After mediocre homestand, St. John’s embarks on nine-day, six-game road trip
The St. John’s IceCaps will hit the quarter pole on the American Hockey League’s 76-game regular-season Saturday night in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pa., and while the team has not exactly been terrible through the early goings, the Winnipeg Jets’ farm club hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire, either.
© — Photo by Jeff Parsons/St. John’s IceCaps
St. John’s IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge says goaltender Eddie Pasquale has given the team “a chance to win when he’s been in the net.” The league leader in minutes played is likely to add to his time in the blue ice during the IceCaps’ six-game road trip that starts Friday against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
As the IceCaps embark on the second big road trip of the 2013-14 campaign, one that will see them play six games in nine days, St. John’s sits 10th in the Eastern Conference, with a mediocre 7-7-1-2 record.
The IceCaps have registered back-to-back wins just once — both of those on the road in Portland against the Pirates — and are coming off a pair of shootout losses at Mile One Centre last weekend against the Worcester Sharks team that, on paper, doesn’t appear to be very good, sitting in second-last place in the conference.
But hang on a minute, cautions IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge. A pro hockey season is a marathon, he says, not a sprint.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this team right now,” McCambridge maintains. “Are we having this conversation now if we won one of the those games in the shootout, and got five of six points?
The IceCaps have been decent on home ice (4-2-1-2), but that little matter of putting teams away for a series sweep after winning the first game remains a bugaboo. The power play is pretty good (eighth in the league), the penalty kill OK (20th), the goalscoring shared throughout the lineup (it was Jerome Samson’s turn to shine against Worcester) and the goaltending is good and getting better with Eddie Pasquale showing signs of the form he displayed two years ago when he was on the league’s all-rookie team.
But why, then, is the team so ... vanilla, in terms of results?
“I think this team is doing a lot of good things with regards to our execution,” McCambridge said. “The work ethic is there, a real good foundation for this team, and has been since Day 1.
“I would like to see us build off some of the things we’re doing, find some consistency.”
Pasquale is among the league leaders in saves, and his goal against average (2.35) and save percentage (.923) numbers are stellar, more so when you consider he’s the league-leader in minutes played.
“Eddie,” McCambridge said, “has given us a chance to win when he’s been in the net.”
Up front, there are no complaints as the players expected to produce — Samson, Eric O’Dell, Jason Jaffray, Kael Mouillierat and Andrew Gordon — are doing just that, though perhaps not as frequently as some fans would prefer.
But the blueline is fairly young, and outside rookie Brendan Kichton, there’s not a lot of production coming from the defence.
That’s especially noticeable on the power play which lacks a true quarterback, something which Derek Meech brought to the table last year and Paul Postma in the IceCaps’ first year of existence.
“If I’m looking across the league and comparing payrolls to defenceman to other teams, it would be nice to have what the Toronto Marlies have, $6 million on your back end (John-Michael Liles making $3.875 million, Korbinian Holzer at $725,000 and T.J. Brennan pocketing $600,000, according to capgeek.com). That would be nice,” McCambridge said.
“I’m not a guy who imagines what I could have here and there. Whatever team that is laid out in front of me to coach, that’s the team that I’m going to try and ensure we get the most out of.
“That said, I like our defence with regards to the fact we’re able to break pucks out of our zone. It’s better than where it was last season. We keep things simple back there, but we also have some guys who can join the rush and add some offence.
“We’re young to a degree, but it’s been more than capable for us. I’m fine with our defencemen. I really feel the young guys are starting to come into their own, and they’re making progress which is a huge percentage of what this league is about.”
The IceCaps left St. John’s this morning for northeastern Pennsylvania where they will play the Penguins Friday and Saturday night. Sunday, the IceCaps have a 3 p.m. date with the Sound Tigers in Bridgeport, Conn.
St. John’s has two days off before playing the Hershey Bears Wednesday, and clews up the trip with back-to-back games in Syracuse, N.Y. and Binghamton, N.Y. next Friday and Saturday.
As of Wednesday, defenceman Julian Melchiori was still in Winnipeg on recall and Josh Lunden remains on injured reserve (he is not skating with the team). However, McCambridge is free to make choices with 13 healthy forwards and seven healthy defencemen.