The numbers back up IceCaps’ special teams’ play

Brendan McCarthy
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By Brendan McCarthy

The Telegram

What’s the number right now, Kinger?” Mark Morrison called over to fellow St. John’s IceCaps assistant coach Jason King.

“102.9,” replied the Corner Brook native.

That’s not a feverish temperature or the frequency of an FM radio station.

It’s a number based on a simple formula. Add together a hockey team’s success rates for the power play and penalty killing. If it’s above 100, you’re probably better than average. The higher the number, the more effective your special teams.

“We’d like to be at 103. To be at 105 would be great,” said King.

But the number doesn’t reflect another contributor to the IceCaps’ power-play success: overall team discipline.

The IceCaps are great at drawing penalties. Heading into Friday night’s game in Hartford against the Wolf Pack, St. John’s had a total of 325 power-play opportunities, more than any team in the American Hockey League. By comparison, they’ve only had to deal with 276 penalty kills. That equates to about two extra power plays every three games.

“We always have a lot of power plays,” said Morrison, whose duties include looking after St. John's special teams. “All three years I’ve been here, we’ve had a lot.”

In fact, St. John’s was third among AHL teams in power-play opportunities last season and fourth in 2011-12.

Morrison puts that down to the IceCaps being a hard-working team, with players who draw penalties by keeping their feet moving, getting that little edge that can lead to some desperation on the part of an opposing checker.

As far as St. John’s giving up fewer power plays, Morrison suggests it’s a matter of prudence that cuts both ways.

“I believe that shows our discipline,” he said. “We brief our players on things like keeping their sticks down and not taking offensive zone penalties, because those are the ones that seem to kill you. And where we have a lot of back-to-back games (against the same opponent at home), I think that might lead to a little more undisciplined play (from the opposition) because they’re not so used to playing that kind of schedule, where we are.”

Again, the official numbers back up Morrison’s assertion — St. John’s has drawn 1,100 penalty minutes through 62 games, while their opponents have picked up 1,259 PIMs.

Heading into the weekend, the IceCaps’ penalty-kill success rate sat at 84.1 percent, eighth best in the league, with a power play at 18.8 percent, 11th overall.

It’s translated into a distinct special-teams advantage for St. John’s, which had scored 61 power-play goals and given up just 43 prior to Friday. Factor in shorthanded goals for (11) and shorthanded goals against (13), and it means St. John’s is plus-16 on special teams.

“And we’ve been as high as 21 percent on the power play this season,” said Morrison. “But for me, it’s not just about percentages and amount of goals, it’s also about the ability of a power-play goal or a successful penalty kill to change the flow of a game.

“It’s being able to have a strong power-play chance, say in a 3-2 game. Even if we don’t score, we get some momentum there because we’re threatening. We’ve shown the ability to score. But if it’s a 3-2 game and the other team takes a penalty and we have a crappy power play, that kills momentum.

“For me, the best measure of a power play is if it has the ability to change a game. If we win 8-2 and we’ve scored three goals on the power play, that’s nice, but I don’t really care. If we win by one goal and the goal that won it was our only one in seven chances, I’m happy because it was a difference maker.

Organizations: IceCaps, American Hockey League

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Hartford, St. John's

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