A pair of back-to-back wins have brightened the outlook for the injury-plagued St. John’s IceCaps.
“At the end of the day, regardless of who’s out . . . you’ve got to make sure your game is where it needs to be, you can’t sit back and feel sorry for yourself,” coach Keith McCambridge said Monday.
The farm team of the Winnipeg Jets limped through a franchise-record five-game losing streak until this past weekend.
Then they battled through overtime Saturday to defeat the Northeast Division-leading Springfield Falcons 3-2 and shut out the Providence Bruins 4-0 Sunday.
It was a great way to start an eight-game road trip, as they look to move out of the AHL’s Atlantic Division cellar.
Fortunately for the IceCaps, it’s not a long trip from basement to penthouse, with only five points separating St. John’s from the division-leading Portland Pirates.
“It is pretty tight so at least we can keep within striking distance, make sure we’re getting as many points as soon as possible, and slowly integrate these injured guys back after Christmas,” McCambridge said.
While McCambridge says injuries are no excuse, with 10 players in the infirmary at one point last week, they aren’t a bad explanation.
And they include some point getters like Eric O’Dell and regular Winnipeg Jet Alex Burmistrov, who had settled in nicely to his lockout-forced sojourn in the AHL.
“He won’t be with us before Christmas,” McCambridge said of Burmistrov. “He’s being assessed on a week-by-week basis in Winnipeg.”
Nor will another big loss, centre Patrice Cormier, who has missed most of the season and is still recovering from knee surgery.
Their absence is felt even more acutely on a team currently lacking offensive punch. Right-winger Spencer Machacek and defenceman Derek Meech are team scoring leaders with just 15 points apiece, which leaves them at 115th and 119th in the league.
On the plus side, the injury list is now just nine with the return of Jason Jaffray Sunday. The left-winger managed 11 points in the 17 games he saw this season.
“When you have some success and you get guys back from your injured list, it adds spark to your game,” says McCambridge.
The coach says they’ve been getting solid goaltending from starter Eddie Pasquale and backup Mark Dekanich. But no matter how good the goalie, scoring is a must to win games.
Even with the casualties, he says St. John’s managed to keep some games close during their losing streak, but still disappointed fans with four of those five losses on home ice.
Despite strong fan support at the regularly sold out Mile One Centre, their location dictates back-to-back home games, and one out of two is the best the IceCaps seem able to manage, if that.
“That’s been a challenge for us from Day 1 being in St. John’s,” said the coach. “It’s tough to win back-to-back games against the same opponent.”
Which makes a couple of road wins all the more important.
“When you lose five in a row, you want to make sure you get as much traction as soon as possible,” he said.
The IceCaps continue to bat above .500 on the road. Seven of their 13 wins this season have come away from St. John’s.
Notes: Other players still on the injured list include Hunter Tremblay (concussion-like symptoms), John Albert (back/shoulder issues), Travis Ramsey (broken hand), Jason King (concussion symptoms), Julian Melchiori (broken finger) and Shawn Weller (broken finger).