Sunday was originally scheduled to be a day off for the St. John’s IceCaps, but days off aren’t apparently fixed in stone for teams with long to-do lists.
So even though the practice ice at Mile One was not available to them yesterday morning, the dressing room area was populated by IceCaps players, who are preparing for a mid-week series against the Hamilton Bulldogs and reviewing two weekend games with the Albany Devils, a 4-3 IceCaps shootout win Friday and a Devils 5-3 victory Saturday.
The series with the Devils revealed many of the chores in store for the IceCaps: shoring up defensive zone coverage, improvement of face-off performance, coming up with a concerted start-to-finish effort and perhaps a complete overhaul of a power play that is most definitely broken.
And even though it’s not a hands-on, blueprintable job as much as it is a potential byproduct of all those other needed repairs, the IceCaps need to find a way to win the second game of those two-game series that make up their home schedule.
St. John’s fans are all too familiar with the pattern — IceCaps win the first game of a two-game series against an opponent at Mile One; opponent responds with heightened effort and more resolve in rematch; IceCaps don’t counteract in kind; team and fans forced to settle for an unsatisfying split.
It was that same ol’ 1-2 step this weekend, this time with the Devils as the dance partner. St. John’s won in an extended twirl Friday. The Devils got their due on Saturday in a game in which the visitors never trailed after getting the opening goal five minutes after the opening face-off.
That makes it four times in four two-game home series this season that the IceCaps have experienced a similar win-loss result.
“Personally, I don’t think so. It shouldn’t be,” answered veteran defenceman Dean Arsene when asked if the back-to-back games at home made raising the level of intensity difficult.
“We’ve all done this for a long time, whether it’s college, junior or pro. A lot of teams have to play three-in-threes, so it’s no excuse playing back-to-back. If anything, we’re lucky to only have to play back-to-back as opposed to three-in-three, so there’s no excuse for not coming out and playing hard every shift.”
On Saturday, Darcy Zajac scored twice and Devils’ goaltender Jeff Frazee made 42 saves in a game whose score and shot count (45-33 in favour of St. John’s) disguised the fact that St. John’s never really seemed to be in reach of a point or two.
Even after the IceCaps’ Jason Gregoire scored at 13:35 of the third to make it 5-3, or when the Devils were tagged with back-to-back minors in the last 100 seconds of the game, providing the home side with a two-man advantage, St. John’s didn’t seem to have the momentum for a comeback.
The latter sequence of penalty calls against Albany, combined with IceCaps’ goalie Mark Dekanich being pulled for an extra attacker, led to a situation where St. John’s had six skaters to three for Albany, but even though they managed a series of shots on Frazee — contributing to a 22-8 shots advantage for St. John’s in the third — the IceCaps never displayed the combination of urgency and accuracy required in such desperate circumstances.
“We needed that for the full game, from the start right to the finish,” said St. John’s head coach Keith McCambridge. “The game was out of reach by then. By that point, trying to score six-on-three and you still can’t get it in the back of the net … that’s exactly the way the guys performed tonight.”
St. John’s would officially finish the night zero-for-eight on the power play, leaving them on a two-for-53 streak in man-advantage opportunities. But McCambridge said his team’s shortcomings extend beyond its power-play woes.
“It is frustrating when you don’t have that consistency in the game. Not enough guys pushing the same way at the same time in the game,” he said.
“Guys walking in from the blueline and falling down. A guy is in the corner by himself and falling down. It’s stuff you can’t draw up. It’s frustrating where the guys don’t have their games anywhere where they need to be.”
McCambridge brought Gregoire and Aaron Gagnon into the lineup Saturday, the latter having been sidelined with a nagging rib injury. Derek Whitmore and Kevin Clark were healthy scratches as the result. With the lineup changes came some line shuffling — Gregoire and Gagnon joining Jason Jaffray on one unit, while the struggling Spencer Machacek and Ben Maxwell were placed with Alex Burmistrov.
With Patrice Cormier, Jason King and Hunter Tremblay all injured, McCambridge’s choices for the front line are reduced, but says the panic button that sends lights flashing at the IceCaps’ ECHL affiliate in Colorado haven’t been pushed.
“I have talked to our general manager, Craig Heisinger,” said the St. John’s coach. “We had discussions about that about a week-and-a-half ago. We always keep on tabs on how the guys are playing down there, so those are guys we are watching closely, but no knee-jerk decision has taken place.”
On Sunday, Ivan Telegin and Maxime Macenauer had the other goals for St. John’s, which saw its record fall below .500 to 7-8.
Albany (4-5-4) got the rest of its scoring from NHL-experienced players Adam Larsson, Jacob Josefson and Bobby Butler.
Adam Henrique of Albany and St. John’s captain Jaffray each had two assists.