© — Photo by Steve Earley/The Virginia-Pilot
The St. John’s IceCaps’ Kael Mouillierat (left) is dumped by the Norfolk Admirals’ Andre Petersson in Game 4 of the team’s American Hockey League Eastern Conference semifinal series Tuesday in Norfolk, Va. Mouillierat, a 20-goal scorer in the regular season, has lit the lamp just once in nine playoff games.
Should IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge tinker with his lines ahead of tonight’s Game 6 vs. Admirals?
No surprise Thursday morning that Keith McCambridge wasn’t commenting on the possibility of lineup changes for his St. John’s IceCaps in tonight’s Game 6 of their American Hockey League playoff series with the Norfolk Admirals.
It’s the time of year when the Cone of Silence is lowered and locked shut, when there’s barely a whisper of injuries and the like, as if anyone really, truly cares.
But what odds, we’ll play the game. And part of that game is observation and speculation. So here goes.
The IceCaps probably played their worst game of the Calder Cup playoffs Tuesday night, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Admirals in Norfolk. If it wasn’t for Eric O’Dell, playing the type of hockey — five goals in three games — that allows him to carry an entire team on his shoulders, that one wouldn’t have even reached OT.
Michael Hutchinson was good, but not great, although he made up for a mediocre showing through 60 minutes with an outstanding 13 minutes and change in the extra session, until Andre Petersson netted the game-winner, a power play tally, on the Admirals’ 14th shot of the period.
The rest of the IceCaps were okay, although defenceman Ben Chiarot was very active and is probably, along with just-out-of-junior-hockey Josh Morrissey, the IceCaps’ best defenceman so far in the playoffs.
But there was something missing Tuesday, although McCambridge chooses to fluff it off as too many icings and too many offsides, stuff that didn’t allow either team to get into a flow.
Maybe, but there’s more.
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Granted, the IceCaps are still leading this Eastern Conference semifinal 3-2, with the next two games at home at Mile One Centre, beginning tonight at 7:30 and tomorrow night, heaven forbid, if needed.
Thing is, just when the IceCaps had the Admirals on the ropes, just when Norfolk was stumbling, St. John’s couldn’t get the KO.
One point McCambridge will acknowledge is the fact the IceCaps need John Albert and Kael Mouillierat to get it going.
Both have only one goal through nine playoff games entering tonight’s contest, and they were scored in the first round vs the Albany Devils.
Mouillierat was the IceCaps’ leading scorer for much of the year, finishing with 53 points in 60 games. Albert, who got nine games in with the Winnipeg Jets this season, had 28 goals in 63 AHL games.
At least Albert is showing signs of breaking out, with a whack of shots on goal, just as Carl Klingberg was before he registered a two-point night (goal and an assist) in Game 4 Monday. Same cannot be said for Mouillierat.
“You definitely need your best players to be key contributors for your team this time of year,” said coach McCambridge, in the usual ultraconservative fashion. “There have been other areas in which those players have been strong, but I’ve always talked about the fact that they’ve been able to generate some chances, and I’m confident those players will continue to generate chances and hopefully be rewarded for it.”
But you can’t sit either one of those players. That’s a no-brainer.
However, just as McCambridge mixed things up a little in Games 3 and 4, switching Mouillierat and Jason Jaffray, he might want to ponder more tweaking tonight.
That particular move worked out nicely as the ever-dependable Jaffray — who missed practise Thursday morning for “maintenance”, whatever that means (we think it translates to: he needs a break) — helped O’Dell and Klingberg emerge from their mini-slump. In an effort to get Mouillierat and Albert back on track, McCambridge returned Jaffray to the wing with Albert and Andrew Gordon, while Mouillierat returned to his post on O’Dell’s left side, hoping some of the latter’s magic will rub off.
Norfolk coach Trent Yawney looked like a genius Tuesday night, benching veteran defenceman Nolan Yonkman, he of the nearly 700 American league games, for Shea Theodore, he of six AHL games before Tuesday.
Theodore, 18 and a junior with the Seattle Thunderbirds this season, scored 48 seconds into the third period to give Norfolk a 2-1 lead.
So if McCambridge elected to make his own change, who sits?
Yes, we know J.C. Lipon’s a rookie, but he’s yet to score and maybe needs to be reminded he’s best when running around like a Tasmanian Devil, but in control.
Neither Kyle MacKinnon, Patrice Cormier or Blair Riley have a goal, but they’re playing way too well in a defensive role to mess with.
Rather, it says here we might see McCambridge slip Julian Melchiori into the lineup. He’s healthy now, after missing the final three regular season games and all of the playoffs.
Not that Melchiori is going to ring up the numbers, but he’s a big, puck-moving defenceman who was second on the team in plus-minus and played a game for the Jets, who regard him a prospect.
But who comes out? There’s Lipon, which would give McCambridge seven D-men and 11 forwards. Or maybe Brenden Kichton, who was a minus-one in two out of the three games in Norfolk. Kichton might be showing signs of slowing down in his first pro season.
Or how about Zach Redmond? Granted, the numbers do not support that theory, not when Redmond has six assists in nine games and is plus-five.
It’s just that Redmond has, well, had his moments.
Then again, maybe McCambridge opts for the status quo. That lineup did, after all, produce a combined 10 goals in the first two games in Norfolk.
“We were able to take two out of three games on the road, which is good,” reminds McCambridge, “and now we have an opportunity to get ourselves for where we need to be for Game 6.”
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.
He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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