The Amerks are on a long road trip to Texas and will be looking for a big weekend full of wins to put this last three in three behind them and gain some ground in the standings. They’ll play the Rampage on Friday, Stars on Saturday and Aero’s on Sunday. All three games are must win but the game against the Rampage (the current Florida Panthers affiliate) has some more meaning for obvious reasons. More on that below.
They started out well last weekend with a 3-0 win over the Albany Devils but went on to lose two games by only one goal, one against the Phantoms and the other the Bulldogs. Paying attention to details is something the team talked about after the great win on Friday night but they lost focus of that the next two nights which resulted in two losses. Evan Rankin had two goals against Adirondack which gave them a 2-1 lead before eventually losing in overtime. A four minute high sticking penalty by Drew Schiestel gave the Phantoms the power play in overtime which was the deciding factor. The next night against Hamilton the final score was 2-1 which meant it was a close game but when you look at the fact that Hamilton had a 35-16 advantage in shots you can correctly assume that Hamilton controlled the game. The Amerks couldn’t get any quality shots on net, they could barely muster any offense. Mike Blunden scored the winning goal and made it look easy by taking a wrist shot and placing it into a big opening David Leggio had given him.
On to this weekend…. the game against the Rampage has a similar story line to the one during the 2009/2010 season when the Amerks played against the Portland Pirates. The Florida Panthers prospects knew they were in Sabres territory and heard nothing but Rochester needing the Sabres back as an affiliate so they set out to try and beat the Pirates to show they were a good team. Some of the guys now playing with the Rampage are likely thinking “you wanted the Sabres back and you got them and now we’re going to beat them.” If you look at the win column the Rampage have one win more than the Amerks do and they’re only two points behind in the standings. Evgeny Dadonov, Eric Selleck, Michael Caruso, Tim Kennedy, Michal Repik, Scott Timmins, Colby Robak and Jacob Markstrom have all worn an Amerks jersey and I’m sure a little bit of them will want to win for more reasons than their own team winning.
Jeff Taffe who plays for the Houston Aeros was a part of that 09/10 Amerks team that went through the above against the Pirates. On the other side, Derek Whitmore had played for the Pirates and heard all about it all from that side.
In the long run the Amerks are much better off being back with the Buffalo Sabres but given the past five seasons this story line will only be brought up two more times. After the game and when the Rampage visit Rochester.
There’s only three points separating eighth place in the conference and last place in the conference. The Amerks have struggled on the road with only two out of their eleven wins coming from the road. It’s only December but these road trips can have a big impact down the road. The last seven losses for the Amerks have been decided by one goal (4-2 Albany win had an empty netter, counting that as a one goal loss) which shows that this Amerks team is very close and it’s also something that they know. Turn those close games into wins and the Amerks are on top of the conference. That’s the optimistic way of looking at things.
One possible upside to this long road trip is the time the team will spend together on the road. Every road trip up until this point has been on a bus for a few hours, sleep, play, bus, repeat. The players hang out when in Rochester but the team being together for an extended time can also make them an even closer group. We just have to hope that nothing happens like previous seasons on road trips where players were shipped off (Andrew Peters and Nathan Paetsch) or went out of the lineup for an extended time (Mike York).
The Amerks went on the road still without Paul Szczechura, Brayden McNabb, and Zack Kassian. It’ll be a miracle if Kassian ever plays in an Amerks uniform again the way he keeps playing for the Sabres. The same could be said for Szczechura who’s currently the #1 center for the Sabres.
On the injury front, Michael Ryan and Matt MacKenzie are the only two players not on the road trip. There’s no update on Ryan and MacKenzie is scheduled to see a doctor this week to find out when he can return.