That the St. John’s IceCaps are a middle-of-the-pack hockey team can’t be denied.
The IceCaps have been dual citizens when it comes to the border between playoff and non-playoff position in the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference. Heading into today, they’re a point behind the eighth place Adirondack Phantoms (who have a game in hand), but up until Wednesday, had been living just inside that much-desired country known as Postseasonberth.
They’ve lost almost as many games (18 in total) as they’ve won (15 regulation defeats, one in overtime and two more in a shootout, versus 19 victories). And at no point during this season have they been more than plus-two in the win/loss department.
But the enigma that the IceCaps are, those are about the only statistical numbers that show them to be a .500 or so hockey club. Almost all the other gauges indicate an engine that should seemingly produce more than it has.
To date, St. John’s has outscored (112-101) and outshot (1197 to 1107) its opponents. The team draws significantly more penalties (814 total minutes for opposition) than it takes (699), resulting in more power-play opportunities. And the IceCaps’ special teams are above average, with the power-play sitting just a tad below the 20 per cent standard and ninth-best in a 30-team league, while the penalty kill owns an 83.9 per cent success rate, 10th-best in the AHL.
They protect leads pretty well (the IceCaps are 15-1-1 when ahead after two periods) and while they’re not among the elite defensively, their 2.74 teams goals-against-average is still 12th overall. And it must be noted that workhorse No. 1 Eddie Pasquale had a personal 2.31 GAA.
So why the struggle to stay out of the swampland of the border?
Those who pooh-pooh statistics will undoubtedly claim this is all proof that numbers mean little, but it’s more likely it’s validation of the existence of that very fine line between success and failure (see the file “Little Things Mean a Lot”).
To back up this point: The IceCaps (19-15-3) have scored 11 more goals than they’ve given up, while the Manchester Monarchs, their opponents at Mile One Centre tonight, Saturday and Monday, are plus-17 in that department. That’s a comparable difference of just six goals, but the Monarchs (25-10-6) have managed a league-leading 56 points, 15 more than the IceCaps.
How do the IceCaps get to that state of efficency?
Well, one thing would be for St. John’s to do better in close contests. The IceCaps are 6-5-1-2 in one-goal games, and that doesn’t include five more losses that have involved empty-net goals being scored against them.
The league-topping Monarchs, being a handy (in every way) point of reference, are 10-2-2-4 in games decided by a single tally.
Looking for some more specific button to push? Well how about one that would reduce shorthanded goals against?
Though they’ve been better of late, the IceCaps have given up eight shorties this season (they’ve scored three) and it would be a fair guess that there are at least a few lost points in there, not just because of the immediate affect such goals have on the scoreboard, but also the spirit-sucking and momentum-shifting that accompanies them.
There should be more than a few exchanges in the hallway that runs in front of the IceCaps and Monarchs dressing room over the next few days, in part because the teams share an ECHL affiliate, the Ontario (Calif.) Reign.
Defenceman Cody Sol and goalie Michael Hutchinson were recalled this week from the Reigh, with whom for a time, their teammates included three current Monarchs, defenceman Cameron Burt, netminder Mathias Niederberger and forward and St. John’s native Zach O’Brien, who joined the Reign after attending the IceCaps’ training camp in the fall. In addition, Manchester forward Ian O’Connor played three games with St. John’s this season before hooking on with the Monarchs, while defenceman Chris Huxley attended the IceCaps’ training camp in 2012.
One other player who has suited up for Manchester in 2013-14 has an IceCap connection. That’s forward Mike Ullrich, who was at the St. John’s training camp in September. Ullrich has been since returned to the ECHL, but don’t feel too, too bad for him, especially considering it’s mid-January — he’s the leading scorer for the Orlando Solar Bears.
Kind of lost this week amidst all the news surrounding the firing of Claude Noel and hiring of Paul Maurice as his replacement as Winnipeg Jets head coach was an announcement by the Jets that they’ve lifted the suspension of Ivan Telegin, allowing the Russian forward to play in the Kontinental Hockey League.
The Jets didn’t provide any reasoning for their change of heart about Telegin, whom they suspended in the fall after he refused to report to the IceCaps, then headed home to Russia. However, Kelly Moore of CJOB Radio in Winnipeg tweeted that Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff says the move was about “asset management,” although that would seem to mean anything from allowing Telegin, whose rights have been retained by the Jets, to keep developing in anticipation of his return to North America to possibly trading those rights to another NHL team.
Telegin will play for CSKA Moscow, which acquired Telegin’s rights in a cash deal with Metallurg Novokuznetsk a couple of months ago.