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High On The Hog: The Defense Of Mac Carruth

The Rockford IceHogs dropped both of their games this past weekend, firmly establishing themselves in the basement of the American Hockey League. It has been a frustrating season to say the least over in Winnebago County. That said, I really have to blame myself for what got me so riled up yesterday.

Yes…I visited the IceHogs season ticket holder page on facebook, where folks were casting their ire about what is fast becoming a lost season. The primary target was goaltender Mac Carruth, who gave up four goals in just over 20 minutes of Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Grand Rapids.

I’ve been hinting at writing in depth on Carruth and the goalie situation for a few weeks. Reading the comments, in addition to what I hear in the BMO stands, has officially pushed me over the edge.

I ran into a fellow IceHogs fan at the grocery store Sunday afternoon. We talked about Rockford’s signing of Jeff Glass, a veteran of the KHL, to an AHL contract this past week. One hypothosis formulated by the two of us is the possibility that a goalie in the Hawks organization (likely Scott Darling…sorry) will be leaving via trade.

“So, I guess the Hawks will call up (Lars) Johansson to back up Crow if that happens,” the person offered.

“Maybe,” I said, “but the guy they should call up is Carruth.”

After I picked my fellow fan off the floor, we exchanged good-byes and went on with our respective weekends. Had we enough time to spend discussing hockey in the check-out line, I would have been able to elaborate.

Instead, I have chosen this forum to make my stand. Mac Carruth is not the cause of Rockford’s dismal performance this season. Here are my vociferous responses to the many arrows shot in his direction.

There are a lot of comments I hear concerning Carruth and his performance this season. I’m going to paraphrase them so that I don’t wind up calling out individuals. There’s a mob mentality to this and I will offer counter-arguments to some of the more popular narratives.

 

“Why do they keep playing Carruth? He isn’t an AHL-level goaltender.”

Recently, Carruth has been getting the bulk of the work in net for the IceHogs. This began with Johansson’s call up to Chicago in December and continues even after Johansson returned to Rockford.

There is a very simple reason for this. Carruth has been the better of the two goalies.

Heading into action Friday, this was Carruth’s production in his last seven starts, dating back to December 10: 4-2-1, 2.54 GAA and a .914 save percentage.

Johansson’s numbers since returning to the Hogs in late December (five starts): 1-4, 4.31 GAA and an .837 save percentage.

That’s why I didn’t bat an eyelash when Carruth got the net both Friday and Saturday. The numbers more that vindicate Carruth here. His numbers aren’t elite, but there’s nothing elite about the IceHogs this season.

On Friday, Carruth played well enough to pick up a win, giving up two regulation goals. A questionable interference call cost the Hogs an overtime victory. Then Carruth got lit up against the Griffins. Fair enough. It’s happening to a lot of AHL goalies; Grand Rapids is averaging 3.47 goals per game.

I would like to point out, however, that on Saturday, with six NHL contracts on defense, Dent elected to play AHL-forward Even Mosey on the blue line for much of the latter half of the contest. I hope that speaks to the level the defense in front of both goalies of late.

Listen…I’m not knocking Johansson. I think he’s played well, especially when he was getting steady work. I think both goalies are capable of producing for this club. The results just favor Carruth getting more work.

For the record, neither goalie has held up well to the play in front of them recently. Here are the stat lines, starting when Johansson returned December 21 through this weekend’s action:

Johansson (six appearances): 3.97 GAA, .852 save percentage.

Carruth (seven appearances): 3.74 GAA, .882 save percentage.

These are poor numbers; no doubt. But there is a reason for that. The play in front of the goalies has more than a bit to do with this.

 

“Carruth hasn’t lived up to expectations.”

By “expectations”, I assume the expectations of a seventh-round draft pick?

Just to refresh our memories, Carruth was not the second-round pick Chicago spent on a goalie back in 2010. That was Kent Simpson. Short of Troy Brouwer (2004) and Tyler Arnason (1998), the Blackhawks haven’t gotten much out of the seventh-round of the draft in recent years, let alone the goalies they’ve selected.

Before Crawford, the last goalie drafted by Chicago that played in more than an abbreviated stint (like Simpson’s single appearance) was Craig Anderson (drafted in 2001). Then Michael Leighton (1999). Then Jimmy Waite (1987). Plus, some guy named Dominic Hasek (1983) who got traded. I forget how that ended up.

I will point out that Carruth and Crawford are the only Hawks draftees playing in the organization. Set the Wouter Peeters clock, please.

 

“Carruth hasn’t developed like Corey Crawford did while he was in Rockford.”

It’s like this, folks. Crawford made his first real impact in Chicago at age 25, after spending five full seasons in Norfolk/Rockford. He started at least 45 games in each of those seasons.

Carruth has 46 appearances in Rockford over four pro seasons, mostly in spot duty. Last year, in his first opportunity to get comfortable in town, he outplayed the veteran brought in to be the starter (Drew MacIntryre) when Leighton was called up for the playoffs.

This year, Carruth has more than held his own with Johansson, who was brought in to be the starter and was used that way the first two months of the season. Until the call-up, Carruth had six starts as the backup.

You can say that Carruth hasn’t developed at the rate Crawford did, but you’re comparing apples to oranges. Carruth was a low-round pick and has had nothing close to that kind of gestation time in Rockford.

 

“Carruth’s always been a below-average goalie.”

Down the stretch last spring, Carruth wasn’t just serviceable; he was outstanding. The folks chirping that Carruth was not any good last year (and believe me, they are) must not pay attention to the stats.

Coming up from Indy in March, Carruth appeared in eleven games. In those games, including ten starts, Carruth sported a 1.92 GAA and a .940 save percentage. His stats for the year (in which he got into just 17 games in three stints with Rockford) were also pretty good: 2.30 GAA, .926 save percentage.

