The Chicago Blackhawks experimented with wing Jimmy Hayes at the center position while he and other 'Hawks players toil in Rockford. Hayes has moved back to his regular spot, but has been silent from a scoring standpoint for the better part of the last month.
I commented to a friend late in the IceHogs' 4-1 win at home over Milwaukee Saturday night that Hayes has not made a lot of offensive noise lately. A quick check of the stats shows the big forward to be in the middle of a lenghthy slump.
Hayes had a pair of assists Dec. 1 in Charlotte and has not registered a point since. That covers 11 games, including Rockford's loss in Grand Rapids Dec. 31.
Hayes has six goals and nine assists so far in 30 games, many of which he spent in the middle as 'Hawks management sent word to Rockford coach Ted Dent. The trial run ended when the Blackhawks told Dent to get Andrew Shaw back to center and Hayes has not been the same player since.
Team Improvement Evident From A Year Ago: The IceHogs trail Grand Rapids in the AHL's Midwest Division after dropping Monday's game by two points. Rockford's 36 points put them in the eighth spot in the Western Conference, but that represents a huge improvement over last year at this time.
Rockford was 11-17-1-3 a year ago compared to this season's 17-14-1-1 mark. In each of the last two seasons, the IceHogs languished near the bottom of the AHL before heating up in the spring. This year's club is just five points from the top of the conference. Being in the hunt is a fresh vantage point to say the least.
Winners of three of their last four, the IceHogs travel to Ontario for games with Hamilton, who is in the conference basement, and Toronto, who is on the top.
More Success Within The Division: Rockford started the season with a single victory in its first eight division games. Things had to get better against familiar opponents and they have in a big way.
Before dropping Monday's game, the IceHogs were 6-3-0-1 in Midwest match ups over their last 10 games. Rockford fell to 1-3 against the division-leading Griffins, though all four games have been in Grand Rapids. Rockford finally gets the chance to host the Griffins on Jan. 9.
Lalonde's Stock Dropping Fast: Chicago's third-round selection in 2008, defenseman Shawn Lalonde, scored 32 points in his first season as a pro back in 2010-11. Since then, Lalonde has slid down the totem pole as a blue line prospect.
After a dismal campaign last year that saw him score just 13 points in 64 games, Lalonde may be finding himself on the way out of the organization. The 22-year-old has a pair of goals and five assists for the IceHogs this season and has been a healthy scratch for six straight games.
Nick Leddy and Adam Clendening are providing the offense from the blue line that Lalonde was projected to have when drafted. Lalonde's defense has never been his calling card and now at least two players are in Rockford with better offensive upside.
Lalonde is likely hoping for better luck in the new year, but he will have to get on the ice on a regular basis first. With Brett Lebda signing a second 25-game contract with the IceHogs and Joe Lavin nearing a return from an arm injury in the next few weeks, it's doubtful that he will get that chance.
Hutton Getting Into A Groove: Goalie Carter Hutton had a solid December in net, posting a 2.44 goals against average and a .923 save percentage in 12 games. He was 7-5 in that span while starting all but one contest this month.
The Blackhawks signed Hutton in order to give the IceHogs a strong starter between the pipes. He currently is second among AHL goalies in minutes played and has started 27 of his team's 33 games, which leads the league in games played.
The IceHogs are going to sink or swim with the 27-year-old net minder. If Hutton has shaken off a November that saw him pulled twice for Alec Richards, Rockford could make a run as we reach the midway point of the AHL season.