Rockford, Ill.– The Rockford IceHogs enter Wednesday’s game with Milwaukee on a four-game point streak. At the heart of that streak is Rockford’s ever-improving defense.
The IceHogs managed just five goals in those four games. However, their defensive approach allowed Rockford to win two of those contests while picking up standings points in two overtime losses.
The Hogs were near the bottom of the AHL in terms of goals allowed per game for much of the first couple of months of the 2021-22 season. Rockford held opponents to just 2.50 goals per contest in ten January tilts.
“If you look back to the beginning of the season, there were a lot of loose pucks in front that the opponents could tap in the nets,” rookie goalie Arvid Soderblom pointed out at Tuesday’s weekly media session. “That’s been a big change for us here.”
The IceHogs are currently 13th in the league in goals allowed. For the season, Rockford is giving up three goals a game. That’s down a goal from the first month of the campaign. Soderblom and his fellow goalies have seen plenty of shots, but they’ve been a bit easier to handle.
“It’s been a big change,” Soderblom said. “I feel like we’re better at taking care of the rebounds, helping me on the rebounds and the backdoor plays. I feel like we’re letting the opponent shoot from outside, giving them the outside and closing the inside. Even though I’ve been facing a lot of shots, it’s been, not easy shots, but a lot of them have been from the outside with no screens. They (the defense) have helped me with the rebounds and stuff. So that’s been helping me out a lot.”
Rockford’s latest defensive gem came Saturday night in Rosemont against the Central Division-leading Chicago Wolves. The Hogs were on the penalty kill for a large part of the opening period and were out-shot 36-21 on the evening. Soderblom stopped all 36 shots, and the Hogs prevailed 1-0 in a shootout.
“I thought we played what I call connected hockey,” explained interim head coach Anders Sorensen. We were five men in the picture a lot. We were together and there wasn’t much separation between any of the players in our D-zone. The support was there and the layers were there. The guys get up to play Chicago. They know its one of the best teams in the West and in the league, so they’re definitely dialed in every time we play them.”
Rockford has been getting poised defensive shifts from their young defensive prospects. Isaak Phillips, Wyatt Kalynuk, Ian Mitchell, and Nicolas Beaudin have all been part of the effort. Veteran Ryan Stanton has been on hand to mentor the blueline, and right now, they are a very effective group.
The penalty kill entered the top ten overall in the AHL at 82.2 percent. They have given up just a single goal over their last 20 chances over the past five games.
“(Hogs assistant coach) Jared Nightingale runs the PK and I’ll give the credit to him and what he’s done there,” Sorensen said. “Personally, I just like how aggressive we’re being. He’s done a great job with just pre-scouting and going through very detailed with the guys. The guys are really buying into it; a lot of work has been put into it. I like how aggressive we’ve been. I also like how we’re able to get sticks in passing lanes and deflecting pucks and that, so it’s been good.”
Wednesday’s game with the Admirals could prove to be another defensive test for the IceHogs. Milwaukee has won six straight games and has an eight-game point streak to boot. The Admirals power play is fifth-best in the AHL with a 22 percent success rate.
“It’ll be a good challenge. We know they’re a good team. They’ve got some veteran players that are savvy and they can make plays under pressure. You’ve got to be aware when they’re on the ice. It will be a very good test for us here at home.”
Puck drop at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Wednesday is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Central time.
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