The St. John’s IceCaps found the missing spark in an ailing power play, and birthday boy Eddie Pasquale looked like the goaltender who carried the IceCaps deep into the playoffs last year in a 3-1 win over the Hamilton Bulldogs Tuesday night.
Ray Sawada redirected an Alex Burmistrov shot from the point just 1:17 in on the power play, and Derek Meech blasted his second goal of the year at 7:15 of the second, again with St. John’s enjoying the man advantage, as the IceCaps improved to 8-8 on the year in the American Hockey League with Pasquale blocking 45 shots on the day he turned 22.
The Sawada goal ended an ugly stretch of power play time for the IceCaps, one that saw the club score just twice in 56 chances.
The IceCaps, in fact, entered the game with the fifth-worst power play in the league.
“Two things,” said St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge. “We needed to get an early goal to build on, which would be key, and the fact that it came on the power play was even better.
“It was a relief to the players on that unit.”
Not to mention Pasquale.
Making his first start in four games, Pasquale was hoping for a goal — any goal — after watching the St. John’s shooters go blank in his last four games.
Yes, that’s right, the IceCaps were shut out in each of Pasquale’s last four appearances.
“Yes, I suppose a little bit,” grinned the AHL’s top rookie puckstop last year when asked if he did a little ‘Yes!’ after Sawada scored.
“To come out with a good effort was big because I hadn’t been playing well. I was on the bench the last four games, so the message was sent … and received.
“I don’t like sitting on the bench.”
Jason Gregoire also scored for St. John’s, while rookie Brendan Galagher, with his sixth, replied for Hamilton.
But before IceCaps fans start hailing a turnaround for their team, keep in mind St. John’s allowed 46 shots. Against a Bulldogs team that has only one win away from home, a team that was 14th of 15 teams in the West entering Tuesday’s game.
In fact, if not for the play of Pasquale in the second period, with 15 saves, it might well have been a tie game or even a Hamilton lead after 40 minutes, although McCambridge argues given the number of power plays (nine minors were called in the period, not including two fighting majors) there wasn’t a lot of five-on-five play.
The IceCaps’ coach maintains he was not trying to send a message to Pasquale, who entered Tuesday’s game with a 2-6 record and 3.05 goals against average.
Rather, it was a simple case of Mark Dekanich playing just a bit better.
“Deks had been making the key saves when he was playing, and Squals was sporadic,” McCambridge said. “We’ve got two good goalies, but during that period, Deks had been making strides.
“But Squals was outstanding tonight.”
Now, the IceCaps will try to finish off the Bulldogs tonight (7:30 start), which would be a first for St. John’s this season after splitting the four previous two-game homestands.
“We’ve been talking about this now for a year and a half,” McCambridge said. “We’ve got to get those points. We have to ensure our execution is higher than theirs.”
McCambridge, however, did note the IceCaps posted sweeps only five times in 19 homestands last season, the first coming Nov. 12-13 against the Connecticut Whale.
St. John’s didn’t sweep another series after that until Jan. 6-7 against the Manchester Monarchs.
“We have to win those games,” he said. “We have to find ways to get back-to-back wins in font our home crowd.”