If you haven’t been to an Amerks game in a few years, you certainly got smacked with a dose of reality at the 2013-14 home opener. The same team that won it all in ’96 and went to the finals in ’99 and ’00, lost 8 to 1 in a completely one sided match versus the Grand Rapids Griffins. Even worse, the Griffins hardly broke a sweat. We knew the Griffins would be a tough team to beat–after-all, they won the Calder Cup in 2012-13. We just didn’t know they would be THAT tough. Just a week later the Amerks looked dramatically better and earned a decisive 4-1 victory against the Utica Comets. Then on Saturday night the Syracuse Crunch mopped the ice with the Rochester Americans winning 5-1. The worst part is, the game wasn’t nearly that close. One look at the second period stats is enough. The Amerks had only a single shot on goal. Nope, that isn’t a typo. They had ONE shot on goal during an entire 20 minutes of play. They also took a ridiculous number of penalties. Saturday night’s second period was one of the worst periods of hockey the Amerks have played in a long time. So where’s the problem? Where do we go from here? Here’s where I’d start…
The Second Period
Blame it on the coaching staff. Blame it on bad water. Blame it on an erroneous Amy Grant song playing in the locker room during the first intermission. Whatever the reason, the Amerks have played terrible second period hockey. Against the Griffins the Amerks were outshot 22-9 and outscored 5-1. Against the Comets the Amerks were outshot 11-4 (but somehow managed to pick up a goal). Against the Crunch the Amerks were outshot 20-1 and outscored 3-0. Steamrolled once–poor preparation. Three times in a row and it’s obviously a much larger issue. Against the Griffins the Amerks entered the second period down by just two. Against the Crunch they entered the second period all tied up. With a couple of solid scoring opportunities either game’s momentum could have swung in the Amerks direction. Instead the Amerks fell apart. No offense. Poor defense. Poor goaltending. It doesn’t matter how bad the first period of play was. The coaching staff and veteran players need to find a formula to energize the team for a second period. Throw on a little David Guetta (this one’s for you Keith) and take to the ice with a fury. Veterans, this is YOUR time to shine.
Luke Adam looks decent–certainly the best he’s looked in more than a season. Currently leading the team in goals, Adam is proving himself valuable close to the net. And…that’s about it. Maybe I’m being overly critical here but honestly–the Amerks were outshot 37-19 versus the Griffins, 31-22 versus the Comets, and 39-19 versus the Crunch. The offense just isn’t there. The Amerks need to start throwing the puck at the net. Go for the rebound. Slap at the puck in front of the net. Tuck the puck home. Dirty goals are goals all the same. We’ll take them any way we can get them.
I’m guilty of cracking a few Hackett “can’t hack it” jokes. The thing is I’m not really sure Hackett CAN hack it. He pulled himself from the home opener. He literally had a breakdown on the ice against the Crunch. In just 3 games Hackett has taken more penalties than some goaltenders take in an entire season. But then there was that game against the Comets. Hackett had his glove back. He looked good. He proved he can play well in Rochester. What we don’t know is whether he can keep himself together mentally. It’s no secret that goaltenders require as much mental stamina as they do physical. Let’s hope the Amerks coaching staff can help Hackett work through his issues. If Hackett can’t keep it together while in net let’s get Lieuwen in net early and often. We can’t waste time (and points) on a ticking time bomb.
There’s no denying Darcy Regier has an eye for talent. Take one look around the AHL and NHL. You’ll see lot’s of Regier picks holding top ranks. Unfortunately Regier does not possess the same talent for selecting teams with chemistry. You could stack a team with all the talent money can buy. If they don’t play well together they’ll lose every match. Regier hasn’t exactly broken the bank with his picks but he isn’t taking hand-me-outs either. We’ve spent a lot of money on under-performing players (here’s looking at you, Mancari) and we’ve squandered away talent for meaningless draft picks (Brennan, please come back). And then there’s the development problem. Ask ANY Amerks fan what Darcy Regier’s development plan is and you’ll receive little more than a blank stare. After 2 going on 3 seasons under Darcy Regier I have absolutely no idea what his plan or vision is for the Amerks. Rochester isn’t a place to hold the “could be great” players while putting up mediocre numbers. We’re not a city that considers merely reaching the play-offs an achievement. Rochester is a city with a rich WINNING hockey history. We’re all for developing the NHL team of tomorrow. We just expect to win while doing so. It’s time to bring winning hockey back to Rochester.
In some ways this is a good way to start. We’re starting from the bottom. We’ve gotten the bad games out of our system. There’s no where to go but up! The 2013-14 Amerks have a lot of potential. We just need a couple of more pieces to the puzzle. We could use a little more size. We NEED a true enforcer. The rest *should* fall into place. We’ve got a tough match-up on Friday against the Toronto Marlies and another match against our new rivals the Utica Comets on Saturday. It’s time for the strong veteran core to take the reigns and show us what they’ve got.