IceCaps settle in to battle atop the AHL

The IceCaps return to the ice tonight after a ten day Christmas break, when they face the Hamilton Bulldogs for the fourth time this season. It’s the start of another mini road trip which will end with two games against the Marlies in Toronto over the weekend.

St. John’s enters the game tonight with a 2-1 record against the Bulldogs this season, outscoring them 10-6 over three games.

After dropping three straight games early this month, the IceCaps bounced back with a couple of wins, but have found their place in the standings slip a little. They’ve been ousted as the top team in the division, with Manchester taking over, but still hold one of the best win percentages in the league at .672 and only seven regulation losses (Houston being the only team with six).

The team continues to float around the bottom of the league in terms of penalty minutes, now sitting at 27th with 13.4 per game. It’s a part of their game that has helped bring success, but weighs on fans who believe the team should be tougher. While it’s a difficult thing to balance, until results start going down the drain, it seems foolish to argue with their disciplined approach.

Tonight’s game will mark the start of the team entering the crucial part of the schedule where teams should really start to separate themselves from weak clubs. St. John’s can prove that they belong at the top of the division, or start to fall to the middle of the pack where they’ll be just another team. Grabbing two of three on this quick road trip to Ontario is important in keeping pace with the big clubs like Manchester and Hershey, among the top of the conference.

With Machacek and Rosa being the two stand-out forwards for the Caps this year (at least in terms of guys who’ve been with the club throughout), it will be interesting to see how players like King, Cormier, and Gagnon fair in the new year. Each has shown the ability to provide scoring, and there’s no doubt that depth has been the topic of conversation surrounding the team for much of the year, particularly when they continued to win despite an insane amount of callups heading to Winnipeg.

Goaltending has been somewhat of a sore spot for the IceCaps lately. They currently only boast one goaltender, Mannino, with a save % above .900 (he’s at .907, not exactly great). Pasquale and Aebischer have struggled, posting .891 and .896 respectively. Aebie has nabbed the most starts this season with eleven. Not to worry, Mannino will be the guy going forward.

Personally, I think there isn’t much for fans to fret about regarding this club. They’ve managed to cover up any roster holes so far, and have made the best of some not-so-ideal situations. And after all that, they’re still only two points back for the division lead with three games in hand.

It’s actually not too far-fetched to believe these guys are ready to go on a disgustingly good run into the new year and on. With the early season’s roster starting to re-take shape and a good reset over Christmas, I see no real reason why this team, deep with talent, should slow down.

Email ryanfancey@gmail.com and follow here, or the blog here

Game goes at 7:30 ET tonight, with Brian Rogers providing play-by-play over the radio at thisisnewfoundlandlabrador.ca. Tune in.

IceCaps look to the road after Shark Week in St. John’s

Image: stjohnsicecaps.com

This past weekend the Atlantic Division foes Worcester Sharks made their first trip to Mile One Centre. Heading into the action, the Sharks sat closer to the basement of the division standings with an 8-6-6 record and were hardly considered a threat for the surging IceCaps, fresh off a split with the Crunch.

Only minutes before puck drop IceCaps fans were filled in that forward Jason King would be absent from the lineup and was dealing with an undisclosed upper body injury. With another forward on the shelf and some call ups, two character wins this weekend would have been huge for this group. But something just wasn’t right.

During the Friday night tilt, midway through the 2nd  the IceCaps found themselves up by a goal after Zach Redmond – who has been playing some of this best hockey of the season and making those minutes count in the absence of Flood/Kulda – scored a nifty pair on the powerplay. Shortly after that, Patrice Cormier buried one five hole and the IceCaps found themselves in the driver’s sea. However, things changed gears and poor defensive play and numerous turnovers lead to play after play from the Sharks, with goals to boot.  Ben Ferriero and Tony Lucia quickly found the net and the Sharks had all the momentum. Late in the 3rd the sharks found a goal from Tommy Wingles, and that’s all they would need to win it.

Sunday’s showdown with the Sharks basically followed the same script Friday. The IceCaps found themselves down by a goal after the first when John McCarthy of the Sharks played right to the whistle and stuffed home a goal literally at the last second of the frame.

Coming out of the room for the second, the IceCaps rallied for three quick goals and were seemingly in the driver seat again. But just like two nights previously, some more poor defensive play and one hell of a fluky goal lead to the IceCaps walking away pointless on weekend.

All weekend I noticed the guys were just throwing grenades back and forth when trying to clear the zone. Over the span of the weekend I think I counted six East-West passes behind their own blue line that were easily picked off by a forechecking Shark and a few ended up in the back of the net. IceCaps defensemen were also guilty of running around, especially in Sunday’s tilt, letting players gain net presence and leaving Mannino out to dry a few times, two Sharks forwards posed on each side of him.

At the same time the forwards were guilty of cheating. Some guys were leaving the zone much earlier than the puck, and the result in that more often than not is going to be a scoring chance for the opposition.

