© — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
St. John’s IceCaps forward Andrew Gordon (left) celebrates a goal against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in Game 1 of the teams’ American Hockey League Eastern Conference final Saturday at Mile One Centre. Gordon has scored eight of the IceCaps’ 33 goals this post-season. Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Wednesday in Wilkes-Barre.
Plus some other noteworthy items as the St. John’s vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton series heads south
Some notes and numbers about the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference final between the St. John’s IceCaps and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as the best-of-seven Calder Cup playoff series — knotted at one game apiece — moves to northeastern Pennsylvania for Games 3, 4 and 5 on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday:
Statistics are always available for the perusing, but sometimes when packaging them for something like the IceCaps Stats featured in today’s print edition of The Telegram, there are items that really jump out at you. Like the fact St. John’s has scored 33 goals in the playoffs and that 15 — or just under half of them — have come from two players, Andrew Gordon, with eight, and Eric O’Dell, with seven. For a team that’s prided itself on getting offence from a wide variety of sources — eight different players with 17 or more goals — during the regular season, it represents a drastic change in share of scoring.
Next highest on the team in terms of playoff goals is Jerome Samson, with three, and he was a healthy scratch for the IceCaps in their 2-1 victory in Game 2 Sunday, replaced by Josh Lunden. Samson had been a team-worst minus-two in a 3-2 loss in Saturday’s series opener at Mile One Centre.
With Monday being a travel day and the two teams sharing the same charter flight from St. John’s to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, we’re waiting for indication on whether if Samson’s penance will be of a one-game duration or if St. John’s head coach Keith McCambridge sticks with the lineup that got him that crucial victory on Sunday.
If you’re looking from widespread consistency when it comes to playoff scoring by the IceCaps, you might consider that the 33 goals they’ve registered to date have come courtesy of 11 tallies in each period. The evenness also extends to the defensive side, as St. John’s has surrendered — by period — eight, seven and seven goals, with one more given up in overtime in a Game 5 loss to Norfolk in a second-round series.
And finally, when further contemplating the division of scoring, here is how it plays out by forward lines: Jaffray-Albert-Gordon (11); Klingberg-O’Dell-Mouillierat (11), Lipon-Lowry-Samson/Lunden (4); and Cormier-McKinnon-Riley (2).
Samson wasn’t the only prominent player who had dressed for Game 1 but was watching from the Mile One press box during Sunday’s rematch.
Penguins’ veteran Chuck Kobasew, his team’s leading scorer in the playoffs (12 points in 12 games) was sidelined with what’s been described as a lower-body injury and according to Wilkes-Barre head coach John Hynes is being slotted in the “day-to-day” category.
Kobasew joined centres Nick Drazenovic and Andrew Ebbett — Wilkes-Barre’s second- and third-leading point-getters in the regular season — as injured forwards who weren’t in the Pens’ lineup Sunday, so the visitors were without a fair amount of offensive punch.
Since Ebbett and Drazenovic qualify as official AHL veterans — those who have played 260 or more NHL, AHL or European elite league games before this season — their unavailability did mean Pens’ Hynes was spared from making any lineup decisions in order to comply with league rules that limit teams to dressing no more than five such veterans (excluding goaltenders) for each game. Wilkes-Barre has seven official veterans — Spencer Machacek, Brendan Mikkelson, Pierre-Luc Letourneau Leblond, captain Tom Kostopoulos, Kobasew, Ebbett and Drazenovic — on its playoff roster.
Things may change, however. There has been some suggestion that one or both of Drazenovic or Ebbett may be ready to return to action this week. And Hynes had earlier told longtime AHL beat writer Jonathan Bombulie of the Wilkes-Barre Citizen's Voice (citizensvoice.com/sports/penguins) that he hadn't ruled out either of the two playing in this series. So if Kobasew’s stay on the sideline is short-term, Hynes may eventually have a tough decision to make, even not factoring in the tough Leblond, who has dressed for just one playoff game. Hynes had to make such a call earlier in the post-season when his veteran group was healthier; Machacek, for example, was scratched for a couple of games.
The IceCaps, in case you are wondering, have no such potential issue, and haven’t had one all season, with only Gordon, Samson and team captain Jason Jaffray falling under the AHL veterans category.
Picking up on another piece by Bombulie this week, this one about the Winnipeg Jets plans to move their AHL franchise from St. John’s, somewhere further west, probably at the end of next season:
The story included some interesting thoughts from Machacek, who played a season-and-a-half for the IceCaps before a trade that sent him to Springfield midway last season.
When it was suggested to Machacek that the travel resulting from St. John’s geographic location, at least as it relates to much of the rest of the league, was a factor in the Jets’ plans, he suggested it wasn’t as onerous as many think.
“It’s obviously far out there. You go on the road for extended periods of time,” Machacek told Bombulie.
“If you’re OK with that, it’s actually sometimes better. There are no day bus trips. You’ve got your normal pre-game skate, pre-game meal, pre-game nap. You never bus to Binghamton for two hours and then play the same day.
“In that way, it’s a benefit.”
According to Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, it’s unlikely that Jets’ prospect Scott Kosmachuk will join the IceCaps now that the Memorial Cup tournament is done.
Kosmachuk had three goals and two assists in four Memorial Cup games for the OHL champion Guelph Storm, who lost 6-3 to the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings in Sunday’s championship final. That followed a 49-goal, 101-point regular season and an OHL playoff run that saw the right-winger put up 28 points in 20 games.
Including the pre-season, Kosmachuk ended up playing nearly 100 games of hockey this season and Cheveldayoff told Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press that probably meant it was time for the Jets’ 2012 third-round draft pick to get a break from hockey.
Whatever does or doesn’t happen, Kosmachuk, who is signed by the Jets and will turn pro next season, has moved into the top three — along with defenceman Josh Morrissey and forward Nic Petan — on Winnipeg’s top prospects list. And according to The Hockey News, he was among 10 players who most added to their reputations in the Memorial Cup tournament.
“Part of Guelph’s potent top line with Brock McGinn and Jason Dickinson, Kosmachuk was playing in his final year of junior and really produced,” wrote THN's Ryan Kennedy this week. “The talented right winger also brought a nasty edge to the table and that will help him as he shoots for a role on the Winnipeg Jets next season (or failing that, their American League squad).
The AHL Western Conference final is tied 1-1 after the Texas Stars' 6-3 win over the Toronto Marlies Monday night in Cedar Park, Tex.
It was the Marlies' first loss in nine playoff games. What's more, when the Stars' Scott Glennie scored to put Texas up 2-1 at 8:37 of the second period, it marked the first time in over 500 minutes of post-season play that any team had held a lead on the Marlies.
The series switches to Toronto's Ricoh Coliseum for Game 3 Wednesday night.
Finally, since we started with an item on numbers in the IceCaps-Penguins series, we’ll finish with one.
Stats have long shown that scoring the first goal in a game is a strong determining factor when it comes to winning, but it may be even more the case in this conference final.
So far in the playoffs, St. John’s has come up with the first goal in 10 of 12 games, winning in eight of those instances. The Penguins, meanwhile, have scored first in seven of the 13 post-season contest they have played this spring, prevailing six times.
That means, between them, the IceCaps and Penguins have won 14 of the 17 games in which they've tallied first in these playoffs (including the opening two games of this series) or about 85 per cent of the time. By comparison, the league average in the regular season, and so far among all playoff teams, has been 67 per cent.
In other words, when it comes to these two clubs in this particular series, that first marker might be just about as good as a winning goal.