Had Carruth kept that pace up through a full season in Rockford, he would have been a top-five goalie in the AHL in both stats. That may or may not have been sustainable even with a pretty good Hogs team last season. However, don’t look back and rewrite what Carruth accomplished.

 

“I just don’t like the guy.”

I hear that all the time. To me, that isn’t a valid criticism.

I wasn’t there to see it, but by most accounts Carruth did more than a little venting after being pulled a minute into the second period Saturday night. I can’t comment on his mindset, but I’ll tell you this; the Hogs were pancake-flat in that contest until Dent shook things up with a goalie change.

Erik Gustafsson essentially dropped off a puck at the Rockford net to set up the second Griffins goal. Dent’s post-game comments suggested that Carruth wasn’t the fall guy in the defeat (Dent did all but throw up his hands in that interview).

I don’t know if Carruth was angry at getting the hook, at his own play, or both. Maybe a little spit and fire from a 24-year-old goalie is not to be entirely unexpected.

 

Closing Arguments

Before the season began, I had concerns as to how the IceHogs were going to generate offense. To say that they have under-performed doesn’t begin to cover the last four months.

In nine previous seasons, the IceHogs have had two campaigns where they wound up with as low as a .520 points percentage (2011-12 and 2013-14). As of Saturday, Rockford was dead last in the AHL with a .395 points percentage.

The IceHogs have lost eight of their last ten games. They have just five wins in their last 22 games. They are giving up a league-worst 3.53 goals per game and scoring at just a 2.47 goals per game clip.

Rockford surrenders just over 30 shots per game; again that doesn’t tell the whole story. This team gives up tons of prime scoring chances. Carruth and Johansson have seen a steady stream of odd-man rushes, deflections in front of the net, and defensive-zone turnovers.

I’m sure you’re sick of reading this, but this year’s Hogs are out-manned most nights. If Glass comes aboard and is able to snap this squad back to life, more power to him.

However, instead of piling the team’s troubles on Carruth because he is perceived as unlikable, perhaps some of the blame for Rockford’s woes can be shared by some of the nice guys who seem to be mailing it in at this point.

Before I wind this up, let me just shout from the mountaintops (or at least Scales Mound) that while Carruth is not winning a Venezia Trophy anytime soon, he isn’t single-handedly decimating this franchise with his play. He more than belongs on this team and at this level of hockey.

All right…and now for this week’s game recaps…

 

This Week’s Game Recaps

No lines this week…Gustafsson came back from an injury Friday and was shaking off rust all weekend. Nick Mattson was returned to Indy. Nick Schmaltz went back up to the Blackhawks.

Friday, January 13-San Diego 3, Rockford 2 (OT)

The Hogs tied the game in the third period to pick up a point and appeared to have won the contest in Gus Macker Time. Alas, it was not to be…

The IceHogs power play notched the game’s first goal 8:26 into the first. Kyle Baun was the man in front of the net when the rebound from Ville Pokka’s shot was left there by Gulls net-minder Kevin Boyle. Baun cleaned up for his sixth of the season and a 1-0 Rockford advantage.

The second period saw San Diego put up a pair of goals near the midway point. Brandon Montour caught the upper right corner of Mac Carruth’s net from above the right circle to tie the game at the 7:19 mark. At 10:38, Nick Sorensen knocked in a deflected puck into the net to put the Gulls up 2-1 after 40 minutes.

Rockford knotted the game 7:36 into the third, thanks to Luke Johnson. Johnson got to a long rebound of a Mark McNeill shot and cued the horn from the right dot. That’s how things stood after regulation.

It appeared that Carruth, who had made several highlight-reel saves to keep the score down, would be rewarded with the win. Right after the overtime faceoff, Montour fell down. Tyler Motte got the the puck and drove to the San Diego net. Boyle stopped the shot, but Jake Dowell put back the rebound for a Rockford winner…or not.

The call on the ice was that Motte had run into Boyle, negating the goal. It sure looked like Motte was pushed into the goalie by Montour. However, the decision stood. Thirty seconds later, Montour got the puck in the high slot, skated in, and fired low past Carruth to end the game.

 

Saturday, January 14-Grand Rapids 5, Rockford 2

This one got away from the Hogs early; three first-period goals by the Griffins proved to be too much for Rockford.

Grand Rapids took a 1-0 lead 7:07 into the first on a Dan Renouf tally. In the 14th minute, Erik Gustafsson skated back to his net and promptly turned over the puck to Mike Borkowski. 2-0 Giffins.

A late power play resulted in a Martin Frk goal with 14 seconds left in the period. The Hogs skated into intermission down three and went down 4-0 in the opening minute of the second. Tomas Nosek beat Carruth from the slot and in came Lars Johansson.

Rockford was able to come up with a pair of goals later in the period. Evan Mosey, who played as a defenseman for long stretches Saturday, got a shot by Griffins goalie Cal Heeter at the 13:12 mark. Two minutes later, Kyle Baun maneuvered into the slot and fired a shot that hit the right post, glanced off of the back of Heeter and tumbled into the net. This gave the fans some hope as the Hogs cut the lead to 4-2.

The IceHogs comeback was thwarted in the fifth minute as Ben Street collected his own rebound and beat Johansson for the fifth Griffins goal.

 

Looking Ahead

Rockford will again host Grand Rapids in a Monday matinee before departing to Cleveland to begin a four-game road trip. The Hogs take on the Monsters on Wednesday and Friday before traveling to San Antonio for the first of two games Sunday afternoon.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter as I weigh in on the latest developments in Rockford all season long.

 

 

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