Inconsistent IceCaps on display again

Robin Short
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St. John’s IceCaps goaltender Eddie Pasquale squares up for a shot from wide open Manchester Monarchs’ defenceman Andrew Campbell during the teams’ American Hockey League game Saturday night at Mile One Centre. After defeating the league-leading Monarchs 4-1 on Friday, the IceCaps went on to drop Saturday’s game 6-0. The two clubs meet again tonight, 7:30, at Mile One for their third game in four nights.

St. John’s head into rubber match with Manchester, on heels of another win-one, lose-one weekend

After watching his team suffer through its worst defeat of the season Saturday night, St. John’s captain Jason Jaffray called a players-only meeting inside the IceCaps’ locker room moments after the American Hockey League game.

By all accounts, it wasn’t pretty. Kind of like the debacle that had just occurred on the ice, as the league-leading Manchester Monarchs had their way with the IceCaps to the tune of a 6-0 result.

Jaffray, of course, was close-lipped on what was said, but some suggest the captain blew a gasket.

He certainly had reason to do so.

“If anyone can sleep tonight,” Jaffray said of his teammates, “they shouldn’t be in our dressing room, I’ll tell you that.

“Right from the start, they outworked us and they outplayed us. We left (goalie Eddie) Pasquale out to dry. He’s been our best player all year and I feel embarrassed to leave him out to dry as bad as we did.”

The loss dropped the IceCaps to 20-16-1-2, as St. John’s continues to flirt with mediocrity, sitting in eighth spot in the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.

What was especially hard to swallow for IceCaps fans was the fact St. John’s looked positively splendid Friday night in a 4-1 win over the Monarchs. In that game, the IceCaps netted a power play goal, shorthanded goal and Pasquale finished with 36 saves.

And then we had Saturday’s display.

If nothing else, the IceCaps are consistent at being inconsistent, as the loss snapped a modest two-game St. John’s win streak.

But then again, the longest stretch of wins the IceCaps have strung together this season is three. Otherwise, it’s been pretty much a season of win a game, lose a game.

The IceCaps are now 5-10-0-1 in the second game of back-to-back games, compared to their record of 10-4-1-1 in the first game of a two-games-in-two-nights series.

Maybe it was Tyler Toffoli’s natural hat trick in the third period, to go with an assist. Or speedy Jordan Weal, who was dashing all over the ice, collecting a goal and three helpers. Maybe the difference was the return of coach Mark Morris behind the Manchester bench after missing Friday’s game because of the flu.

Or maybe the Monarchs, as a collective group, tied for the most points in the AHL, simply woke up.

Either way, it’s clear the highlight of the IceCaps night was, sad to say, a pair of pucks that hit the crossbar and post off the sticks of Adam Lowry and Patrice Cormier.

“We knew they were going to come back pissed off and mad as hell, and come out with a 100 times better effort than the first night,” Jaffray said.

“We knew it was coming and, myself included, we weren’t good. It’s a collective group. We need to be good as a group, we need all 20 guys going, and we need to play for our goaltender because our goaltender has been one of the best in the league all year.”

Vincent LoVerde and Andy Andreoff also scored for the winners, who received a 28-save performance from Jean-Francois Berube for his first shutout of the season.

The Monarchs got a late goal by Weal with 57 seconds left in the first period for a 1-0 lead. However, St. John’s opened the second on a power play, although the IceCaps could do very little with the man advantage.

No problem. The IceCaps got another power play at 3:11 of the second, but instead of knotting the score, St. John’s allowed a shorthanded goal, their ninth on the year which ties the team with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for the league lead in that department.

That one, by Andreoff, came at 4:49 and the game was, for all intents and purposes, over.

“Any time a shorthanded goal is given up, it deflates the bench, deflates the power play. They’re not good situations,” said IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge.

So what gives? Why are the IceCaps, who otherwise have pretty decent special teams (ninth overall on the power play, 12th on the PK), prone to allowing so many shorthanded goals?

McCambridge explains he doesn’t have the “luxury” of trotting out four defencemen on a two-minute power play, so as a result has been using forwards J.C. Lipon, Carl Klingberg and sometimes Jerome Samson at the blueline with rookie Brenden Kichton and Will O’Neill.

“But I can’t fault the forwards playing on the back end for those goals,” he said. “We just have to have better awareness. You have to realize when it’s time to retreat and realize when it’s time to push on the power play. And we’re still figuring it out.”

Hopefully they’ll have it figured out — and after 39 games, you’d think they would — by tonight as the IceCaps and Monarchs play the final game of their three-game series at Mile One.

Game time is 7:30 p.m. (930 AM, Rogers TV).

Organizations: IceCaps, Monarchs, American Hockey League Bridgeport Sound Tigers

Geographic location: Manchester

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