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Wanted: Roll on The Rock

St. John's needs to start win streak at home

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Defenceman Paul Postma is hoping the St. John's IceCaps can use a six-game homestand to get back to the winning ways the team showed last season.

"I think we're really looking forward to this weekend, it's a chance for us to make up some wins," said Postma, who missed the start of this season due to injury.

The AHL farm team of the Winnipeg Jets is off to a slow 6-7-0 start.

Last season, the debut of the relocated franchise, they finished atop their division and second in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Calder-Cup winning Norfolk Admirals.

By mid-November they were 11-2-3.

Their latest homestand starts today, with the first of back-to-back games against the Albany Devils.

"We have a fairly similar team to last year but we still have to find our identity I think," said Postma, who is regaining some of his own form after missing the first eight games.

"I think certain players still have to find their roles and stick to what makes us successful."

The NHL lockout has meant an infusion of talent throughout the AHL and that has had an impact on the level of play.

"Teams get better in a hurry," Postma said.

"The skill level's gone up, even from last year it definitely feels like it is a better league. There's less time to react out on the ice."

But coach Keith McCambridge also says more players means a juggling act to keep lines together.

"It's trying to have that consistency in your lineup night after night... that's been our challenge as a coaching staff," he said.

Finding the net also has been a big issue for the IceCaps, who have been outscored 39-27 and have been shut out four times.

McCambridge says it's not from lack of effort. In fact, some nights, there may be too much effort.

"The frustration sets in and guys are overthinking plays," he said. "Where now, the game happens so fast, if you overthink plays... those lanes close pretty quickly.

Postma says no one should point fingers at the top marksmen for the scoring drought.

Jason King, who led the team with 22 goals last season, has managed only one so far in the nine games he's played. Spencer Machacek, whose 18 goals and 32 points produced a team-leading 50 points, has only three goals and two assists so far this year in 13 games.

Postma was no slouch last season, coming in at No. 2 on the IceCaps points list with 44 in just 56 games.

The team's leading scorers this season are Jets import Alex Burmistrov and AHL and NHL veteran Derek Meech, tied with seven points apiece.

"We obviously haven't been scoring goals but I don't think you can put all the pressure on certain guys," Postma said.

"I think we have to play better as a team. You look at last year, our leading point-getter only had 50 points. Our scoring was spread out throughout the entire team."

It's nice to have the extra practice time but McCambridge says the six-game homestand can bring its own pitfalls -- including the challenge of back-to-back games against the same team.

Last season, it was on the road where the IceCaps really started to find their feet, with four straight wins last November, followed by back-to-back wins at home.

"Our challenge has always been here in St. John's, winning the back-to-back games," says the coach, but it's a fact of life given the IceCaps' relatively isolated location.

During a similar six-game homestand last month, the IceCaps won the first and lost the second of all three back-to-back contests.

McCambridge says they want to build on their 2-1 win in Hershey last Saturday and they've been working on some of their weak points in practice.

"We had a chance here, a week in practice, to focus on our power play, which has been an area that we need to be better at, to focus on offensively making sure that we're bearing down on our opportunities as a group," he said,

Now the IceCaps are looking for the usual loud sellout crowd at home to help overcome that back-to-back jinx.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 16, 2012 C4

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