It was an eventful weekend for the Rockford IceHogs. With three game sin three nights, all against Central Division opponents, Rockford was able to capture five of a possible six points while also seeing the AHL debut of defenseman Jan Rutta. The dust did not settle for the IceHogs until late Monday afternoon as the Chicago Blackhawks recalled goaltender Collin Delia in response to Corey Crawford‘s injury and placement in concussion protocol on Sunday night.
IceHogs Take Five Of Six Points Over The Weekend
For the third time this season, the IceHogs faced a three games in three nights stretch of their schedule. With a road game against the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday night, followed by back-to-back home games against the Texas Stars and Griffins again, on Saturday and Sunday nights in Rockford. It was a hotly contested stretch as all three games were decided by one goal and two of them went to overtime.
IceHogs def. Griffins, 3-2 (OT)
On Friday night in Grand Rapids, the IceHogs topped the Griffins 3-2 in overtime to mark their third win in a four-game stretch, all coming by a 3-2 score in overtime. Behind Collin Delia’s 26 saves on 28 shots faced and Luke Johnson‘s two-goal performance, the IceHogs came out on top to begin the weekend’s slate.
Johnson opened the game’s scoring in the first period with a powerplay goal and closed it with the overtime winner, also on the powerplay. Johnson’s fourth goal of the season not only gave Rockford the win but also the first two-powerplay goal night since October 20 for the IceHogs. He also led the team in shots on goal with five, but the IceHogs were out-shot 28-22 by the Griffins, including being out-shot 14-4 in the first period.
Stars def. IceHogs, 3-2 (OT)
Following Friday’s win, the IceHogs returned home to take on the Texas Stars. Saturday also marked the AHL debut for defenseman Jan Rutta, who had cleared waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday afternoon.
With Anton Forsberg in net, the IceHogs again went to overtime for the second game in-a-row, but this time fell on the wrong side of a 3-2 finish as the Stars found the winner in the extra frame. Forsberg made 49 saves on 52 shots faced and was named the first star of the game, despite the loss. The Stars took an early second period lead but Rockford answered late in the middle frame with a powerplay goal from Jordan Schroeder. The third period would see the IceHogs take a 2-1 lead after Lucas Carlsson found the back of the net for the third time this season, but the Stars would tie the game just three minutes later and force overtime, where they would find the winner from Adam Mascherin.
The IceHogs were again woefully out-shot by the Stars 52-34, including being out-shot 15-7 in the first period and 5-1 in overtime. Forsberg’s overtime loss moved his record to 5-3-1 on the season, but his 49-save performance improved his save-percentage for the season to 0.917.
IceHogs def. Griffins, 2-1
The IceHogs closed the weekend on Sunday, taking on the Griffins for the second time in three days. Much like the first outing on Friday, it would be another one-goal game that would come out in favor of the IceHogs. The narrative of the weekend continued with the IceHogs being out-shot by Grand Rapids 38-29, 16-9 in the first period, but Collin Delia shut the door on the Griffins again making 37 saves. Over the weekend, the IceHogs were out-shot in three first periods by a 45-20 margin.
Rockford opened the scoring in the third period as Lucas Carlsson tallied his second goal in as many games, giving the IceHogs the 1-0 lead. Jordan Schroeder would add his second goal in as many games as well, totaling six on the year, to extend the Rockford lead to 2-0 before the Griffins got one on the board with just under 10 seconds to play in regulation to deny Delia his first shutout of the season.
Delia’s two wins and 63 saves on 66 shots faced over the weekend improved his record this season to 7-5-4, with a GAA of 2.34 and save-percentage of 0.933. His GAA is tied for the third-best in the AHL and save-percentage is the best in the league among qualified goalies.
One more stat for the road:
Rockford’s last seven wins have all been one-goal games. 16 of their 29 games this season have been decided by one-goal. Rockford holds a 8-2-6 record this season in one-goal games.
Jan Rutta Makes His Rockford Debut
Last Thursday, the Chicago Blackhawks placed defenseman Jan Rutta on waiver to be sent to the AHL. On Friday, Rutta cleared waivers and was sent to the IceHogs, although he did not join the team for Friday’s game in Grand Rapids. Instead, Rutta was in the lineup on Saturday night against the Texas Stars. Rutta was paired on the top-line with Lucas Carlsson for both games he played over the weekend.
Jumping right into the thick of the lineup, Rutta saw ice-time on both the powerplay and penalty-kill for the IceHogs. He did not record a point in either game he played in, but recorded six shots on goal and was a plus-one rating.
Prior to the 2017-18 season, Rutta joined Chicago as a free agent after playing four seasons with Piráti Chomutov in the Czech professional league. In 23 games this season with the Blackhawks, Rutta has tallied six points (2 G, 4 A) and has been in and out of the regular rotation. Not what the Blackhawks would want to see from a player they gave a $2.25M contract to this summer.
In 57 games last season with Chicago, Rutta totaled 20 points (6 G, 14 A) and looked to have a somewhat promising future as a member of the Blackhawks’ blue-line, but the price-tag on him has set standards too high for him to reach with his play this season.
