It was shaping up to be one delicious, entertaining matchup between two of the American Hockey League’s top teams for while there Saturday night, but once again the IceCaps had the bread but no jam for the middle, coughing up a 6-3 loss to the Toronto Marlies.
That tidy, little six-game win streak stretch back to the first of the month seems like ancient history now as the IceCaps have dropped three of their last four, including a series sweep to the Marlies, formerly known as the St. John’s Maple Leafs.
The pair of losses marked the first time the IceCaps were swept on home ice.
And a common denominator in all three losses has been a second-period collapse, the latest occurring Saturday at Mile One as Toronto outscored St. John’s 3-1 in the middle frame.
Friday, in a 4-3 overtime setback, the Marlies scored two goals in the second while the IceCaps were held off the scoreboard. And just over a week ago, when the Norfolk Admirals sailed into the Narrows and spanked St. John’s 6-2, snapping the IceCaps’ win streak at a half-dozen games, the home team allowed three unanswered goals during the middle stanza.
The IceCaps, it seems, have lately been the Oreos minus the filling.
“It wasn’t really aware of that,” said Spencer Machacek, a bright spot for the IceCaps Saturday with a pair of goals.
“That’s something I can’t explain.”
Just as they did Friday night, it was the IceCaps who struck first Saturday.
Centre Marco Rosa, who played very well in the games versus the Marlies, staked St. John’s to an early lead. Near the half-way point of the first, Nazem Kadri — by far the best player on the ice for either team over the weekend — tied things. Then Machacek scored the first of his two. Then Greg Scott wired a wrist shot from the faceoff circle past IceCaps goalie Eddie Pasquale.
Could it be last goal wins?
At 4:45 of the second, Machacek scored again. Just under three minutes later, Toronto captain Ryan Hamilton countered.
And that’s where the trend went to pieces.
The Marlies twice struck again with a pair of back-to-back goals by Marcel Mueller and Tyler Brenner within a 1:20 span.
When Jerry D’Amigo added one for good measure in the third, it was time to turn out the lights.
“We definitely let the momentum shift,” said Machecek, “and when we needed to push back, it wasn’t there.”
On Friday, Kadri struck for two unanswered goals in the second period. And while St. John’s defenceman Travis Ramsey tied the game half-way through the third, the Marlies ended it in overtime on a goal by rearguard Jeff Finger, a one-time Toronto Maple Leafs free-agent signing, now banished to the minors in a salary cap move.
So what’s up with the middle 20 minutes of late? At 12-4-4, leading the Eastern Conference and in three way tie for second place in the AHL, a point behind Oklahoma City for the overall league lead, there’s no need to start sounding alarm bells.
But it is puzzling, no?
“I think both teams,” observed St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge, “had scoring chances in the second.
“We generated scoring chances, but they put pucks in the back of the net.
“We look to build off the positives.”
Positives start with the line of Rosa, Machecek and Riley Holzapfel, which played very well in the weekend series.
The goaltending — with Peter Mannino between the pipes on Friday, and Pasquale on Saturday, in keeping with McCambridge’s trend — was adequate, although the defence might be slowing down a little with Mark Flood, Arturs Kulda and Brett Festerling, now on injured reserve, still on recall to Winnipeg (Zach Redmond and Paul Postma, in particular, logged tons of ice time over the weekend for the IceCaps).
Jason Jaffray also remains in Winnipeg, picking his point — an assist — Saturday in the Jets’ 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins.
“The structure was there tonight, the compete was there,” said McCambridge. “We got on the board early and Kevin Clark hit the post. If he scores, it’s a different game.
“We’re 20 games in, and when you take into consideration callups, and players stepping into different roles, we’re right at the stage where we want to be.”
That stage switches to Southern Ontario this weekend as the IceCaps take on the Hamilton Bulldogs and Marlies Friday night and Sunday afternoon at Copps Coliseum and Ricoh Coliseum.
St. John’s is home again Dec. 6-7 against the Syracuse Crunch.
Attendance for both weekend games at Mile One was a sold-out 6,287 … Contrary to a Canadian Press report, there weren’t any resounding boos or catcalls greeting the Marlies on their first visit to St. John’s Friday night. There had been some hype over the Marlies’ visit, given that team was once the St. John’s Maple Leafs prior to their departure following the 2004-05 hockey season ... IceCaps’ forward Patrice Cormier was showing improvement Sunday following a hit to the head in Saturday’s game. Late in the second period, Cormier was caught by a hard, but clean, check by the Marlies' Kyle Neuber near the St. John's bench. Cormier had a loose puck at his feet and was looking down at the ice when he was hit by Neuber, causing a brief skirmish. The Cap Pele, N.B. native played a shift or two after the play, but was not on the bench for the third period. St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge said Cormier was doing well Sunday, but will be monitored this morning during and after practice … Tough game for IceCaps’ defenceman Jason DeSantis Saturday, finishing minus-three … Contrasting that was St. John’s forward Spencer Machacek, who was plus-two … American Hockey League president Dave Andrews was in town for the pair of games ...