Wednesday marked the Amerk’s first shutout victory of the year. And while Linus Ullmark did play fantastic, the story of the night was the 60 minutes of clean, conservative hokey played by the Amerks. Rochester took an early lead scoring two power-play goals in the first four minutes. It was a stark contrast from the way special teams have operated this year. I want to give a bit of credit to Coach Taylor because the team tried some quick zone entry plays tonight that seemed to catch the Devils off guard. On the theme of great special teams play, the Amerks only gave Albany one power-play opportunity, which should also be commended.
On a night where conservative disciplined hockey took center stage, Collin Blackwell played a perfect game. With the first line of Fasching, Criscuolo, and C.J. Smith really humming and creating plenty of chances, mistake free hockey was exactly what should be expected from a third line center. Also, late in the game he did a fantastic job in the face off circle while the Devils were applying pressure. Blackwell won 4 of his 6 defensive zone face offs in the 3rd period. Im going to rate his performance an A.
Offensively, Blackwell did not contribute anything special. He did create one chance as a forechecker when he won the puck behind the Albany net, and then delivered a nice centering pass, but it didn’t lead to a goal. Most of his time in the offensive zone, he was camped in the high slot or covering for a pinching defenseman. I was shocked to see how high in the zone 43 was for the majority of the game, but it did led to smart possession oriented hockey, so it was perfect. On the breakout, his passes were measured and always tape to tape resulting in no neutral ice turnovers. Even though Blackwell is not going to be the guy that provides a spark on this team, his conservative brand of hockey was exactly what was required against the Devils Wednesday night.
Defensively, Blackwell did a serviceable job on the forecheck, but I would have liked to see a bit more intensity. After all, the one time he really pushed the envelope it led to his best scoring chance of the night. Outside of that, I didn’t have any issues. His man-marking was exceptional, even trying to fight off forwards in front goal at times. He also did good job of digging pucks out in the corner to create outlet passes. On the one power-play opportunity the Devils had, Blackwell did a great job and was able to kill off precious seconds in the corner before clearing the danger. For the most part he didn’t have to spend much time in the defensive zone because he was playing such mistake free possession hockey on the other side of the ice.
Overall, Blackwell proved to be a valuable cog in what has been a much improved machine in Rochester. While he may not bring some of the sexy playmaking ability of other youngsters, solid mistake free hockey has been a rare sight in the Blue Cross Arena during recent years. 3rd line center is the perfect spot for him on the roster, so If he can bring the same kind of workman like performance to the rink every night, Blackwell should be an ideal fit with the Amerks.