Rockford, Ill.-The Rockford IceHogs were one of the AHL’s top-scoring outfits in the first three months of the 2022-23 season. Once the calendar turned to the 2023 portion of Rockford’s schedule, a switch seems to have been flipped. The IceHogs have suddenly experienced a scarcity of goals.
Rockford was challenging for the Central Division lead a month ago. They won six of their last seven games in December, then kicked off January with an overtime triumph over first-place Texas. Following that 4-3 victory, the wheels fell off the Hogs’ goal wagon.
In the season’s first 31 games, from October 15 to December 31, when Rockford beat Chicago 6-2 at the BMO Center, the IceHogs averaged 3.71 goals per contest. In nine January tilts, they’ve potted just 16 goals—a paltry 1.78 goals per game pace. It should come as no surprise that Rockford is 2-5-2 for the month entering this weekend’s action.
The IceHogs have plummeted from the second position in the Central Division all the way to a tie for fourth with Iowa, who beat Rockford in Des Moines Tuesday night. Rockford dropped a 2-1 decision in overtime, breaking a four-game pointless streak. However, the loss was the Hogs’ fifth in a row and is currently their longest such skid of the season. The power play has been anemic as well; in the last eight games, Rockford has converted just three of 32 opportunities, or nine percent.
When the Hogs offense is firing on all cylinders, they play a fast-paced game that keeps opponents on their heels. If the pace slows and the passing suffers, as it has during this recent stretch, a lot of holes open up in the defensive zone.
As a result, Rockford goalies have been bombarded with waves of enemy skaters exploiting those holes, jumping on turnovers, and getting goalies Dylan Wells and Arvid Soderblom out of position trying to defend the resulting rush. The losing has been a true team effort; no one has been especially good.
What’s with the sudden power outage? As is the case for many teams, some call-ups by the Hogs’ NHL parent club, the Chicago Blackhawks, temporarily took away some of Rockford’s more potent scorers. On January 3, two of the IceHogs’ top playmakers, Brett Seney (15 G, 26 A) and Lukas Reichel (14 G, 23 A) spent time in Chicago before being returned to Rockford the following week.
Seney scored a big goal in his return, a 2-1 overtime win in Colorado on January 13. Since then, however, he is on a five-game goal-less streak, his longest drought of the season. In five games back since his last cup of coffee in Chicago, Reichel has just a single assist. He is on a four-game pointless streak after previously going no longer than two games between points.
Luke Philp (14 G, 16 A), who was the closest skater to pick up the scoring slack for the Hogs, was recalled Monday. Dylan Sikura (9 G, 13 A), has just one goal and one assist in his last ten games. Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A) was pointless in four January games and has been out of the lineup for the last five.
Forward Mike Hardman (2 G, 11 A) broke a 17-game goal drought on January 7 but has just a single assist in his last seven games since then. Michal Teply (5 G, 7 A) does not have so much as a point in his last ten games dating back to December 28.
The IceHogs have plenty of secondary scoring options. The problem is that none of them have been able to step up and reinforce Seney, Reichel, Philp, and team scoring leader David Gust (20 G, 21 A) of late. That’s a problem, especially if Rockford’s top players are recalled near the trade deadline.
There is hope, as players like Sikura are capable of carrying the scoring load for stretches. Hardman and Teply were both solid scorers last season and may yet find some touch around the net. Defenseman Issak Phillips (3 G, 17 A), one of the IceHogs’ standout players of the first few months, was assigned to Rockford on January 23 and could help contribute from the blueline along with veteran Adam Clendening (3 G, 16 A).
The IceHogs will try to get back to their winning ways beginning Friday night in Milwaukee. The second-place Admirals have split four games with Rockford this season, though the division rivals have not played since the Hogs came away with a 2-1 shootout win at the BMO Center on December 7. On Saturday, Rockford visits Rosemont and the Wolves, who still sit last in the division standings. However, Chicago has four wins in eight games against the IceHogs, including last Saturday’s 6-2 win in Rockford. Both games this weekend are set for a 7:00 p.m. CDT puck drop.
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