The Rockford IceHogs offense is currently playing at a temperature similar to that of the current conditions in Rockford itself: Ice Cold. The IceHogs are currently the only club in the AHL yet to score 100 goals as a team. They rank last in the AHL in goals scored and average goals per game (2.23). Rockford’s -28 goal differential also ranks them 30th in the AHL out of 31 teams with only the Binghamton Devils (-31) with a worse goal-differential this season. So who or what can help the Hogs?
IceHogs In A Goal Famine
Around this time last season, the Rockford IceHogs paired a multi-faceted offensive attack with stellar goaltending on their way to a playoff push that saw them reach the Calder Cup Western Conference Finals. It seems that both ingredients from last season are going to be needed once again for the IceHogs to find a playoff push yet again in the second half of the season. While goaltending has been a positive for the IceHogs this season, a collective 2.69 GAA and a 0.915 save-percentage from Collin Delia, Anton Forsberg, and Kevin Lankinen, their offense has been lacking.
This season, the IceHogs have scored two goals or fewer in 26 games this season. In those 26 games, the IceHogs hold a 2-18-6 record. On the opposite side, the IceHogs have scored three goals or more in 18 games this season. When the IceHogs score 3 or more goals, they hold a 15-1-2 record. It doesn’t take a genius to decipher that the more goals you score, the better your chance is of winning a game, but for the IceHogs this season, all but one game when scoring at least three goals has come away with at least one point in the standings.
So what can the IceHogs do to create more scoring chances? Or is it down to their roster and who is and who is not pulling their offensive weight?
The Usual Suspects
This season has seen a trio of forwards pushing the offensive pace for the IceHogs. Starting with the team-leader in scoring, Anthony Louis. After finishing last season at the top of the scoring charts as a rookie, Louis is once again pacing the Rockford roster in points with 26 through 44 games. Louis holds the team-lead in assists with 16 and is tied for second in goal-scoring with 10 so far this year.
A constant fixture on the Rockford powerplay, Louis uses his shifty skating ability to his advantage to get to the open areas to get pucks on net. His on-ice vision is tops on the team and he uses his hands to set-up teammates often. The one thing hurting Louis is his lack of size at the professional level. Unable to consistently take the puck top the net, Louis’ perimeter game can only take him and the IceHogs so far on offense.
Also playing a more perimeter game for the IceHogs is rookie Dylan Sikura. Still one of the top forward prospects in the Chicago Blackhawks’ system, Sikura has been good, but not great in his first full-professional season. Ranking tied for second on the team in points with 23, and leading the roster in goals with 11 this season, the younger Sikura brother has been a focal-point of the Rockford offense this season.
Much like Louis, Dylan Sikura uses his skating speed and agility to his advantage to mask his lack of physical ability to get to tough areas of the ice. Sikura is not afraid to shoot the puck from anywhere on the ice, as is evident from his team-leading 107 shots on goal, four more than Louis’ 103, even though playing 11 fewer games. The problem with Sikura, and many of the IceHogs’ top-offensive threats, is that he relies on other to create space for him to find lanes to the net or to utilize his hands. When Sikura is allotted time and space, his game excels but it is hard for him to find that when paired alongside forwards that share his skill-set and size.
The same can also be said for Jordan Schroeder this season. Tied with Sikura in points this season with 23, Schroeder ranks alone in third on the team in goal-scoring with nine this season. The veteran of the group of top-scoring IceHogs, Schroeder, another under-sized skill winger, is a figure on the powerplay with Sikura and Louis, utilizing his ability to distribute the puck. Schroeder also ranks behind Sikura and Louis in shots on goal this season with 98.
Although he is an under-sized player, Schroeder is not afraid to get below the net and try to set up offense from around the net and try to get and keep the puck deep in the IceHogs offensive zone. The problem for the likes off all three players is that they cannot be expected to carry the weight of the team by themselves. The hard truth is that they works best as complimentary players to other forwards who can create space, either with size and physicality or by being equally as skilled. While size is not always a benefit, it can’t hurt to be able to pair top-skill players with those who can give them space to work and also contribute offensively. Something the IceHogs took advantage of last season.
