two-games for Rockford. Kero was even hotter in the scoring department at the time of his call up having scored 7 points (6 goals, 1 assist) in seven-games. He was brought up to the NHL in late-October and returned to the AHL these last three-games in December for the IceHogs. The two have averaged a combined 6 shots on goal in the last two-games.
Both Michael Leighton and Mark Visentin have been doing very well in December. The bulk of the work loan has been shouldered by the veteran Leighton: 4 starts, 3 wins, 3.22 goals against average, and 0.918 save percentage. Visentin has fared well with a light work schedule. He has made 2 starts in December and won both while stopping 42/45 shots.
It’s been funny that, for how much work Leighton does for the IceHogs, he typically hasn’t been the go-to guy against the Admirals this season. Visentin has started and lost the last three-straight games played during this match-up. While that sounds bad as far as the wins column goes he has been great: 1.90 goals against average and a 0.936 save percentage. The only downside for him really is he’s bettered by how phenomenal Mazanec has been down at the other end of the rink: 1.27 goals against average and a 0.957 save percentage.
I would love nothing more than to see more of Mazanec against Visentin. I’d have to imagine, for these two to be playing three of the next four games against each other, that the match-ups in net will change here and there. Make no mistake about Mazanec’s numbers against the IceHogs this season though. He’s played his best hockey against them.
The Admirals will be without Kamenev tonight and beyond as he’s participating with Russia for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships in Finland. If Cody Bass is unfit to play tonight it would likely mean Joe Pendenza playing as a fourth line center. Does that thinned out forward group concern you when it comes to these upcoming big games against the IceHogs?