It’s quite simple, really, Keith McCambridge suggested Saturday night, after his St. John’s IceCaps dropped a third straight American Hockey League game.
“At the end of the day,” the IceCaps’ coach said after a 4-2 loss to the Springfield Falcons, “if you’re going to have success and you’re going to win games, your best players have to be your best players.
“And that’s not consistently taking place for us.”
With the Hershey Bears on deck, scheduled to meet the IceCaps Tuesday and Wednesday at Mile One Centre, St. John’s is reeling, with Saturday’s loss dropping the IceCaps below .500 at 11-12-0-1.
Saturday’s loss was the first time the IceCaps have been swept at home, not that Mile One has provided the club with invincibility. St. John’s is yet to sweep a series, either.
The IceCaps gave it the ol’ college try against a superior Falcons team over the weekend, one that now sits atop the East, and second overall in the league to the Abbotsford Heat.
Friday night, after the IceCaps had taken a 1-0 lead after the first period, the Falcons scored three unanswered second period goals.
But the IceCaps rallied to tie the game until Cam Atkinson, the little dynamo who is among the AHL’s scoring leaders, went to work with a pair of goals.
Saturday night, Springfield led 3-1 until late in the third period when Paul Postma narrowed the gap to 3-2 with a power play marker.
St. John’s pressed, but Ryan Johansen, boosted by a cheering section of relatives from Grand Bank, scored an empty-netter and dashed any hopes of a St. John’s comeback.
All in all, a good effort, especially in light of the fact the IceCaps hit at least five posts in the two games, and played Saturday night with nine players in the infirmary.
But a loss is a loss is a loss …
And the Falcons, AHL doormats for the past 10 years, have all the ingredients of a championship team — depth, speed and great goaltending (Curtis McElhinney is 13-2-2 on the year).
But about those IceCaps. For starters, Alex Burmistrov, Jason King, Jason Jaffray, Eric O’Dell, John Albert, Patrice Cormier, Hunter Tremblay, Travis Ramsey and Julian Melchiori all sat Saturday with an assortment of injuries (Melchiori broke his finger Friday night).
Not that McCambridge was using that as an excuse.
Still, though, would he like to have a crack at the Falcons with a full lineup?
“I can’t answer because I haven’t had a full lineup yet this year,” he said.
“It’s one thing to look at a team on paper and say that it matches up here and there, but I have yet to have the opportunity to have everyone in the lineup.”
Regardless of injury, however, a quick glance at the two lineups reveals two very different teams.
In addition to his eyebrow-raising win-loss record, McElhinney has a ridiculous .940 save percentage. Atkinson and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault are among the league’s scoring leaders. Johansen played in 67 NHL games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season, and has 17 points in 22 games.
John Moore is an NHL defenceman and Tim Erixon is a young star on the rise.
As for the IceCaps, their scoring co-leader is a defenceman, Derek Meech. Burmistrov, of whom much more was expected, also has 13 points.
The killer, however, are the players with little or no points, players who were/are supposed to be playing important roles with the IceCaps.
Aaron Gagnon has yet to register a single point in 16 games. Ben Maxwell has one goal in 24 games. Carl Klingberg has been his usual inconsistent self. Postma has been supplanted as the IceCaps’ best defenceman by Zach Redmond and Meech. And Spencer Machacek languished through a wicked 13-game pointless skid.
“It’s hurting us,” said McCambridge of his team’s inability to find the net consistently. “It’s concerning.
“At the end of the day, it’s not from a lack of effort with those guys, or a lack of caring. It’s not being able to finish.
“You saw open nets tonight (Saturday) could have put us in the game, or ahead in the game. Those are chances where you have to bare down and finish them. You have to have guys who are usually putting pucks in the net scoring goals for us. They have to find their game, and help us win.
“If you don’t, it’s tough to chase games and that’s what we’re doing.”
Three ECHL call-ups — Joey Sides, Shawn Wellar and Kael Mouillierat — didn’t look out of place over the weekend.
In fact, they looked pretty good, with Mouillierat scoring on his first shift Friday night.
McCambridge also liked what he saw the three, and rewarded them with plenty of ice time. But that’s not to say he’s going to dip into the ECHL for more help in an effort to shake the doldrums.
“Gagnon had a couple of chances, and I thought he was more active,” McCambridge said.
“At the end of the day, those guys have to be a big part of our success and to just wipe them off the slate and roll with other guys, well, it’s hard to have success like that.
“But messages are being sent during the game. A guy will come off a line and you add another player, which sends a message that you’re not happy with a shift a player just had.”
Which means there must be a lot of memos going up, down and around the IceCaps’ bench these days.