The IceCaps (18-14-4) will hit the halfway mark in their 76-game 2016-17 regular-season schedule this weekend as they host the Hartford Wolf Pack for two ciontests that start an eight-game home stand at Mile One Centre. Given all that’s happened — or befallen — the team through its first 36 contests, to be sitting in third place in the AHL’s North Division just two points out of first place has to be considered something of an accomplishment.
It’s an accomplishment …
• considering that seven players who have played 20 or more games for St. John’s this season are on recall to the Montreal Canadiens
• considering that those seven — plus Charles Hudon, who has missed the last nine games because of injury and nine more during his own recall to Montreal — have accounted for 50, or almost half, of St. John’s 104 goals this season … and that this group includes five of St. John’s six leading point-getters.
• considering the IceCaps used 29 different players on their just-completed 10-game road trip, when the team went 5-2-3 — and that doesn’t include three others who were on the roster but didn’t see any action.
• considering that — in their seven games since Christmas — the IceCaps have had eight different players on the roster who were on professional try-out contracts (PTO), which usually means players who are temporary fill-ins.
• considering the IceCaps have played eight more road games than at home.
That the IceCaps have been able to fashion their current record is a tribute to the team’s ability to claw out wins. St. John’s is 11-5-4 in one-goal games, which is usually an indication the team is getting good goaltending.
And for the most part, it has.
Rookie netminder Charlie Lindgren’s numbers aren’t fantastic — his 2.70 goals-against average, for example, puts him 20th in the AHL among goalies who have played the equivalent of 11 or more games. However, Lindgren has proven to be a workhorse — he’s second in the league in minutes played and saves — and most importantly, he seems to a goalie who doesn’t seen to let one poor showing bleed into his next game.
Lindgren has been so important that — if awards were to be handed out at the midpoint of the season — he’d be the team most valuable player. That, admittedly, is an easier call because Hudon and fellow forwards Chris Terry and Sven Andrighetto along with defenceman Mark Barberio, who took turns as the IceCaps’ best skater during first-half games — have spent so much time in the NHL or in the infirmary. However, even if those players had appeared in all 36 of St. John’s games to date, Lindgren would still be a strong MVP contender.
It’s also helped St. John’s that Lindgren seems to have a perfect backup in veteran Yann Danis, who has shown the ability to come in as required — no matter the time off in between — and play solidly.
For example, Danis made only three appearances — one in relief — during those last 10 road games (he missed three to be with his family for the birth of a new baby). In those games, he got a win and an overtime loss while posting a 1.95 GAA and .936 save percentage.
By the way, if there were those mid-term awards, Lindgren would be an easy choice as IceCaps rookie of the half-year, with centre Daniel Audette as runner-up.
As for top defenceman so far, that honour would have to go to Barberio despite his absence. He has been named — after all — an IceCaps’ representative, along with Lindgren, for the AHL All-Star Classic later this month.
But it seems more and more unlikely Barberio will get to play in that showcase or with the IceCaps again this regular season. He’s becoming more of a permanent fixture with the Canadiens and is no longer exempt from waivers, meaning he probably won’t be a candidate for the IceCaps’ actual year-end awards.
In that case, keep an eye on rearguard Brett Lernout. He leads St. John’s with a plus-seven rating, and he and Audette are the only IceCaps to have appeared in all 36 games so far.
And while Lernout’s 11 points (a goal and 10 assists) are modest, it should be noted that none of them have come via the power play. Barberio, on the other hand, earned 15 of his 18 points with St. John’s during man-advantage opportunities.