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IceCaps series recap & highlights: Playing games with Nikita Scherbak

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Sylvain Lefebvre decided to bench his leading scorer. Why? Nobody knows.

St. John's IceCaps / Colin Peddle

Tuesday: Syracuse Crunch 6 - 2 St. John’s IceCaps

In what was one of the worst performances in recent memory, the IceCaps and Crunch went head-to-head in a chippy affair. St. John’s alone had 68 penalty minutes, including three ten-minute misconducts and two ejections.

The IceCaps’ history of slow starts continued, when just 43 seconds after the opening puck drop, Matt Taormina scored to give the Crunch a 1-0 lead. Six minutes later, Tanner Richard threw a bouncing puck towards IceCaps goaltender, Charlie Lindgren. The rookie netminder was unable to control the puck, which then found the stick of Jeremy Morin. The forward tucked it home to put Syracuse up 2-0.

Julien Brouillette pulled one back for St. John’s with a power-play goal. The defenceman’s shot beat Adam Wilcox upstairs to cut the lead in half. It didn’t take long for the Crunch to restore their two-goal lead, however. Morin’s second of the night sent the visitors into the first intermission with a 3-1 lead.

The second period started much the same as the first. Taormina’s second of the game put the Crunch up 4-1.

With the fourth goal coming on only the 11th shot of the game, many at Mile One Centre were surprised that head coach Sylvain Lefebvre decided to leave Lindgren in goal. The IceCaps captain, Max Friberg, scored in the final minute of the period to give the home team some life, but unfortunately for St. John’s, that was the last offensive production of the night.

Syracuse added a fifth and sixth goal through Joel Vermin and Mike Halmo in the final period. The IceCaps looked as lifeless as the crowd they were playing for, in what was an embarrassing loss.

Goaltenders

STJ: Charlie Lindgren (L) 24/30
SYR: Adam Wilcox (W) 20/22

Three Stars

1. Matt Taormina
2. Jeremy Morin
3. Joel Vermin

Wednesday: IceCaps 3-2 Crunch (SO)

St. John’s was without Stefan Matteau for the game. The forward was serving a one game suspension following his spearing of a Crunch player on Tuesday night.

IceCaps head coach Sylvain Lefebrve named Yann Danis as the starter, but it was a different coaching decision that caught the attention of Habs and IceCaps fans. Nikita Scherbak — the team’s top scorer — was glued to the bench for the entirety of the first period.

The reason is unknown, but the bench boss said in an interview that the IceCaps had “too many passengers” in Tuesday’s blowout loss. Not only did he place Scherbak on the fourth line to start the game, his spot on that line was given to other players throughout the period. It was an interesting approach to dealing with your best player, to say the least.

The Scherbak-less IceCaps found themselves in a hole early, when Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond opened the scoring for Syracuse, three minutes into the first.

Late in the second period, Scherbak did what one cannot do from the bench. The speedy Russian fired a wrist shot past Kristers Gudlevskis to tie things up at 1-1.

Scherbak was back on the scoresheet just three minutes later. The forward made an incredible pass to Markus Eisenschmid, and the German made no mistake with 0.1 seconds reaming in the period. Sven Andrighetto picked up assists on both goals.

You can perceive this as a stroke of genius by Lefebvre, but the fact of the matter is Scherbak has produced the most points on the current roster. This isn’t a case of a player not scoring and needing a kick-start. You have to give credit to Scherbak for rising above the frequent punishment he receives rather than allowing it to discourage him and affect his gameplay in a negative way

Good players score while they’re on the ice, and despite the idea that punishments are a logical form of motivation, they can also lead to morale-crushing episodes, especially among young players that already carry a lot of pressure. The IceCaps as a team, and the individual players, are a lot better when Scherbak is on the ice. The proof is in the numbers.

In the third period, Crunch defenceman Adam Comrie tied things up at 2-2 when his point shot beat Danis. That’s all the third period had to offer, as the two teams headed towards overtime.

In the extra frame, Jacob de la Rose had the best chance, but his one-timer off a Daniel Audette feed went just wide.

In the shootout, Audette and Andrighetto both beat Gudlevskis, while Danis stopped first Cory Conacher, then Tanner Richard to secure the two points for St. John’s.

Goaltenders

STJ: Yann Danis (W) 26/28
SYR: Kristers Gudlevskis (OTL) 28/30

Three Stars

1. Daniel Audette
2. Markus Eisenschmid
3. Adam Comrie