Sometime in the future, the St. John’s IceCaps might better appreciate the point they earned in American Hockey League play Sunday evening at Mile One Centre.
After all, they had struggled against a frugal, tight-checking Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins team. They had skated through the minefield that was their own power-play, one that had been giving up more goals than it produced. They had endured rare booing from their own fans. Nevertheless, they had maintained their “white flag be dammed,” never-quit team personality and someone how found a way to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the latter stages of the third period to force overtime.
Only to lose 4-3.
The Penguins won Sunday on a goal by centre Ben Street 1:33 into the extra frame, adding to what certainly wasn’t a high-point weekend for the home side, which had dropped a 6-4 decision to Wilkes-Barre the night before at Mile One.
But team captain Jason Jaffray held up Sunday’s point as something worthwhile.
“You have take something out of coming back from 3-1. It would have been easy to pack it in and say ‘We’ll get them next week,’ but we didn’t,” said Jaffray, whose power-play goal at 13:50 of the third period had tied the game 3-3.
IceCaps’ head coach Keith McCambridge also chose to spotlight the merits of the third-period comeback.
“It shows what’s in that room,” said McCambridge. “We just played four games in six nights and to dig down to find the energy to take that game to overtime, those guys have nothing to hang their heads about.”
Spencer Machacek and Ben Maxwell also scored for St. John’s (22-10-5-1), which moved into sole possession of second place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference with the point.
Bryan Lerg, with his second shorthanded tally in as many days, Paul Thompson and Geoff Walker had the regulation-time goals for the Penguins, who improved to 22-12-1-4.
Both teams had scoring opportunities in the final minutes of regulation, but couldn’t beat netminders Scott Munroe of Wilkes-Barre or Eddie Pasquale of St. John’s. And Caps defenceman Zach Redmond was denied by Munroe on an in-close opportunity just before Street’s goal.
That winning tally came when Joey Mormina’s shot from the point hit Pasquale’s stick, bounced off the Street’s leg and into the net.
“You could see that one coming. As soon as the guy shot it, you knew it was going to hit something in front,” said Jaffray.
“You know it’s one Squalls would like to have back, but it wasn’t his fault at all.”
If there was blame for the weekend result, it would have to start with the IceCap’s power-play. Yes, it did produce Jaffray’s goal Sunday and one of four Caps’ markers in Saturday’s loss, but the Penguins also scored four shorthanded markers in the series. Three came on Saturday — one when Street was successful on a penalty shot awarded during a St. John’s power play — and the other two in a 21-second span in the third period.
Compounding the IceCaps’ woes was the power-play’s performance Sunday during a 1:58 stretch in the third period when the Penguins were tagged with four consecutive minors. But St. John’s couldn’t convert during the resulting extensive power play, some of which was five-on-three. There would have been more two-man-advantage time, but in the midst of it all, Caps’ forward Spencer Machacek was sent off for holding.
“I was talking to some people before the game and we were saying special teams are always going to be the difference, and special teams were the difference over the last couple of days,” said Jaffray.
“There’s was better than ours and that’s why they won.”
The IceCaps were without star defenceman and power-play stalwart Paul Postma for the series — he was recalled by the parent Winnipeg Jets late Friday. But McCambridge would not blame St. John’s weekend power-play struggles on Postma’s absence. He believed that, overall, fatigue was more of a factor that frustration wadded to it during the third period Sunday.
In fact, McCambridge says the team — which leaves for a road trip later this week — won’t work on the power play in upcoming practices any more than it has the rest of the season.
There may be some fans who might argue with his assessment. It’s not often the IceCaps have heard boos at home, but they did Sunday during the non-producing power play. And the calls of “Shoot the puck!!!” were steady.
“I heard it all night,everytime I had the puck,” said defenceman Jason DeSantis, who saw extensive the time on the point during power plays.
“You kind of have to block it out. Sometimes it’s hard for the fans to see what’s (happening) on the ice where I’m at. But that’s part of the game.
“Tonight, they (the Penguins) did a good job getting in the lanes. Obviously, they do their pre-scouting. I didn’t have many options (to shoot). There was a guy in front of me all the time.”
And McCambridge was succinct in answering a question about fans’ pleas for more shots.
“If my guys are reading off the crowd as to when to shoot the puck, that’s not how we run our power play,” he said.
Notes: Sunday’s game was the last of a six-game homestead for St. John’s, which is 10-9-3 at Mile One as opposed to 12-1-3 on the road. But that’s not a one-team anomaly in the AHL, where nine clubs — including the Penguins — sport better records in away games than they do at home. The Penguins — who have won seven straight on the road — are 16-3-0-2 when they travel and just 6-9-1-2 at the Mohegan Sun Arena … In both weekend games, Penguins’ head coach John Hynes used a special starting lineup that included Ben Street, a second-generation Newfoundlander, as well as three players who from the Maritimes: forward Zach Sill and defenceman Alex Grant, both from Nova Scotia, and Geoff Walker, from Prince Edward Island … Scott Munroe turned in a solid performance in the Penguins’ goal Sunday, stopping 37 shots. The Penguins sent 35 shots Eddie Pasquale’s way … Sunday’s Molson Cup stars of the game: 1. Street, with a goal and an assist; 2. IceCaps’ captain Jason Jaffray; 3. Penguins’ veteran Jason Williams, who had two assists, one coming on the game-winner … Street and Sill, whose family lived for three years in Conception Bay South while he was a pre-schooler, had large groups of relatives and friends in the Mile One stands for both games ...