When you’re wearing a letter on the upper left of your jersey, it can help to be a good talker. But sooner or later, you have to be a doer, too. You know, that words/action, sound-level thing.
After talking on Tuesday, St. John’s IceCaps’ captain Jason Jaffray was a doer Wednesday, having a hand in all of his team’s goals in a 3-2 push-back win over the Toronto Marlies at Mile One Centre.
The Marlies had defeated the IceCaps 4-2 on Tuesday at Mile One with a solid effort that cast an exposing light on a less-than stellar showing by the home side. Or as Jaffray said, they outworked and outplayed the Caps, plain and simple.
On Wednesday, he didn’t have to reiterate the message, just played his part — a big one — in a role reversal. On Tuesday, the Marlies scored twice in the opening two minutes, but a night later, it was the IceCaps who took control from the get-go and set the tone.
“You could just kind of sense the desperation in the dressing room. And right from the start, we were a desperate team,” said Jaffray, who registered his 10th goal of the season Wednesday and set up markers by Shawn Weller and Jason King.
With the win, St. John’s (22-9-5) gained a share of the Eastern Conference lead and second-place overall in the American Hockey League. More importantly perhaps, the home side passed a mid-term test against a very good, very determined Marlies team, one which qualifies as the IceCaps’ arch-rival despite being a non-conference opponent. St. John’s won’t hit the halfway mark of its season until it finishes off a six-game homestand against the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins Saturday and Sunday, but has already squared off with Northern Division-leading Toronto seven times.
Friction? Oh yeah. Sick of seeing each other? You know it.
So after Wednesday’s game, as Jaffray spoke on how the IceCaps feel about the Marlies, he didn’t qualify his remarks and didn’t use words like “dislike.” He cut right to the chase.
“You learn to hate teams like this. When you play them (a lot) in a short period of time, you learn to hate them,” said Jaffray.
Then again, he noted, that level of aversion is also based on a healthy amount of respect.
“They’re a great hockey team,” Jaffray stated. “There’s reason they’re at the top of their division. They keep kind of adding pieces to the puzzle and they seem to keep getting better as we play them.
“So I’m kind of happy to dismiss them for a while.”
Kyle Neuber, with his first point in 26 games this season, and Greg Scott, who scored in the last minute of the third period with goalie Mark Owuya on the bench for an extra attacker, had the goals for Toronto (20-14-5), which finishes off its eight-game regular-season schedule against St. John’s next month at Ricoh Coliseum.
With Jussi Rynnas on the sidelines after getting hit on the head by a Paul Postma shot Tuesday, Owuya got the start Wednesday and made 35 saves. His play in the first period, when his team was outshot 17-6, but only gave up a power-play goal by Weller, kept the visitors in it. And when Neuber, whose only notable stat coming into the game was his total of 88 penalty minutes, scored a lovely goal on a deke of David Aebischer early in the second period, you could feel some frazzling of hometown nerves. But Jaffray restored the lead eight minutes later, King scored his team-leading 12th tally of the season on a perfectly-placed spin-and-shoot 19 seconds into the third and the IceCaps persevered for a win, getting very good work from Aebischer, who made a total of 23 saves — not many of them easy — and a couple of big stops on breakaways.
It was a fourth straight start for Aebischer, who had lasted only one period Tuesday after giving up three goals. But St. John’s head coach Keith McCambridge insisted the hook decision had nothing to do with the veteran goalie’s work and that Aebischer deserved to get the call Wednesday.
He responded and so did his teammates.
“Tonight, we had the execution, we had the effort. We had everything you need to win games,” said McCambridge.
Whether they’ll have enough healthy bodies, that may be another thing. Weller, only recently returned to action, was forced from the game shortly after taking a big hit from Neuber. And neither Riley Holzapfel or Marco Rosa, who haven’t played in 2012, is ready to return from injury.
Ben Maxwell finished serving a two-game AHL suspension for a boarding major, meaning he will be available for the games against the Penguins, but the IceCaps may be facing recalls by the parent Winnipeg Jets, who are dealing with their own health concerns. Winger Tanner Glass, defenceman Zach Bogosian and centre Alexandre Burmistrov are all listed as questionable for the Jets’ home game tonight against the San Jose Sharks.
Winnipeg is already missing rearguards Dustin Byfuglien and Derek Meech.
“I’m a little concerned that we’re starting to thin out,” said McCambridge, whose only healthy scratch — other than Maxwell — on Wednesday was defenceman Zach Redmond, replaced in the lineup by rookie Ben Chiarot.