By Robin Short
Telegram Sports Editor—Springfield, Mass.
The Springfield Falcons, American Hockey League doormats for much of the past dozen years, pulled the rug out from under the St. John’s IceCaps Saturday on opening-night for both clubs.
Sad-sack Springfield no more, it was the Falcons who controlled play for most of the game, scoring a pair of power play goals en route to a 4-2 win before 6,151 at the MassMutual Centre.
The AHL affiliate for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Springfield has missed the playoffs 10 of the last 11 years, its only post-season appearance coming eight years ago.
The IceCaps, of course, enjoyed a storybook inaugural season in 2011-12, reaching the Eastern Conference final.
Saturday, however, the Falcons who were by far the superior team, bolstered by key additions from the Blue Jackets as a result of the lockout, namely Ryan Johansen, Tomas Kubalik and Matt Calvert, not to mention a pair of players who arrived via the Rick Nash trade with the New York Rangers, Tim Erixon and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault.
The latter led the Connecticut Whale in scoring last year.
“We know this is a very good league this year,” said IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge, “and teams have players with NHL experience, players who would be bubble guys in the NHL.
“The competition level is very high this year.”
True, but the fact is the IceCaps weren’t very good either. While the shot clock doesn’t generally paint the big picture, there is some description in the fact Springfield was outshooting St. John’s 25-13 after two periods.
“They had speed, they had a lot of energy to start with their home opener,” McCambridge said. “They were winning loose-puck battles, and we didn’t get a chance to establish a forecheck, getting pucks behind their defencemen.”
Calvert, Kubalik, Ryan Craig and Dalton Smith scored the Falcons. Carl Klingberg and Hunter Tremblay replied for the IceCaps.
In a period in which Springfield outshot St. John’s 10-3, the IceCaps struck first as Klingberg picked up where he left off at training camp — he had two goals in his final pre-season tilt against the Syracuse Crunch — driving to the net and shoveling the puck past goaltender Curtis McElhinney, a power play marker at the 8:03 mark.
It would be the only lead St. John’s would enjoy on this Saturday night, as Craig redirected Erixon’s blast from the point exactly eight minutes later on a Falcons’ power play.
If the IceCaps were looking for the spark they needed in the second period, Calvert poured water on those plans, finishing off a two-on-one break with Kubalik 19 seconds in.
Smith padded the Falcons’ lead, netting his first pro goal at 13:24 when he emerged from the corner and skated untouched to Eddie Pasquale, lifting a backhand over the St. John’s goalie with rookie IceCaps defencemen Ben Chiarot and Julian Melchiori looking bewildered.
McCambridge shook up his lines a little in the third, moving rookie Ivan Telegin with fellow Russian Alex Burmistrov and switching up centres Patrice Cormier and Maxime Macenauer.
The moves looked to have paid off as Tremblay drew St. John’s to within one goal, but Kubalik iced it at the 15:15 mark.
St. John’s had a glorious opportunity to get back in the game early in the third, when penalties to Erixon and David Savard had the IceCaps playing five-on-three hockey for just over a minute.
But no such luck.
“If you don’t score with a five-on-three, it’s really tough to win games,” McCambridge said. “Usually you come out on the wrong end.
“It was a pivotal part of the game, a chance to get ourselves back in the game and we didn’t.
“Was is the reason we lost? No. I thought the first and second periods, not giving ourselves a chance to retrieve pucks, not giving ourselves a chance to generate offence, that put us behind them to start.”
Pasquale finished the night with 29 saves. The IceCaps tested McElhinney 25 times.
The IceCaps’ brief two-game road trip to open the season continues today in Hartford, Conn., against the Connecticut Whale.
Game time is 4:30 p.m. Newfoundland time (930AM, stjohnsicecaps.com).