The St. John’s IceCaps’ Eric O’Dell scored in each of the first two games of the team’s American Hockey League Eastern Conference quarter-final series against the Albany Devils this past weekend, but he acknowledges the IceCaps need to make more of their man-advantage opportunities after a going combined one-for-eight in Games 1 and 2. Game 3 in the best-of-five series is tonight at Mile One Centre in St. John’s.
©— Photo by Chris Rutsch/Hartford Wolfpack
Just as we’ve been saying all along, special teams are critical in post-season play, so naturally the St. John’s IceCaps’ power play was a big topic of conversation following a brisk, up-tempo Tuesday morning practice at Mile One Centre.
“We know our power play has to get better,” said IceCaps centre Eric O’Dell, a day before St. John’s was scheduled to meet the Albany Devils in Game 3 of the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference quarter-final 7:30 tonight at Mile One Centre.
“It’s tough getting goals five-on-five because it’s such a tight game,” O’Dell said. “When we do get on the power play, we have to shoot more. That’s been our weaknesss right now. And we also have to stay out of the box. They’ve got a good power play.
“We’ve got to shape up our game up in terms of special teams.”
The teams are tied 1-1 in the best-of-five Calder Cup first-round series, with the remaining three games slated for Mile One. Game 4 is set for Friday with the deciding game, if it’s required, scheduled to go Saturday evening.
St. John’s won the opening game of the series 2-1 in Albany last Friday night, but the Devils responded with a 4-2 win in Game 2.
In the second game, three of Albany’s four goals came with the man advantage. The Devils’ only goal in the first game also came on the power play.
The IceCaps, on the other hand, are a combined one-for-eight on the power play.
So it’s no surprise the IceCaps were working on that facet of their game at practise Tuesday because scoring goals at even-strength is always a challenge in tight-checking playoff hockey, moreso against the stingy Devils and their big defence corps.
“We’ve had our chances five-on-five,” said O’Dell. “We outplayed them, for sure. The goals will come. I think you’ll see a few more pucks going in these next few games.
“But we have to keep our feet moving. We know it’s a big D-corps, but we have to get the puck in deep and work them low. I think that would draw penalties. We have fast forwards so we have to just keep moving.”
O’Dell is the only IceCaps’ forward to have scored in the first two games, the other goals coming from Ben Chiarot, who netted the game-winner in Game 1, and Brenden Kichton, who had a pair in Game 2.
“It’s no secret that I’m a big believer in having your defence add that second layer to the attack,” coach Keith McCambridge said. “I strongly believe that in today’s game, where there’s not a lot of room in the neutral zone, if you have the ability and the personnel to get up in the rush and get some scoring opportunities, then that’s something we will stress, and we’ve done it all season long.”
But no doubt McCambridge would like to see his forwards finding the back of the net.
John Albert has a combined nine shots on goal, Andrew Gordon has eight, Jason Jaffray and Kael Mouillierat five apiece, and Carl Klingberg with four.
“When I look at the scoring chances we generate, I look at the third period when we had a ton of scoring chances,” McCambridge said of Saturday’s game, in which St. John’s outshot Albany 20-5. The Devils were all over the IceCaps in the first two periods, outshooting them 29-12, thanks in part to the seven power plays Albany enjoyed compared to the two by St. John’s.
“In the playoffs, your best players have to be real strong contributors,” McCambridge said, “but looking at the two games there, special teams would be the main thing that’s been the focal point.”
This will be IceCaps fans’ first look at the Devils, and they will see a team, like St. John’s, that is strong in goal with Keith Kincaid, a very large and mobile defence with three players — Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill and Adam Larsson — who spent considerable time in New Jersey, and a group of relentless forwards.
“They’re evenly matched teams,” McCambridge said. “There’s not a lot of room out there five-on-five. So we have to ensure to bear down and capitalize on those (scoring) chances, because they are few and far between.”
With the remaining three games of the series in St. John’s, the IceCaps will have the advantage of last change, and the Devils this season were 16-14-2-6 away from the Times Union Centre compared to the IceCaps’ home ice record of 23-10-2-3.
“Our mindset hasn’t changed,” said defenceman Zach Redmond. “We have a confident group here. Everyone knows how special we can be. We just need to apply it.
“We’re solid all the way up and down and we know what we have to do. We have a good feeling in the room.”