The break couldn’t have been kinder to the Iowa Wild, who limped into the Christmas break without a suitable goalie in net and a team that had just spent ten days on the road before their match-up with the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings) on Dec. 22nd.
Steve Michalek is back from his trip to Minnesota where he had the best seat in the house with Alex Stalock filling in for Devan Dubnyk. Niklas Svedberg is looking to return from his lower-body injury that saw him leave the line-up for Iowa’s last four games where they relied heavily on C.J. Motte and Adam Vay.
Oh, and Zach Parise is going to be making a rehab start in Des Moines, his first game down in the A since Dec. 26th, 2004 as a member of the now defunct Albany River Rats (New Jersey Devils).
As for the IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks), rookie David Kämpf earned a call up to Chicago and brought Jeff Glass with him. Considering Iowa and Rockford are tied for the second spot in the Central Division in terms of points (36 each), these next two games could give Iowa a little breathing room going into the New Year with four points on the line.
Rockford - Points
- Tomáš Jurčo (LW) - 21 pts (10G/11A)
- Matthew Highmore (C/RW) - 19 pts (11G/8A)
- Anthony Louis (LW/C) - 17 pts (5G/12A)
- Carl Dahlström (LHD) - 17 pts (2G/12A)
- Ville Pokka (RHD) - 13 pts (3G/10A)
For the IceHogs, it’s a much different look in their top five with Vinnie Hinostroza gone via a call-up to the big club as well. Luke Johnson and Erik Gustafsson have dropped off and Pokka and Dahlström have worked their way on. It’s also an opportunity for Highmore to step into the top center position with Kämpf up in Chicago.
Dahlström, a second round pick for the Blackhawks back in 2013, has seemed to have found his groove in his second full season in North America. The former Linköpings HC product has already surpassed his 11 point total from last season (70 games) in half as many games.
Highmore had a great start to this season with eight points in his first ten games after joining the Hawks organization, undrafted out of the Q. Since his hat-trick against Iowa on Nov. 22nd, he has just two goals and four total points.
Louis has four points (1G/3A) in his last five games playing on a line with Kämpf and Jurčo. None of their goals in their last five contests have come on the man-advantage.
Iowa - Points
- Sam Anas (RW) - 23 pts (11G/12A)
- Pat Cannone (C) - 22 pts (10G/12A)
- Justin Kloos (C/W) - 22 pts (8G/14A)
- Cal O’Reilly (C) - 20 pts (5G/15A)
- Colton Beck (C/W) - 16 pts (6G/10A)
Sam Anas has found a different level in his play as of late, having set the new franchise record in consecutive games with a point at nine - and counting. Even more impressive during this stretch is that the Quinnipiac alum has four multi-point performances. He’s also tied the franchise record for consecutive games with a goal at six - set by Beck in the first month of the season.
Kloos has been similarly impressive, having tallied a point in seven of eleven games in the month of December; adding three multi-point games of his own. The Lakeville-native has seemed to have found a home at center between Gerald Mayhew and Anas, a line that has scored consistently since returning from their Texas road-trip earlier this month.
Zach Palmquist’s point streak came to an end against the Griffins at four games. Christoph Bertschy has emerged as a great role player for Iowa, providing a lot of speed and defensiveness, though he hasn’t been too fortuitous in finding the score sheet in terms of offensive production. Peculiar, given that he’s been a big driver in puck possession, especially in the offensive zone.
Rockford - Goalies
- Collin Delia (0-1-0) - 4.16 GAA/.750 SV%
- Matt Tomkins (4-3-0) - 2.73 GAA/.931 SV% (stats with the Indy Fuel)
The IceHogs find themselves in a similar position in net as Iowa did heading into the Christmas break. Corey Crawford has headed to injured reserve and Chicago has called up Jeff Glass, leaving a lot of questions for Jeremy Colliton given that Jean-François Bérubé hasn’t played since Dec. 9th; a night where he made 18 of 18 saves before leaving the game.
Delia, an undrafted free agent out of Merrimack College, has just one start this season, but has spent the last few weeks backing up Jeff Glass with Bérubé out. He had 10 appearances with the Indy Fuel in the ECHL, posting a 4.16 GAA/.750 SV%.
Tomkins played four years at Ohio State after being drafted by the Blackhawks in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. Recently called up, it hasn’t been announced whether or not he’ll get an AHL test or play second fiddle to Delia.
Iowa - Goalies
- Steve Michalek (6-1-2) - 2.52 GAA/.926 SV%
- Niklas Svedberg (7-7-3) - 2.76 GAA/.909 SV%
The good news is that Iowa has returned to some point of normalcy in net with both Sveds and Stevie back, but the only problem is that neither of them have made a start since Dec. 15th. Svedberg is coming off of a stint in the trainer’s room and Michalek is healthy, but hasn’t seen game speed since Dec. 10th - a 2-1 win over the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The Iowa offense has been playing some great hockey in their absences as of late, so a hot start to the second half should allow for a fairly seamless transition for Michalek, who is expected to start tonight.
Because of his relief efforts, C.J. Motte has earned the right to stick around the club for a little while longer as Iowa will carry three goalies.
With Rockford with more questions than answers in net and Iowa getting their top guys back, a hot start means everything. The Wild have already seen Delia once, his only start, and pounced on him by virtue of two power play goals on six shots in the first period.
You’d want to say that Iowa needs a hot start, though the numbers would say it’s more of a strong finish that they need. The Wild have only out-shot their opponents in the first period twelve times this season. When it comes to closing out games, Iowa is 9-1-7 after scoring the first goal of the game.
They may only have one regulation loss this month, but the Wild have six overtime losses, all situations where they held a lead going into the third period. With a team that missed out on the post-season last year by just five points, it’d be more than a shame if those six points become a deciding factor in April.
What will be important are special teams. David Cunniff’s power play unit has scored at least one goal in all but two games this month and hold the league’s fifth best power play efficiency at 20.4 percent. The IceHogs are dead last in the league at an 11.1 percent success rate.
On the other side, Iowa once again has the most efficient penalty kill at 88.6 percent through 31 games and 132 kills. Rockford, once again, near the bottom of the division and the league at 80.6 percent in 124 short-handed situations through 30 games.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 CST at Wells Fargo Arena on $1 hot dog night - get your fill.