The Rockford IceHogs have had a three-goalie approach through the bulk of the 2019-20 campaign. With Kevin Lankinen undergoing shoulder surgery last week, it looked as if the Hogs would employ a more traditional two-man approach to the net.
Apparently, that’s not Rockford’s style this season.
The IceHogs inked Russian goalie Ivan Nalimov to a PTO Saturday. Nalimov, 25, has six seasons of experience in the KHL for a host of teams. He’s Chicago’s sixth-round selection from the 2014 NHL Draft.
Nalimov was released from his contract with HK Sochi when their season ended. In 24 games, he posted a 2.50 GAA and a .922 save percentage. With Lankinen on the shelf and Nalimov’s season over, this appears to be an opportune time to kick his tires.
I doubt that Nalimov has come all the way to Rockford to just sit around twiddling his thumbs. Look for him to get some action for the IceHogs. The question is…when?
Rockford has just come off a three-game weekend. They have this week off until Saturday, when they play Chicago at Allstate Arena. After hosting Milwaukee March 18, Rockford has a stretch of nine days in which they play six times.
Hogs coach Derek King has been riding Collin Delia the last couple of weeks. The Cucamonga Kid has played well and is more than capable of handling the workload. You have to wonder, though, just what Matt Tomkins is thinking right now.
Tomkins has performed well in Rockford, earning an NHL contract from the Hawks that runs until the end of next season. Since signing on January 24, he’s played in four of the Hogs next 20 games. He was solid in Sunday’s overtime loss to the Wolves. Now he’ll have Nalimov to share the few nights that Delia isn’t occupying the Rockford crease.
- Rockford earned three points in the standings this weekend. After scoring an impressive 4-0 win over Grand Rapids at the BMO Friday night, the piglets were shut out 3-0 by the Griffins at Van Andel Arena on Saturday. Sunday, Rockford dropped a 3-2 decision to Chicago, with the game-winner coming on a Wolves power play.
- Delia’s 34-save shutout earned him First Star on Friday, but I left the BMO more impressed with the team effort against the Griffins. That might have been the best this group has played this season. It certainly was Rockford’s finest effort in a couple of months.
- He wasn’t one of Friday’s Three Stars, but Alexandre Fortin was a big reason for the Hogs victory. His breakaway goal early in the second period gave Rockford a 2-0 advantage and the boys didn’t look back. Fortin was set up by a nice pass by Joni Tuulola, but the finish was outstanding. Waiting out Griffins goalie Pat Nagle, Fortin deked with the backhand before pulling the puck to the forehand and into Twine Town. It’s a play he hasn’t been able to make in previous seasons.
- Fortin has been a honest-to-goodness threat to score the last month. In his last nine games, he has three goals. That pushes his season total to a career-high of eight. Not only is he getting pucks to the net, but the shots are challenging opposing goalies and have been creating frequent rebound opportunities.
- T. J. Brennan has yet to post a goal for Rockford, though he has three assists in his six games with the IceHogs. At times, you can see the rust from a season in which he hadn’t played much for Lehigh Valley. However, it looks as if Brennan is going to get the chance to play his way into shape with the Hogs.
- Gabriel Gagne put his sixth goal in his 19th game with Rockford. With Gagne nearing the end of his 25-game PTO, the Hogs signed him to an AHL contract for the remainder of the season, as well as the 2020-21 season. Smart move; Gagne now has 12 points in 21 games since coming aboard in January.
- Dmitri Osipov earned an extension to his current AHL contract for the 2020-21 campaign. Osipov hasn’t played since February 21.
- Tuulola has been a constant in the lineup in his second season. He is currently mired in a 36-game scoreless drought after finding the net in consecutive games November 30 and December 3. Tuulola may not hit last year’s point totals (4 G, 10 A), but he has been a pretty steady defender most of his sophomore campaign. His plus-five skater rating is the highest on Rockford’s blueline.
- Rockford is tied with the Wolves with 62 standings points. At this stage of the season, however, the IceHogs chances for the postseason hinge on point percentage until the teams of the Central Division have played an even number of games. With a .492 percentage, Rockford is tied for sixth with Texas. Playoff position is going to have to be earned, as opposed to maintained.
Follow me on twitter @JonFromi for news and thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.