In their first season in St. John’s after relocating from Manitoba, the re-named IceCaps finished first place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division and made a deep run for the Calder Cup. With a largely similar core group of players still in the fold this year, there was reason to expect the team to build on its past success. More than half a season in, after a lopsided December and January, the IceCaps find themselves on the outside looking in. What exactly is going on in St. Johns?
While last year’s team put up significant numbers, at this point of the season Jason Jaffray holds the team lead with 23 points. His place at the top of the scoring column for the team means that not a single IceCap can be found within the top 100 scorers in the AHL.
Last season, the team’s top scorer was big winger Spencer Machachek who posted 18-32-50 in 61 games and was named to the Western AHL All-Star team. He continued his good work in the post-season, notching 7 assists in 11 games. After consistently hitting in and around 50 points in several AHL seasons, Machachek had his best stint in the NHL last season going 2-7-9 in thirteen games with the Jets. It looked like Big Mac had turned the corner and was ready for the big time. This season, however, the wheels have fallen off. Now in his 5th AHL season, he’s only put up 20 points through 43 games and is sporting a nasty -22.
Machacek and three others ended last year in the top 100 AHL scorers. With his poor showing this year and few others stepping in to carry the load in a big way, the IceCaps aren’t scoring enough. Until they start to score more, they can’t be expected to be Calder Cup candidates. Especially without stellar goaltending.
Eddie Pasquale is an organizational project. Drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 4th round his numbers have steadily improved season by season in the AHL. With him now putting up stats lines similar to his time in the OHL, he should be considered a success story.
What might be hurting the IceCaps the most is the lack of goaltending depth in the AHL. Last season, four goaltenders suited up for the IceCaps, with the bulk of the starts going to Pasquale or journeyman Swiss goalie, David Aebischer. Aebischer is a quality depth goaltender with experience in the NHL, Swiss League, and the AHL and though his numbers were far from stellar last season, the IceCaps did manage 15 wins with him in net.
This season, there is no Aebischer and Pasquale has been left to carry most of the weight on his own. Pasquale has already started 32 games halfway through the season, 6 short of his total played last season. He’s just out of the top-20 goalies stats wise with a goals against of 2.48 and save percentage of .918 but he’s currently carrying a losing record. Mark Dekanich is filling the backup role this season and has posted the worst numbers of his career. While neither of this goaltenders are terrible, they’re not posting the numbers that you need when your team isn’t scoring.
Ironically, Peter Mannino, who played 10 games with the IceCaps last year and is now with the Manchester Monarchs, has posted better numbers than both Pasquale and Dekanich through 20 games this season.
Defence is Offence
A large part of the IceCaps offence came from the D-corps last year. Of the top 5 scorers for the Caps last season, 2 were defensemen: Paul Postma, and Jason DeSantis, potting 44 and 43 points respectively.
This year, both Postma and DeSantis are gone, the former to the Jets and the latter having signed a one-year two-way contract with the Florida Panthers. Seeing as Postma was drafted by the organization in the 7th round back in 2007, that he is now in the third pairing on the Jets is good news, despite what it means for the IceCaps. Seemingly, management wasn’t particularly concerned with losing DeSantis to free agency, perhaps because he did struggle at times in his own end last season. Though there were reasons for the loss of both, the IceCaps are struggling today without their impact in the offensive zone.
One thing is certain, you can never be sure a team’s success in one season will carry over to the next. The wrong additions or subtractions can lead to different dynamics and sometimes players land in ruts. Unfortunately for the IceCaps, there seems to be a bit of everything going wrong.