After logging 3,088 miles in 12 days on a bus, the Skipjacks rode a five-game unbeaten streak into town this weekend. And then they ran out of gas.
Home may be where the heart is -- and the Skipjacks played with plenty of heart in last night's second straight home loss to Cape Breton, 2-1 -- but in recent weeks it's not been where the wins are. The Jacks are 1-5-1 in their last seven games at the Arena.
Coming off Saturday's 8-6 loss to the Oilers in a wide-open shootout, Skipjacks coach Rob Laird, a believer in defensive hockey, knew what he wanted to accomplish. "Our objective was to tighten up the defense," he said. "We did, for the most part."
That they did, holding the Oilers, who won their fourth straight, scoreless the first two periods to protect a 1-0 lead. For 40 minutes, the lone score was Mark Ferner's power-play goal at 19:51 of the first period, a slap shot from just inside the blue line.
But 40 minutes does not a hockey game make.
"You get into these tight battles like tonight and you have to stay committed for 60 minutes," Laird said. The Jacks weren't quite able to do it as Shaun Van Allen, the league's second-leading scorer, and Trevor Sim beat Jim Hrivnak, who was starting his seventh consecutive game in goal.
"We were a pretty tired hockey team," Laird said. "And we played a pretty good hockey team." Since Dec. 9, the Oilers have the second-best record in the AHL.
"We got tired mentally," added Ferner. "After the first goal we tightened up. You've got to give credit to their defense and their goalie."
Laird did. Of Oilers goalie Norm Foster, he said, "It was their goaltending. He's one of the better ones around in the minor leagues."
The Skipjacks (36-31-6) trail second-place Binghamton, which beat Capital District 3-2 last night, by four points in the Southern Division and lead Adirondack, a 5-3 winner over Springfield, by just two.
After 73 games, and with just seven left, the Skipjacks are a tired team. "I wish we had some time off on our schedule to get some rest and work on some things," Laird said. But Springfield comes to the Arena tomorrow (7:30 p.m.)
"We've got to come back with a good game," said Ferner.