The most disappointing returning player from last season’s IceHogs team might just be the elder Sikura brother in Tyler Sikura. Last season, Sikura played his first full season in the AHL and did not miss his opportunity to make an impact. Last season, Tyler Sikura finished second on the team in goals with 23, and third on the team in points with 39. Currently, Sikura ranks tied for fifth in goals with just 6 tallies on the season, while ranking seventh overall in points with 14 this season.
Sikura was used in a top-six forward role for the majority of last season when he was producing. As a player who can make his impact around the net, Sikura hasn’t been able to find his groove this season and has been demoted to the third and fourth-line groupings for the majority of the season. If the IceHogs want to increase their offensive production, maybe a move up in the lineup and a role as a garbage-goal scorer in the crease could boost both Sikura’s game and the IceHogs offense.
While Tyler Sikura could provide a spark up front with his physical presence, the IceHogs could also use any speed up-front that they can get. Speed, Alexandre Fortin has. What has not come full-circle for the second-year pro is his finishing ability. While he can fly down the ice and use his foot-speed to create offensive chances, Fortin’s ability to finish those chances created hasn’t developed like the Chicago Blackhawks had hoped at this point.
Fortin has tallied just five points in 19 games this season with the IceHogs, and has not recorded a point in his last 12 games. In fact, all five of Fortin’s points this season came in a four-game span from December 15-21. While his speed makes him an asset in most any role with the IceHogs, Fortin will have to find a way to generate points if Rockford is to climb out of the bottom of the AHL Central Division.
Much like Sikura from last season to this season, another player that hasn’t fully lived up to the hype generated for him for the 2017-18 playoff push is Victor Ejdsell. Talking about a player who could provide size and skill, the six-foot-five Swede hasn’t been able to light the lamp consistently this season and has yet to regain the level of play he finished with during the Calder Cup Playoff run last season. Ejdsell ranks sixth on the team in points with 17 and is tied for fifth in goal-scoring with Sikura with six goals on the season.
Ejdsell’s inconsistency this season has been curbed as of late, scoring six points in his last eight games, but from time to time his lack of involvement in the offensive zone leaves a lot to be desired. Playing in his first full season in North America, he has the size and has shown the skill-set to be an asset in a top-six forward role, but he has yet to show a complete, rounded game for the IceHogs this season. If Ejdsell could find an extra edge to his game, he could provide the physical presence and top-end skills to complement a Dylan Sikura or Anthony Louis.
Finally, one of the top performers for the IceHogs this season from the defensive group has been M.I.A as of late. Darren Raddysh ranks third on the team in points this season with 22, ranking in a tie for fourth in goal-scoring with 7 this year, but has not scored since the Christmas holiday break and has just three points over that 13 game span.
Another fixture on the Rockford powerplay units, Raddysh has already equaled his point production from last season with 22 points in 44 games (22 points in 66 games last season), but has not gone longer than nine games between goals this season prior to the Holiday break. Raddysh plays a solid two-way game and is not afraid to jump into the offensive zone to try to create chances. If he could be given more freedom to do so from the blue-line, Raddysh could step up and be the point-producer the IceHogs need if their forwards group cannot pull the weight necessary.
The Rockford IceHogs return to action on Friday night as they play host to back-to-back homes games this weekend. On Friday night, the IceHogs host the Manitoba Moose for a 7pm CT puck drop at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford. Manitoba is currently the only team behind the IceHogs in the AHL Central Division based on overall points. The IceHogs dropped a 2-1 shootout loss to the Moose on October 28, the only previous matchup between the clubs this season.
On Saturday night, the IceHogs host the Iowa Wild on Autism Awareness night. Puck drop on Saturday night is scheduled for 6pm CT. Rockford holds a 2-4-1 record against the Wild this season following a 4-1 loss in Des Moines in their last meeting.