IceCaps need corner boys

Brendan McCarthy
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McCambridge looking for grittier performance in Game 3, and that could mean changes

Wilkes-Barre, Pa. - There's a good chance there will be at least one lineup change for the St. John's IceCaps when they take on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins tonight in Game 3 of their American Hockey League second-round playoff series.

IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge said after a Friday practice in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., that his team needs to get grittier against the Penguins if it wants to regain the lead in the conference semifinal. The best-of-seven matchup is tied 1-1 after the Penguins thoroughly outplayed St. John's en route to a 3-1 win Wednesday night at Mile One Centre,

"They're a big physical team and it's a matter of us looking for ways to handle that physicality, especially down low," said McCambridge of Wilkes-Barre, whose lineup doesn't feature a defenceman shorter than six-foot-two.

In that regard, the most likely candidate for insertion would seem to be left-shooting forward Maxime Macenauer, who hasn't played since the second game of St. John's opening-round series against the Syracuse Crunch. The six-foot, 203-pound Macenauer, who can play centre and the wing, appeared in 29 games for the NHL's Anaheim Ducks earlier this season and is known as an industrious player who will work the corners. St. John's fans haven't had much of a chance to assess Macenauer's game, however. Injuries limited him to nine regular-season contests with the IceCaps after he was acquired in a mid-season trade that saw the Winnipeg Jets send Riley Holzapfel to Anaheim.

If Macenauer comes in - and even if he doesn't - also look for some tinkering to the overall makeup of the IceCaps' lines.

"We need balance, for guys who will play against their physical D down low and also to have a skill set on each line as well," said McCambridge. "I'll talk to the other coaches and process the information we have and see where where it goes from there."

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Veteran winger Jason King did not practise Friday, but McCambridge indicated that doesn't mean the IceCaps' leading goal scorer in the regular-season won't play tonight (8:35 p.m. NT, CJYQ 930 AM, TSN Winnipeg 1290.)

"Just a maintenance day," answered the coach when asked about King's absence.

In fact, King said he would have gladly played Thursday, the night after the IceCaps' disappointing performance in Game 2 at Mile One.

"I'd love to play them right away ... as soon as possible. It's tough coming off a win sometimes because there's often a little letdown, but coming off a loss, especially the way we lost, you can use that feeling to generate the response you need. They certainly did it," said King, referring to the Penguins, who bounced back from a 3-1 defeat in Tuesday's series-opener to get a win the following night.

McCambridge agrees a three-day break was probably not ideal for St. John's, given Wednesday's result and the IceCaps' performance in the game.

"It would have been nice to get a quick day and back at it, to use that focused energy that comes from the guys knowing they weren't good enough," said the coach.

"(The team's performance) wasn't anywhere where it needs to be for the playoffs. And that's something we're going to fix."

However, he agrees the "fix" will, in large part depend on the players themselves.

"There's a good portion that has to come from the individual and from the room realizing they didn't play a strong game," said McCambridge. "We're counting on that to happen."

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Towards the end of Wednesday's game, King and Wilkes-Barre rearguard Robert Bortuzzo were sent off with five-minute majors for a scrap that ended quickly when the two tumbled to the ice after hooking up.

"I wouldn't say it was frustration," said the six-foot, 185-pound King of his willingness to tangle with the six-foot-four, 210-pound Bortuzzo.

"It was just the two of us have been going at it pretty good for the first two games. That seems to be the matchup they want ... they want to get him against our line and we've had some pretty good battles. Yeah, we were a little bit frustrated about how the game went but it was more that we were just hacking each other before the faceoff and I thought it (the fight) needed to be done."

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With the next three games of the series in Wilkes-Barre, a St. John's player with extra motivation is defenceman Jason DeSantis, who played 19 games with the AHL Penguins last season.

The 26-year-old DeSantis makes no secret of the fact that he considers 2010-11 to be "a waste of year" for him.

"I knew I could play in the league, but I was spending a lot of time sitting behind guys I knew I could play ahead of," said DeSantis who split last season between the AHL's Penguins and ECHL's Wheeling Nailers.

"It was one of those things. I didn't get played. I was a healthy scratch a lot and you don't get better sitting in the stands, especially in a league you know you can play in,"

DeSantis was never drafted and was operating on an AHL contract within the Penguins' system in 2010-11 and agrees those factors "probably has a lot to do" with his situation with Wilkes-Barre.

Then again, he's on an AHL deal this year, one that saw him register 11 goals and 43 points in 62 games for St. John's, finishing eighth in scoring by AHL defenceman and third overall on the team.

"For sure, anytime you have a good year, it has to help, but I'm not thinking about that right now," said DeSantis when asked how those numbers might translate as he seeks out a new contract.

"I'm not going to do anything with that until the season's over. Hopefully, that's not for a while."

bmcc@thetelegram.com Twitter@telybrendan

 

Organizations: IceCaps, Penguins, American Hockey League NHL Winnipeg Jets

Geographic location: St. John's, Wilkes-Barre, Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Anaheim

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