The St. John’s IceCaps, despite a 15-18-0-1 record, are only three points out of a playoff spot in the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference with a little more than half the season completed, but IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge cautions there’s little room for error for a team struggling with consistency all year long.
“I won’t go so far as to say it’s crunch time, but we have to make sure we’re staying in the hunt for a playoff spot,” McCambridge said following practice Thursday morning. “Every game is huge for us. We have to ensure we’re keeping in the hunt, within striking distance of playoff teams and getting points every game.”
Following a 4-4 road trip, split in two by the Christmas break, the IceCaps are back on home ice tonight and Saturday evening against the 14-15-2-2 Manchester Monarchs, two spots ahead of St. John’s in the East at ninth place and just a single point (32) in front of the IceCaps.
The teams have played just once this season, with the Monarchs coming away with a 4-1 win in New Hampshire.
The IceCaps will again be without the services of centre Alex Burmistrov, out with a suspected shoulder injury. The locked-out Winnipeg Jet hasn’t played since Dec. 1, making it 12 games and counting.
“He’s still in Winnipeg, week to week,” shrugged McCambridge. “The Jets are being very cautious to ensure Burmy is where he needs to be before he starts playing again.
“We don’t have any immediate plans for him.”
Jason King (concussion) skated before practice Thursday and John Albert (back) wore a red non-contact jersey, but both won’t be available vs Manchester and are unlikely to play next weekend when the Toronto Marlies visit Mile One Centre.
Hunter Tremblay still isn’t skating as a result of his concussion, and there is no timeline on his return.
Meanwhile, a season to forget just got worse for Aaron Gagnon, who will be sidelined four to six weeks with a knee injury he suffered New Years Eve in Binghamton.
Gagnon is still looking for his first goal after 25 games this season.
“And now the injury,” said McCambridge. “On top of him trying to find his game all year, this is a tough pill to swallow.”
The matchup: St. John’s IceCaps (15-18-0-1, 11th overall in the Eastern Conference) vs Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings, 14-15-2-2, ninth in the East)
Game time: 7:30 tonight and Saturday night
TV/radio/online: Tonight’s game will be broadcast live on Rogers TV, 930AM and stjohnsicecaps.com, with Brian Rogers calling play-by-play
IceCaps’ leading scorers: Paul Postma (7 goals, 10 assists), Jason Jaffray (5 goals, 12 assists), Derek Meech (3 goals, 14 assists), Spencer Machacek (7 goals, 9 assists), Zach Redmond (8 goals, 8 assists)
Monarchs’ leading scorers: Linden Vey (8 goals, 16 assists), Tyler Toffoli (14 goals, 9 assists), Brandon Kozun (9 goals, 14 assists), Tanner Pearson (6 goals, 14 assists)
Notable lockout assignments to the Monarchs: Slava Voynov had eight goals and 12 assists in 54 games for the Kings last season. Andrei Loktinov appeared in 39 games (3-4-7), Dwight King in 27 games (5-9-14) and Jordan Nolan in 26 games (2-2-4)
IceCaps notes: Maxime Macenauer is on a four-game points streak (goal, three assists). His seven goals are tied for second on the IceCaps ... Ben Chiarot and Will O’Neill both scored their first goals of the year in last Saturday’s 5-4 win over the Syracuse Crunch. The IceCaps erased a four-goal deficit in that game ... The IceCaps also opened their post-Christmas break at home with a pair of two-game series against the Monarchs and Marlies. St. John’s swept Manchester and split with Toronto. The IceCaps have yet to sweep a home-ice series this season ...