It appears that the NHL lockout has caused ripples that are now being felt all through various professional hockey leagues. The St. Louis Blues aren’t immune, and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen, are caught in the mix.
The Rivermen opened their pre-season schedule against fellow Illinois clubs, the Chicago Wolves and the Rockford IceHogs. The Rivermen took two of their three pre-season games, although their first against the Wolves had to come at the hands of a shootout win. The Rivermen took their second against Chicago a few nights later, only to drop the perfect pre-season with a loss to Rockford.
Any good hockey fan knows that the pre-season performances are called ‘pre-season’ for a reason; it’s a coin flip if those early games are predictors of the regular or post-season outcomes.
However, in this strange hockey season, we can find clues as to Peoria’s promise.
Peoria’s first pre-season game, won at home, was the first of many tests for goaltender Paul Karpowich. Karpowich walled out the final four shooters of the shootout to seal the win for the Rivermen. But Karpowich was put in net at the beginning of the third period to replace Jake Allen. Allen stood tall on 12 of 13 shots in the first two periods, while Karpowich kept eight shots out of the net before heading into overtime.Mike McKenna held strong in Peoria’s second pre-season game against Chicago and stopped 32 of 34 to get the win. Allen stood alone for the entire third game against Rockford and faced 29 shots.
Peoria’s goaltending is showing signs of solidarity. None of Peoria’s pre-season games were blow-outs for either victory or defeat, which could mean good news. If the netminding can be stable on a nightly basis, it can serve as a trusted foundation for the rest of the players on the ice to rely on and believe in. Players can focus on doing their job if they aren’t worrying about protecting the net.
On the other end of the scale, Peoria went 0-7 on the power play in their first game against Chicago. A weak power play can come back to steal games from Peoria later on down the road, especially for a team who isn’t afraid to get physical and draw calls.
Evidence can be seen in highlights of the two fights between Peoria and Chicago taking place in the first 15 minutes of their first pre-season game. One of them occurring just three seconds into the game.
It’s safe to say that Peoria won’t be conservative when it comes to the penalty box.
But Peoria’s special teams will have to step up come regular season. Chicago went on an early lead in Game 1 with a power play goal, 8 seconds after a minor to Brett Sonne.
Game 2 saw Jaden Schwartz bag two goals in the third period to give Peoria a 4-2 win over Chicago, with his second coming off a power play. But Chicago got the early 1-0 lead of the game off a power play of their own. Peoria’s netted two power play goals in their game against Rockford from Derek Nesbitt and Phil McRae.
In total, Peoria went 3 for 16 on the power play in the pre-season. Aggression like that won’t be enough when viewing the big picture of the regular season. Peoria will need to take more of an advantage of their man-up time if they are eyeing a post-season slot.
The Rivermen open their regular season on the road against the Abbotsford Heat on October 12 and 13.