Pick a goal. Any goal.
Maybe it was Mike Zigomanis's tally just 17 seconds into the game. Or Marcel Mueller's 100 seconds later. Perhaps it was Joe Colborne's in the last minute of the opening frame, on a shot that went off an IceCaps' stick and did an agonizing loop up and over David Aebischer and into the St. John's net. Or Ryan Hamilton's marker on a breakaway with three minutes left in the second period, just after the IceCaps finally got on the scoreboard and put a little something into the hope chest.
Whatever your choice, they all hurt and collectively did enough damage to give the visiting Toronto Marlies a 4-2 win over the IceCaps in American Hockey League play at Mile One Centre Tuesday night.
It was a contest in which the IceCaps almost always appeared to be at least a little bit off their game, a shortcoming that was more evident because the Marlies seemed to be so on theirs.
"They (the Marlies) played smart aggressive hockey. They came out and showed they wanted to win," said St. John's goalie Mannino, who made 16 saves in two periods of relief.
"They were sending a message that's for sure."
The IceCaps (21-9-5), who had entered the game with the AHL's best winning/points percentage, could always appreciate their first-half success just a little more because there opponents, with almost no exception, have never played the part of the pushover. But for whatever the reason, the Northern Division-leading Marlies (20-13-5) have seemed to play St. John's that much tougher than the others, fashioning a 4-1-1 record through their first six meetings, including regulation wins in all three of their matchups at Mile One.
"I'd like to have a bunch of excuses and say those were the reasons why, but that was a simply a game where we got outplayed and outbattled all over the ice," said IceCaps' captain Jason Jaffray.
"Maybe our worst of the year.
"We're not going to out-skill teams. We have to outwork teams, but tonight we got outworked all over the ice."
For his part, St. John's head coach Keith McCambridge believed the Caps looked a bit fatigued coming off a high-paced weekend series that saw St. John's take two wins from the Manchester Monarchs at Mile One.
"I thought we looked tired right from the start and always a step behind," said McCambridge, whose post-game lamentations Tuesday were more about mental mistakes that led to turnovers and bad pinches at the line by defencemen.
As for rating the deflation factor of the Marlies' goals, McCambridge cited Colborne's as the pin in the needle, especially because at that point the IceCaps seemed to have righted the ship and plugged leaks after the Zigomanis and Mueller scored in the first two minutes of the game.
It also basically signalled the end to Aebischer's night — Mannino replaced him to start the second period — but McCambridge made it clear that his decision to sit the Swiss netminder did not indicate displeasure with his work
"None of those goals were Aebischer's fault," said McCambridge, who said he was simply looking for a way to spark his team.
Mannino made some big stops early in his relief effort and O'Dell scored St. John's first goal — and the first against Marlies' netminder Jussi Rynnas in more than eight periods — at 16:27 of the middle frame. But on the ensuing shift, a turnover at the Toronto' blueline turned into a break by Hamilton, the Marlies' captain, and he converted with a goal that certainly challenged Colborne's as the chief head-hanger.
See CAPS, page C2
Still, the IceCaps never showed quit. Maybe frustration, but never quit. Their overall effort may have been found somewhat wanting in comparison to the purposeful Marlies, and at times, it was as if they had brought the wrong tools to the worksite, but they never really pipped off the job, outshooting Toronto 16-6 in the final frame and getting an all-Jason power-play goal on a Jason King redirection of a shot by Jason Desantis, with Jaffray picking up the other assist. The goal came against Mark Owuya, who replace Rynnas five minutes into the third after the latter was hit in the head by a shot by the IceCaps' Paul Postma.
The home side squandered a couple of other power-play chances down the stretch, but overall. held an edge in the final 20 minutes. And while winning the the third period of a loss may be overrated in other circumstances, in St. John's, where the opposition is in for back-to-back games, it may have a tad more value.
"I was through this for five years in Manitoba (with the AHL's Moose)," said Jaffray, who will lead his team into a rematch with the Marlies 7:30 p.m. tonight at Mile One.
"That's the best thing. You don't have to wait a week or a month to face these guys again. You wake up the next morning knowing you'll get right back at it against the same team that night."
Notes: Tuesday's game marked the halfway point of the 2011-12 home schedule for St. John's, which has sold out all 19 games at Mile One to date ... The Marlies lost not only Rynass in the game, but forward Colton Orr, as well. Orr hobbled off the ice and didn't return after falling awkwardly on an attempted hit in the second period. Winger Jerry D'Amigo also was forced from the game in the third period ... Kevin Cheveldayoff, the general manager of the parent Winnipeg Jets, is in town for the IceCaps' series against the Marlies ... Tonight, St. John's centre Ben Maxwell will finish serving a two-game AHL suspension handed out after Maxwell picked up a boarding major and game misconduct in Saturday's win over Manchester ... Tuesday's Molson Cup three stars: 1. Ryan Hamilton, Marlies; 2. Joe Colborne, Marlies; 3. John Albert, IceCaps ... The Mary Brown's hardest-working IceCap: Peter Mannino ...