IceHogs interim head coach Derek King, speaking with the media following Rutta’s team debut on Saturday, was very candid in his evaluation of Rutta and the “plan” for him to get back into the NHL, where King feels Rutta belongs.
#IceHogs HC Derek King on Jan Rutta: "He settled in. You can see he is an #NHL player. We're gonna take advantage of having him here & hopefully his play will open some eyes, maybe with another team, & he'll get outta here & be where he should be, in the NHL."#AHL#Blackhawks
— Mario Tirabassi (@Mario_Tirabassi) December 16, 2018
#IceHogs HC Derek King on the plan for Jan Rutta in RFD: "I'll take him for the whole year if he's going to play like he did in the 2nd & 3rd period. I'm not sure what the plans are. Maybe CHI will being him back up, maybe a scout will see he fits their team."#AHL#Blackhawks
— Mario Tirabassi (@Mario_Tirabassi) December 16, 2018
Speaking after the game, Rutta also added what this season has been like in Chicago and what he hopes to accomplish with the IceHogs.
Jan Rutta on his mindset coming to the #IceHogs from the #Blackhawks: "It wasn't a good start to the year. I'm here to work, looking forward to the work & you never know what's going to happen. Just wanna help the team & get better as a player & we'll see."#RFDvsTEX#AHL
— Mario Tirabassi (@Mario_Tirabassi) December 16, 2018
It would seem that the goal for Rutta may be short-term with the IceHogs as he may be looking to find an NHL job elsewhere as the Blackhawks look at other options on defense from within their own system. That, or the Blackhawks might be giving him the Cody Franson treatment from last season. Only time will tell.
Blackhawks Recall Delia, Crawford To IR, Lankinen Joins IceHogs
On Sunday night, Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford exited the game against the San Jose Sharks after a collision in net. Dylan Strome had nowhere to go defending against Evander Kane and Logan Couture on a breakout chance and ran into Crawford, forcing the goalie to bear the brunt of the collision and hit the back of his head against the goal-post on his way down to the ice. Crawford immediately left the game after the hit and head coach Jeremy Colliton confirmed that Crawford would be placed in concussion protocol following the game.
Corey Crawford leaves the game after this nasty collision. pic.twitter.com/WCKD7Mgczh
— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) December 17, 2018
As all Blackhawks fans know, Crawford missed ten months of action last season and over the Summer due to a concussion he suffered in December of last season. It was hit or miss for month about when or even if Crawford would return to the Blackhawks. He joined the team much earlier than most expected, and was doing his best to back-stop the woeful play in front of him with Chicago.
Late on Monday afternoon, the Blackhawks placed Crawford on injured-reserve, recalled Collin Delia to Chicago, and also brought Kevin Lankinen from the Indy Fuel of the ECHL to the Rockford IceHogs.
Now, a bad Blackhawks season has gotten all that much worse.
For Crawford, the most important aspect of this situation is his health. Brain injuries are becoming more and more serious to deal with, given the advancements in medical technology, diagnosis, and treatment. To have to deal with two concussions in a 12-month span is nothing to scoff at, especially if one took ten months to recover from. Crawford is and always will be a cornerstone of the Blackhawks’ last decade of success and everyone hopes for a speedy and full recovery for him.
The reality for the organization now on the ice is that a giant hole is left on a roster that already is at the bottom of the league. Backup goaltender Cam Ward will undoubtedly get the majority of starts moving forward, but with the Blackhawks recalling Delia, they may just give the second-year pro an extended NHL opportunity after making his debut last season.
For Collin Delia, the Blackhawks avoid any waiver-wire hassle moving him between the NHL and AHL as he is waivers-exempt. Delia made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks last season, playing in two games and coming away with a 1-1-0 record, 3.96 GAA and a 0.889 save-percentage. Far from the numbers he has put up this year with a 7-5-4 record, 2.34 GAA and a 0.933 save-percentage with the IceHogs. Keep in mind that he, along with Forsberg, have been playing behind the second-lowest scoring offense in the AHL.
Anton Forsberg remains in Rockford for the time being. Forsberg has a 5-3-1 record in Rockford this year with a 2.62 GAA and a 0.917 save-percentage. He’ll undoubtedly get the majority of starts over Lankinen, who is 4-2-0 with a 3.18 GAA and a 0.893 save-percentage with the Indy Fuel this season, started the year in Rockford and has a 1-2-1 AHL record with a 2.69 GAA and a 0.889 save-percentage in four games with the IceHogs.
The Rockford IceHogs are back in action on Wednesday night as they close a three-game homestand when they host the Milwaukee Admirals. Puck drop is set for 7pm CT at the BMO Harris Bank Center for the fifth meeting between the teams this season. Following that, the IceHogs are on the road against the Chicago Wolves on Friday, Dec. 21. Puck drop at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont is set for 7pm CT and will also be the fifth meeting between the Illinois Lottery Cup Rivals this year.
The IceHogs sit in fifth-place in the AHL Central Division with a 13-10-6 record and 32 points in the standings. Both rank behind the Admirals (1st, 37 points) and the Wolves (4th, 33 points).