Though those things were frustrating enough to deal with when a lead dwindles away, nothing was more infuriating than seeing them break what I consider to be a cardinal rule game after game. I will always say that one of the most selfish things you can do to your team is drop the gloves when your up by a goal or two. It does nothing to rally your own bench but everything to rally the opponent. This happened both games against the Sharks and even happened during the last game of the Syracuse set. It’s poor discipline – simple as that.

Backchecking was kind of painful to watch this past weekend, especially from a few defensemen who got caught. I remember seeing Postma work to get back a few times but never really put his stick in the play. No attempt to get physical or poke check was made and of course it ends up in the back of the net.

This past weekend’s games weren’t all bad news – Mannino looked sharp, despite letting in a quirky goal. A puck launched as a dump in from Tommy Wingles hit the glass, took a strange bounce, hit the back of the cross bar followed by Mannino’s numbers and trickled in. Tough to blame that one on him.

Also, the IceCaps managed to consistently score on the powerplay this weekend with the absence of some key guys including King, and Flood/Kulda on the back end. Zach Redmond’s second goal from Friday’s game came on the PP, and it may have been the best goal I’ve seen scored in Mile One all season long.

After a pair of losses this weekend, the Caps are now riding a three-game losing streak and have fallen below .500 on home ice.

Over the next few weeks the IceCaps will be on the road, including 3 games in 3 nights this coming weekend. The team will look to remain successful on the road and move on from their poor play in St. John’s.

The IceCaps will be looking to put up some really big points in the W column when they take on the Manchester Monarchs on Friday nigh – right now Manchester and St. John’s are deadlocked at 34 pts each.

From there the IceCaps will head to Portland where they take on the Pirates in a set of back to backs. The last time these two teams met, the IceCaps were handed just their second regulation loss of the season back in October here on the island.

To keep up and all the action while the IceCaps are on the road be sure to head to theahl.com where you can listen live.

Follow @pickett2112 on Twitter and follow the blog here

IceCaps Game Day: Morning Links

The IceCaps return to home ice tonight to battle the Syracuse Crunch at Mile One Centre. After nabbing two wins on the road against Hamilton and Toronto, respectively, St. John’s has climbed back to the top of the Eastern Conference with 32 points.

Yet to lose on the road in regulation, the IceCaps have suffered each of their losses in that column on home ice. Regardless, the team still boasts a remarkable record of 14-4-4 heading into tonight.

The Crunch have split 5-5-0 over their past ten and sit with 23 points, a 10-8-2-1 record. The affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, the Crunch sit 10th in the Conference currently. Notable forwards include Kyle Palmeiri, Patrick Maroon and Nick Bonino, each cracking the 20 point mark so far this season.

For more stories heading into tonight’s game, check out our links collection below:

Crunch time for IceCaps (Telegram)

Game Preview: IceCaps and Crunch (stjohnsicecaps.com)

Road tested IceCaps return home (Telegram)

Keith Aucoin named AHL player of the week (TheAHL.com)

IceCaps/Marlies recap (TSN)

IceCaps/Bulldogs recap (TSN)

Game goes at 7:30 at Mile One Centre. Enjoy the game live, or listen to thisisnewfoundlandlabrador.ca where Brian Rogers has the call.

Email ryanfancey@gmail.com and follow the blog on twitter @SJ_IceCaps

2 Months Deep: How NHL Teams are Using Their AHL Affiliates

Your newest Winnipeg Jet, Carl Klingberg - Courtesy of Global Winnipeg

As of December 1st, the NHL landscape looked like this in terms of the overall standings: (Oh by the way, if you predicted that a) Minnesota would lead the league after 2 months and/or b) Anaheim would barely have it’s head above water at this point, e-mail me, and I’ll let you make each of my personal decisions for the whole of 2012)

