The ending of the NHL lockout and the start of the NHL’s regular season comes at a bit of an ironic time for the Rockford IceHogs.
Rockford is exactly halfway through their 2012-13 regular season schedule heading into a five-game homestand leading up to the AHL’s All-Star break. It’s ironic because comparisons are frequently made between the first half of the season and the second half.
This year, we might as well refer to that as pre-lockout and post-lockout. Yes, there were four skaters (Bollig, Kruger, Leddy and Shaw) who were held out of the last three games before we hit the midway point, but now that the NHL is back in session, it’s back to the norm in the AHL.
So what is the norm you ask?
Especially this season because of the possibility of a rash of injuries with the compacted NHL schedule, AHL rosters are always uncertain as they are dictated by the health and performance of the parent club.
During the first half of the season, rosters for the most part were consistent. The only movement was caused from injuries to players on the AHL team. From game one to game 38, there were just three players who played in games for Rockford that weren’t on the opening day roster, and that included Brandon Svendsen who technically started on the roster, but was injured to start the year.
We might see that many fresh faces in the second half of the season over the first week!
So it’s back to the norm of wondering who is here today and gone tomorrow.
One guy that can’t seem to catch a break lately is Ben Smith. Last season, during the Blackhawks final preseason game, Smith was concussed on a hit from Detroit’s Brendan Smith forcing him to the Injured Reserve and eventually starting the season in Rockford.
Smith of course, had his season cut short last season due to an injury and worked his tail off all summer to be ready for training camp. It took Smith a few weeks to get back into the groove and when he did, he’s became one of Rockford’s best all around players.
But as fate would have it, Smith injured his hand on Feb. 11, two days before the brief five-day Blackhawks training camp opened leaving him, for now, on the sidelines.
The area that I’m most concerned about on the Rockford side with all these changes is the team’s power play. For the first time since 2007-08, the IceHogs have a legitimate power-play unit. But with the loss of Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger, the team loses some depth on the man advantage. The “X” factor in both ’07-08 and this season, however, is Martin St. Pierre as he’s been a part of both clubs.
Even though this next point could be more difficult to overcome because of potential roster turnover, Rockford needs to limit the losing streaks in the second half and not be so bi-polar. The winning three and then losing three stuff won’t cut it.
The dynamic of the division and conference has definitely changed so there are a lot of questions for the second half of the season in the AHL and it is even harder to predict. So it looks like it’s back to the norm around here!