St. John’s lets another opportunity to sweep opponent at Mile One slip away
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has been among the American league’s elite hockey teams this season, but the Penguins arrived in St. John’s this past weekend a hamstrung lot, missing six regulars who are on recall to Pittsburgh.
© — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
The St. John’s IceCaps’ Carl Klingberg (right) falls to the ice in front of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ Denver Manderson, but teammate Kael Mouillierat (21) is there to pick up the loose puck during Saturday night’s American Hockey League game at Mile One Centre. The Penguins won 3-0 to collect a series split.
Of the six, five were among the Penguins’ top scorers.
So the homestanding IceCaps, fresh off a very good six-game road trip, one on which they went 4-2, did what one would expect of a team back home in front of another eager, sellout crowd — they took it to the beleaguered Penguins Friday night by a 5-0 score.
Buoyed by Eddie Pasquale’s first shutout of the season, the return of Zach Redmond to Mile One (he had a goal and an assist in the game) and Carl Klingberg suddenly making like an impact player with a pair of goals, the IceCaps appeared to be in pretty good shape for their first home ice series sweep since last April.
Hit the replay, the one we’ve seen all season, where St. John’s wins one game on home ice, and promptly loses the next night.
This story’s getting old, and just a little bit annoying.
Saturday night, rather than step on the Penguins’ throat, the IceCaps instead squandered their chance for a rare four-point weekend, losing 3-0 to the Pens as Jeff Deslauriers made 30 saves for the shutout.
So how does this happen? How does a team dominant in so many facets of the game one night — St. John’s limited Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to 20 shots Friday, scored a pair of power play goals and kept the Pens off the board on their five man-advantage chances — look so, um, bad the next?
“It’s the age-old question,” veteran Andrew Gordon said. “It’s tough to beat a team twice in back-to-back games. Unfortunately, we always play back-to-back games in St. John’s.”
True, but the IceCaps are not alone in that department. The Abbotsford Heat out in British Columbia, for example, are a team very, very similar to St. John’s in terms of geography and schedule makeup.
Like the IceCaps, the Heat are on the coast, far away from their nearest competitor. Like the IceCaps, the Heat entertain visiting teams for two-game sets. But unlike St. John’s, Abbotsford wins games on home ice.
Last season, Abbotsford and St. John’s both played 19 two-game homestands. The Heat swept their guests seven times, the IceCaps four times.
This season, in a half-dozen two-game series, the Heat have posted three sweeps, and are 8-2-2 at home. The IceCaps, of course, are still looking for their first sweep after four two-game series and a rare three-game matchup with the Worcester Sharks.
“We knew they would come out strong,” Gordon said of the Penguins Saturday, “and we knew that last night’s result had no bearing on Saturday’s game. It was a fresh start for everyone.”
But with a predictable outcome.
The IceCaps, you see, have acknowledged this time and again, recognized the fact a visiting team that’s lost the night before comes out the next evening like a wounded bear.
Why, then, has St. John’s not countered in equal ornery fashion?
If the IceCaps are so aware that teams will push back in the second game in search of the generally-accepted split on the road, why is not St. John’s not answering with an assault of its own?
Saturday night, instead of stepping on the gas from the drop of the puck, St. John’s coasted. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, too, was stuck in neutral, making for a long 20 minutes of shinny, with a penalty to each team and a shot clock reading 4-2 in favour of the IceCaps heading into the middle stanza.
If St. John’s was trying to generate any hint of an offence, it was lost on most, if not all, of the 6,287 drowsy regulars at Mile One.
Not that Keith McCambridge was prepared to admit the IceCaps started slowly.
“I disagree,” he said. “I don’t feel we came out flat.
“Regardless who is missing from their lineup, the (Penguins) have always been a team that allows a very low percentage of chances against. They are top-three in the league in (least) shots against, so that’s the way they play.”
The IceCaps did run into a bit of bad luck late in the second period when the Penguins, leading 1-0 on Tom Kuhnhackl’s power play goal, went ahead by two when Brian Gibbons finished off a two-on-one play.
That came right after it appeared the IceCaps’ Eric O’Dell was pulled down by a hook that went uncalled in the St. John’s zone, a play which led to the Penguins’ break.
But then, the IceCaps didn’t do themselves any favours in the third. Instead of starting the period strong, it was the Penguins taking charge as Bobby Farnham effectively ended the game with a goal 21 seconds in.
The loss drops the IceCaps’ record to 5-6 at home (that includes an overtime loss, and a pair of setbacks via the shootout).
The Syracuse Crunch are in town this Tuesday and Wednesday, the final home games before Christmas. In the New Year, St. John’s plays eight of 12 games in January at home, and 25 of 44 overall games at Mile One.
Whether the IceCaps are in, or on the outside looking in, at a playoff berth will likely be determined by their home record.
Consider this: of the 16 teams to make the Calder Cup playoffs last season, only two — Hershey and Texas — finished with a home ice record under .500.
Until St. John’s starts winning more games on home ice than it loses, the odds are not in the IceCaps’ favour.
Robin Short is The Telegram Sports Editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort