The term "it's still early" is commonly used in sports' who's seasons contain upwards of 70, 80, over 100 games. So when is it not "early"?
For me, once we hit Thanksgiving week, the hockey season isn't early anymore. Typically, we're 15-18 games into the season and all the early season jitters, bugs, chemistry issues, etc. should have worked themselves out.
Anything that carries over tend to be habits and trends, not misnomers. So these issues, like all the first period goals against, will take a lot more effort to correct then if it were just a blip on the radar.
Through 16 games, I haven't really felt this team has put it all together for one full contest yet. Whether it's a bad period, slow offense, off goaltending or subpar special teams for a game or a part of a game, the IceHogs are still looking for that proverbial "60-minute" effort.
It's starting to sound like a broken record, but Rockford's goaltending needs to improve as the early season struggles by the IceHogs goalies are beginning to become an unwanted tradition. Like I've said in the past, all the blame can't be passed on to the goalies, but a goalie can really dictate a team's confidence.
I don 't want to sound like a Debbie Downer as it really hasn't been that bad. The IceHogs special teams are relevant with the power play improving. The penalty kill has been a top 10 unit in the AHL since Week 1 and the power play has shown flashes, especially lately, going 4-10 over the past two tilts.
Martin St. Pierre has been as advertised and as we remember, if not better. I don't remember St. Pierre being as physical five years ago as he is now and I think he is the right captain to lead this team.
Marcus Kruger is a true professional and has been an absolute joy to watch and be around. I know that there were some questions out in cyber space about Kruger spending his first full professional season in North America with the Blackhawks in 2011-12, but watching him play here, he is such a good all around player and could in the NHL for a long time.
Another guy that has really impressed me lately is Brandon Saad. Saad had to have been hobbled by his lower body injury badly to start the season because since his return, he's been a completely different player. Few at the AHL level has his breakaway speed and he seems to have a great hockey sense. I see why he's often listed as a top prospect in the organization. I know he's a second round pick, but there are no sure things in the draft and it appears Mark Kelley and his scouting crew have found another gem.
Earlier in this post I mentioned that it isn't early anymore, which it isn't. But it isn't time to hit panic buttons or anything like that either. Moving forward, here are some observations that thoughts about what could improve the IceHogs as we enter in the middle portion of the schedule:
NHLers Need To Make A Bigger Impact: The reason that I'm signaling out this group is because Rockford really benefited from the NHL lockout, getting five or six players who could be in Chicago. Andrew Shaw, Dylan Olsen, Brandon Bollig and Nick Leddy all have the capability of contributing more and I think will.
Obviously I'm not talking just offensively for all of these players (although Shaw and Leddy should be relied on a little more on the offensive side), but playing their roles on the team more effectively and not trying to do too much, which might be a part of the problem.
Jimmy Hayes has contributed, but has been trying to find more consistency. Some of that has to do with the experiment of using him as a center. But consistency is always a battle for young players and we have to remember that Hayes is just in his second season.
Goaltending/D-Zone Coverage: This was covered earlier a bit with the goaltending. I believe this will improve once the IceHogs get better in their defensive zone. It hasn't been as porous as it was last season for the first half of the campaign, but there is some room for improvement that would help out the tenders.
Energy: Do not take this as I don't think the team is not trying or working or not caring. That is not the case. This is a case of the fourth line needing to provide a more consistent spark, staying even keel emotionally and coming out of the locker room ready to play.
Last season, when Rockford was winning games down the home stretch, Philippe Paradis and Rob Flick were providing a big spark for the IceHogs. I'd love to see them and whoever is paired with them on the "Energy Line" re-establish that.
As for Friday's game Alec Richards is going to get an opportunity to earn more ice time as he'll be back in goal for the IceHogs. It'll be just his third start in 17 games this season and his fifth overall appearance.
With Shawn Lalonde still suspended (two more games) and Brandon Svendsen injured, Rockford's healthy scratches are Wade Brookbank, Brett Lebda and Peter Leblanc.
I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and I hope you all enjoy some IceHogs hockey this weekend on 23-2 "Weather Now"!