Note: This piece comes by way of Charles Pickett once again. It’s a regular post that will show up every month and discuss who (or what) has been thrown under the bus by fans, a detailed report card, and some IceCaps player awards. Enjoy!
The IceCaps started this season with a bang winning their first two games on the road and boasting a strong home record with only 2 losses in regulation. During the month of October the IceCaps put up an impressive 5-2-3 record which was good enough to see them land a top spot in the Atlantic Division.
With the city St. John’s having gone six years without a AHL franchise, there was a lot of catching up to do. A brand new cast for fans familiarize themselves with. Players names, numbers, and faces were studied – not to mention their play on the ice – and an entire new parent club also entering it’s first year in a new city. And perhaps more importantly, which players fans would come to like the most.
Today I’m going to break down some certain trends I’ve noticed during the first month of the season, starting with the Fan Favourite award.
This months Fan Favourite award goes to Carl Klingberg. The Swedish winger quickly notched six goals in 10 games and added one apple to his total to land him 7 points so far the season. Klingberg started out fast, scoring five goals in 2 games and landing the first hattrick in IceCaps history.
Klingberg’s ability to stick handle past defenders and generate scoring chances alone have put him very high on the fan favourite list to start the season. Klingberg’s game isn’t all offense either; he is also a very defensively responsible forward who does great work on the back-check. His foot-speed makes his game that much more exciting for fans, as he can cut through the neutral zone in what seems like 2 strides on some nights.
And it’s not just his on ice abilities that make Klingberg stand out as this months fan favourite, just take a look at this twitter feed. @Carlklingberg tweets about everything from how unreal the crowd at Mile One has been to his love affair with ketchup and pasta.
Though not every team is lucky enough to have a superstar with a bullet shot and soft hands, you can’t win with these guys alone. On every team there’s a vast supply of good hard working support players who aren’t afraid to mix things up in the corners, go to the dirty areas, and block shots – players who live with a “take one for the team” attitude.
It’s always tough to measure the true value of these guys. They may not fill the net night after night but on seemingly every shift they make a play that can change the pace all together.
This month’s unsung hero is Jason King.
Though King has been exposed to his fair share of fandom from IceCaps fans all across the island, his steady play and quick decision-making in the defensive zone frequently gets overlooked by fans each night. But it’s a relief that his veteran presence can be counted on fully shift after shift. It’s not all defense for King either, who has put up some goals so far , including a rare one on the powerplay.
King’s play is very physical and he’s got a natural knack when it comes to plays along the half-wall. I don’t think I’ve seen him lose a battle along the boards once this season quite a feat for a guy who draws some pretty big minutes. Another big part of King’s defensive game is his ability and willingness to sacrifice his body to take away a shooting or passing lane. In the offensive zone, King continues to go to all the right places and has a net presence like no other member of the IceCaps, which is something I think will play a big part of getting the ball rolling on the powerplay as the season rolls on.
King, a nine-year pro veteran, has had lots of time to hone this skills, and will serve as a solid leader for other role players on this team. Before long you should see scrappy guys like Clark and Cormier emulating his play.
The first month of the season hasn’t been all great, however. There have been things to irk fans and leave people shaking their heads (and yelling from their seats). I’m talking about the struggles on the IceCaps powerplay. With the powerplay blanked on opening weekend, and currently sitting 5-56 (8.9%) on the season, it has found itself under the bus for this first month. The powerplay currently sits last in the AHL. Ouch.
But it isn’t all bad.
The current system on the PP has been subjected to a few subtle changes that may pay off in the goal department. First, I’ve noticed that players aren’t forcing the East-West passing as much of late. This is a good development since a lot of fans started to worry that a speedy player on the opposing team’s penalty-kill would pick off passes and create a short-handed break away situation.
Rather than going cross-ice, the puck as done a lot of traveling North/South from defensemen to a forward along the half wall in the past few games. At the last minute they may try to squeeze a D-to-D pass if the lane is there, but they aren’t forcing them as much as in the first few games.
Another thing to look forward to on this powerplay unit the IceCaps are using is their presence in front of the net. They’ve consistently had a forward going to the net hard. An age old adage in hockey is if you go to the net you’ll be rewarded. It’s doesn’t create the prettiest of plays, and the player in front of the goalie takes a hard thrashing, but it’s been seen effective time after time in seemingly every hockey league.
What I really like about the changes the powerplay is made is their attempt to simplify everything, relying heavily on shots from the point and net presence to create a scramble in front and somebody mop up the rebound. The current defenders on the IceCaps have impressive shots. Mark Flood has a bullet of a slapshot, and has already caught the post a few times this season. Artus Kulda has an amazing talent for finding other players sticks and can wind up a slap-pass similar to that of current NHL defender Ryan Whitney of the Edmonton Oilers.
As ironic as it sounds, some of the current woes of the powerplay can be attributed to just bum luck. The players, I’m sure, are aware of what seems like a never-ending drought with the man-advantage, and must be feeling snakebitten. In the first month we’ve seen pucks dance on the line, hit posts, crossbars and even go bar-to-bar and out. We’ve seen pucks ripped out of mid air from opposing team goalies making highlight reel save. And we’ve also seen fans lose their patience, screaming “SHOOOOOoooT” from nearly every section of the Mile One.
I don’t think it’s a matter of what can be change and if there has to be personnel changes on the PP, I think the small changes they did make and the simplifying tweaks will prove to be successful over time. Right now fans just have to sit and wait for it to either break out or hopefully catch fire. There’s no doubt in my mind the powerplay has been tossed under the bus – I’ve heard it everywhere in the city, from cab drivers to strangers across the bar after a game: … ‘they’ve got to fix the power play… if they scored on half of the powerplay chances we wouldn’t have lost.”
Though some of it may be true, fans aren’t talking enough about how much zone time the IceCaps have managed to spend inside the blue line on the PP, nor about the chances landed.
There’s a big difference between a bad powerplay and a powerplay that just can’t score. Right now the IceCaps fall under the latter of the two. Zone time piles up as other teams defenders are hard-pressed to clear the puck, and sometimes to the point where a player gets suckered into a holding or hooking call because they can’t. If the team can keep that up going forward, it should pay off in goals. For now fans just have to be patient with it.
Month of October
Fan Favourite Award: Carl Klingberg
Unsung Hero Award: Jason King
Under the Bus: The IceCaps’ Powerplay
Disagree with anything I said, I’d love to discuss it. Shoot me an email at email@example.com or follow me on twitter @pickett2112
Thanks for reading, and see you at the rink