The St. John’s IceCaps are 9-1 in their last 10 games, first in the American Hockey League, and winning games on home ice where the all-important special teams are actually half-decent.
Say, what route is that Calder Cup parade taking, anyway?
“I don’t think we should be talking championships quite yet,” grinned IceCaps captain Jason Jaffray Sunday afternoon, after St. John’s dismantled the Binghamton Senators 6-3 to close out a six-game homestand with five wins and a loss.
“That’s a long ways away and there are many things that can happen: callups, injuries, the (Winnipeg) Jets can make the playoffs.”
The IceCaps captain, one of the longest-serving players on the St. John’s roster with 10 years pro experience, has been around long enough to know it’s a bit premature to talk league titles 50 games into a 76-game schedule.
But heck, it sure is fun to speculate, especially with the murmurs from 6,287 strong flocking to Mile One Centre nightly, who just can’t help but wonder if something special looms over the horizon, just as it did way back in 1991-92 when the first-year St. John’s Maple Leafs went all the way to the Calder Cup final.
“There are many different situations that can happen from here until April,” Jaffray said. “That said, I think everybody’s confident. You can’t be cocky, but you have to be confident. We have that.
“We have a lot of hard-working guys and we’re tough to play against. We know that if we put our best game out there, we can challenge any team in this league.”
The 32-15-5-1 IceCaps were no match for the 20-27-2-1 Senators Sunday afternoon as St. John’s potted three power play goals against the reigning Calder Cup champs.
That was a stark contrast to Saturday’s game, when the IceCaps regrouped from a messy second period to unleash a 23-shot barrage on Senators goalie Robin Lehner and pull out a 4-3 win.
Two games, two different storylines: Saturday, the IceCaps rebounded from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits for the win, and Sunday, St. John’s finally got its undistinguished power play working.
Jaffray and Ben Maxwell both scored a pair of goals Sunday, both of Jaffray’s coming with the man advantage. Saturday, the veteran from Alberta notched a shorthanded goal. Jason King, who also scored the game-winner with 1:20 to go in regulation time in the series-opener, and Carl Klingberg also scored for St. John’s. Jason DeSantis had two assists.
Josh Godfrey, Jack Downing and Derek Grant had the Bingo goals.
Before splitting with the Worcester Sharks and sweeping the Providence Bruins and Senators — granted, the Bruins are a sub-.500 team and the Sens are dead last in the league — the IceCaps were struggling at a 10-9-3-0 clip at Mile One.
“We’ve been juggling a lot of people,” Jaffray said, “with guys in Winnipeg and injuries. We’re just getting a little chemistry with the lines again.
“We’ve got the skill on the ice to have a good power play and be good at home. It’s just of matter of getting in the mindset of going out and doing it.
“There are many different excuses you can use, but we’ve got a good enough team here. We’ve got to get in the mindset to put the hammer down on teams and take advantage of how good we are. We’re a very good, hard-working team, but we’re not going to get by on pure skill.”
The IceCaps played Sunday’s game without Brett Festerling (knee), Patrice Cormier (leg) and Jason Gregoire (shoulder), all of whom are listed as day to day.
Things are not so clear with Marco Rosa, who hasn’t played since Dec. 18 and is sidelined with a concussion. John Albert, hit from behind last weekend in the series against the Sharks, is also having concussion-like symptoms.
Riley Holzapfel also missed Saturday’s game, but he was a healthy scratch as coach Keith McCambridge opted to use ECHL callup Michael Forney.
McCambridge wouldn’t be drawn into any speculation regarding the IceCaps and their playoff chances.
It’s too early, he said. And besides, there’s a tough slug ahead in March with 15 games scheduled, including nine on the road.
NOTES: Both of Ben Maxwell goals Sunday were of Gretzky-like fashion, banking them off the goaltender. His first goal, early in the second period, came when he banked a shot off Senators goalie Mike McKenna’s skate from just behind the net. On his second goal, Maxwell was also behind the net when he banked a shot off Robin Lehner, who had replaced McKenna in the third … The Coors Light three stars Sunday were 1. Ben Maxwell 2. Jason Jaffray 3. Jason DeSantis … The Mary Browns hardest working player was rookie Eric O’Dell … Speaking of rookies, Carl Klingberg finished the night with a goal, plus-two rating and five shots on goal … After three straight starts, Eddie Pasquale took a seat in favour of David Aebischer and veteran Swiss goalie made 22 saves on 25 shots Sunday …