War Pigs Report: IceHogs doing just enough to stay in postseason hunt

  

The Rockford IceHogs are not going away easy. I’ll save you the poetry this week.

With just 13 games remaining on the schedule, the IceHogs currently sit in a tie for fourth place in the AHL Central Division with 62 points. They are tied with the Chicago Wolves, who hold the higher position currently on points percentage, but the Central Division doesn’t adhere to that like the Pacific Division does.

After taking three points out of a possible six against the Grand Rapids Griffins and Chicago Wolves over the weekend, a three games in three days set, the IceHogs will have six days off to rest and hopefully get some healthy bodies back in the lineup. The six days off will also give Rockford a more clear picture of the Calder Cup playoff race, once the rest of the Central Division catches up in games played.

It’s a long way to the top…

Rockford has been working with a depleted roster for a large portion of this season due to injuries. It’s constant of one player comes back, one player goes out. It’s a tough situation to jumble lines and pairings on a consistent basis, but head coach Derek King has done as best a job as he could given then cards he is dealt on a nightly basis. Philipp Kurashev has returned in a major way for the IceHogs, scoring three points in his last six games, but shortly after his return, Rockford is now feeling the loss of John Quenneville.

In net, the IceHogs are riding Collin Delia heavily into the postseason push, making 13 appearances in the last 17 games for Rockford since February 1. He’s performed admirably over that stretch, going 8-4-0 with two shutout performances and a .909 save percentage. But the IceHogs’ depth in net, once their biggest strength, has taken a hit as Kevin Lankinen‘s season ended due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. Matt Tomkins assumed the backup role behind Delia, and the IceHogs added Russian prospect Ivan Nalimov over the weekend, so the three-goalie rotation will live on.

Collin Delia Rockford IceHogs

Peter Quenneville of the Rockford IceHogs (Photo Courtesy: Rockford IceHogs.)

The question is if that performance in net will be enough to propel the IceHogs into the Calder Cup playoffs.

Here are the full standings entering Tuesday, March 10:

  1. Milwaukee Admirals (62 games played): 40-14-8, 88 points
  2. Iowa Wild (62 games played): 37-17-8, 82 points
  3. Grand Rapids Griffins (62 games played): 28-27-7, 63 points
  4. Chicago Wolves (61 games played): 27-26-8, 62 points
  5. Rockford IceHogs (63 games played): 29-30-4, 62 points
  6. San Antonio Rampage (60 games played): 24-24-12, 60 points
  7. Texas Stars (60 games played): 26-27-7, 59 points
  8. Manitoba Moose (61 games played): 27-33-1, 55 points

The IceHogs have the fewest games remaining of any team in the Central Division as of Tuesday, March 10. Rockford is off until Saturday, March 14 when they take on the Chicago Wolves. In the meantime, the rest of the Central Division will catch up in games played, more than likely putting the IceHogs further outside the Calder Cup playoff chase by week’s end, but hopefully not.

Here is how the final 13 games for the IceHogs will be spread out over the final month of the regular season and Rockford’s record against their opponent this season:

  • Zero vs. Manitoba (4-3-1)
  • Zero vs. Grand Rapids (5-5-0)
  • One vs. San Antonio (4-3-0)
  • Two vs. Texas (4-1-1)
  • Three vs. Milwaukee (1-7-1)
  • Three vs. Chicago (6-2-1)
  • Four vs. Iowa (1-3-0)

One glaring number that will have to improve if the IceHogs are going to find success down the final stretch of the season is 1-for-38. That is the IceHogs powerplay success rate since February 18.

The lone tally came from Gabriel Gagne in Friday’s contest against the Grand Rapids Griffins. It is an abysmal number on the man-advantage, which ranks 29th in the AHL, a tie for second-to-last in the league with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. While Rockford ranks in the bottom-three on success rate, they are sixth in the AHL in powerplay opportunities with 254. They are the only team in the top eight of opportunities in the league without a success-rate in the teens or higher.