1. Minnesota Wild                        15-7-3                     33pts

2. Pittsburgh Penguins                14-7-4                     32pts

3. Detroit Red Wings                   15-7-1                     31pts

4. Boston Bruins                          15-7-1                     31pts

5. Chicago Blackhawks                14-8-3                    31pts

6. St. Louis Blues                          14-8-2                    30pts

7. Florida Panthers                      13-7-4                    30pts

8. Toronto Maple Leafs                14-9-2                   30pts

9. New York Rangers                  13-5-3                    29pts

10. Philadelphia Flyers                13-7-3                    29pts

11. Phoenix Coyotes                     13-7-3                    29pts

12. Vancouver Canucks               14-9-1                    29pts

13. Dallas Stars                             14-9-1                    29pts

14. Los Angeles Kings                   12-8-4                    28pts

15. San Jose Sharks                      13-7-1                    27pts

16. Buffalo Sabres                        13-10-1                   27pts

17. Edmonton Oilers                    12-10-3                  27pts

18. Nashville Predators                11-9-4                    26pts

19. Ottawa Senators                     12-10-2                  26pts

20. Washington Capitals              12-10-1                  25pts

21. New Jersey Devils                  12-10-1                  25pts

22. Montreal Canadiens               10-11-4                  25pts

23. Tampa Bay Lightning            11-11-2                   24pts

24. Colorado Avalanche               11-13-1                   23pts

25. Winnipeg Jets                          9-11-4                    22pts

26. Calgary Flames                       10-12-1                  21pts

27. Carolina Hurricanes               8-14-4                    20pts

28. New York Islanders                7-11-4                    18pts

29. Anaheim Ducks                       7-13-4                    18pts

30. Columbus Blue Jackets          6-15-3                    15pts

Yes, it’s very early, and no, 9 wins won’t separate 1st place from last place for long – but alas, these are the way things stand as we enter the month of December.

Teams such as the Wild, Panthers, and Maple Leafs are all doing much better than expected, while some usually dominant teams such as the Capitals, Ducks, and Lightning are all floundering. Again however, it’s early. Things can, and almost certainly will change as the season rolls along.

This is all very well and good, but what does it have to do with the AHL or the IceCaps?

I had an idea.

Every 2 months of the season, I will take a look at two things. First, I will look at the NHL standings, given that they depict the successes and failures that the parent clubs of each AHL franchise are having on the ice. Second, I will compare these standings to a second list, which indicates the degree to which each NHL team is utilizing talent from their respective AHL affiliates.  I am looking to examine the relationship between NHL team success and the use of AHL talent, without getting into any statistical analyses.

Below is an Excel Spreadsheet that lists the NHL teams in order, based on how many AHL players they have called up to their main roster in the first 2 months of this season. Take a look.

October and November NHL/AHL Call-ups

For those of you who may be unable to open the document, here are the Top 3, and the Bottom 3 teams in terms of AHL player usage.

1. Philadelphia Flyers (Adirondack Phantoms): 12 call-ups [Legein, Zolnierczyk (twice), Schenn (twice), Rinaldo, Gustafsson, Holmstrom, Wellwood, Bourdon, Marshall (twice)]

2. Buffalo Sabres (Rochester Americans): 12 call-ups [Tropp (twice), MacIntyre, Brennan (twice), Kassian (twice), Szechura (twice), McNabb (twice), Finley]

3. Anaheim Ducks (Syracuse Crunch): 11 call-ups [Newton, Maroon (twice), Jacques (4 times), Bonino, Holland, Guenin, Deslauriers]

…….

28. Tampa Bay Lightning (Norfolk Admirals): 2 call-ups [Ritola, Tyrell]

29. Boston Bruins (Providence Bruins): 2 call-ups [Caron, Hamill]

30. Los Angeles Kings (Manchester Monarchs): 2 call-ups [Voynov (twice)]

From the list, you can see for example, that the Boston Bruins have only made 2 AHL call-ups this season.

As you can imagine, there are a number of reasons why an NHL team would call up an AHLer at any given time. In the example of Boston, they went 12-0-1 in the month of November. When a team is rolling like that, why would you rock the boat by bringing in somebody new and potentially mess things up? Obviously, one factor involved in determining the number of call-ups a team will make is the success the initial NHL lineup has (typically). The inverse can be seen in the case of the Anaheim Ducks, who are currently 29th in the NHL. When things aren’t going so well for an NHL club, the desire to call-up an AHL player quite clearly increases. Anaheim for example, sits in 3rd with 11 call-ups so far this season while struggling from the get go, including calling up Jean-Francois Jacques FOUR times (tied with Detroit’s Brendan Smith and Fabian Brunnstrom for the most of any AHL player so far this season).

Another factor that determines AHL involvement is injuries.The Pittsburgh Penguins, who have done remarkably well given that they have been obliterated by injuries, have made 8 call-ups in the first 2 months of the season (9th overall) to address the gaps in the lineup that had to be filled at short notice. The same is true for teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs. When the Leafs suffered injuries to their #1 goalie, 2 of their Top 6 D-men, and 5 of their starting forwards, the AHL Marlies were used rather often to plug the holes.

In the case of your St. John’s IceCaps, the Jets have called up 7 different players at different times to address injury issues and shake up the struggling lineup (12th overall). Those players are Peter Mannino, Mark Flood, Brett Festerling, Paul Postma, Jason Jaffray, Arturs Kulda, and most recently, Carl Klingberg. Interestingly, if the list I drew up ranked teams in terms of the number of unique call-ups in the first 2 months, they would be tied for 3rd in the league, with 7 different players making the trip to the big club. Only the Leafs, Blue Jackets, Panthers, Wild, and Flyers have used as many or more of their respective affiliate’s players.

As the season rolls along, it will be interesting to track the progress of the NHL teams while looking at the degree to which they are relying on AHL talent in times of need. As it is only early in the season, the connection should only become more apparent with time. Stay tuned as we follow this going forward.

Follow @Normaniac747 and @SJ_IceCaps on Twitter.