The penalty-kill is even worse at 76.2% this season, last in the AHL. Rockford will need to either play entire games at even-strength down the stretch, or something is going to have to give over the final 13 games of the regular season.

Roster moves

The AHL transaction page was pretty active this week for the IceHogs. First, the team signed Gabriel Gagne and Dmitry Osipov to AHL contracts through the 2020-21 season.

Osipov had signed a one-year AHL deal with the IceHogs last spring, and has seen significant time with Rockford after the loss of Philip Holm and various recalls of Dennis Gilbert and Lucas Carlsson. The 23-year-old defenseman has one goal and 44 PIM in 28 games with the IceHogs this season.

For Gagne, the former Ottawa Senators second-round pick has found it difficult to get his footing in the professional game. Playing for Binghamton/Belleville Senators, Toronto Marlies, Ontario Reign, Wichita Thunder, Newfoundland Growlers, and Allen Americans all before landing with the IceHogs this season, Gagne had shown highly inconsistent flashes of his offensive skill and high-end shooting ability. Prior to joining the IceHogs on a PTO in mid-January, Gagne had 38 points in 36 games with the Allen Americans in the ECHL.

Since joining the IceHogs, Gagne has seen significant ice-time on the powerplay and top-line groupings. In 21 games, Gagne has six goals and six assists with Rockford. He figures to continue to have the elevated role as the Calder Cup playoff push continues for the IceHogs.

Also coming down the wire over the weekend, the IceHogs signed Russian prospect goaltender Ivan Nalimov to a PTO contract. Nalimov, a former sixth-round draft pick by the Chicago Blackhawks, has been playing the last six seasons as a regular in the KHL. Nalimov has been with seven different teams in the KHL. He has a 58-62-12 record with 14 shutouts, a 2.61 GAA, and a .912 save-percentage in his KHL career.

Among the more intriguing prospects in the Blackhawks’ system, Ivan Nalimov will join his sixth team in the KHL for the 2019–20 season. (Photograph courtesy of Kunlun Redstar)

Nalimov joins the IceHogs goaltending rotation after the loss of Kevin Lankinen and figures to see action as the regular season comes to a close. How much action remains to be seen as head coach Derek King has placed a great deal of trust in Collin Delia to be the regular starter during the team’s Calder Cup Playoff push.

Finally, the weekend closed with Brandon Hagel receiving his third recall to the Chicago Blackhawks this season. Hagel has yet to make his NHL debut with Chicago, though that seems like it will not be the case much longer as the Blackhawks lost forward Drake Caggiula to a hand/wrist injury against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. At the very least, Hagel’s third recall to the Blackhawks should go better than his previous recall, which lasted less than eight hours. At practice today, Hagel was on the third line with Dominik Kubalik on left wing and Kirby Dach at center.

Brandon Hagel Chicago Blackhawks

Brandon Hagel of the Chicago Blackhawks (Photo Courtesy: Chicago Blackhawks.)

This season with the IceHogs, Hagel has been one of the key offensive components of the Rockford attack. In his first professional season, Hagel has 31 points in 59 games played. He leads the IceHogs in goals with 19 and is third on the team in points. For the sake of the IceHogs, they will hope that Hagel returns before Saturday’s game against the Chicago Wolves and not have to play without one of their main offensive outlets.

What’s Next?

The Rockford IceHogs are back in action on Saturday, March 14 as they take on the Chicago Wolves. Puck drop for Saturday’s contest is set for 7 p.m. CDT at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont. The IceHogs hold a 6-2-1 record against the Wolves this season, but have dropped three of their last four games against Chicago. There is more than just Calder Cup playoff points on the line on Saturday as the IceHogs could clinch their fourth Illinois Lottery Cup Rivalry title in club history with at least a point against Chicago.

Following Saturday’s contest, the IceHogs return home to take on the AHL Central Division-leading Milwaukee Admirals. Puck drop on Wednesday, March 18 is set for 7 p.m. CDT at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford. The IceHogs hold a 1-7-1 record against the Admirals this season, being outscored 40-14 this season and having dropped their last seven games against Milwaukee.

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