The Amerks are playing their annual home game in Buffalo tonight and for anyone that simply looks at the standings they’ll see a team sitting in a very comfortable spot in the North Division. That’s true but what the standings aren’t showing is that the team hasn’t been playing a team game and the results over the last 17 to 20 games have shown that. They’re focused on changing that.
A 12-3 blowout win last Friday against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins was an exciting game for the fans but it was a fluke of a game. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was down three defensemen early and the game just exploded from that.
(Picture is from practice February 20, 2018)
The Amerks lost the next two games in overtime and a shootout.
After the shootout loss on Sunday Chris Taylor had said, “I find that right now we’re not caring too much about each other.”
Expanding on that Taylor said, “You can look great as an individual if you work as a team. If you don’t work as a team you look terrible as an individual. That’s what we’re trying to do and get across to everybody.”
Kevin Porter said he doesn’t think it’s a case of not caring and added, “We just need to play a little bit harder, play more as a team. We had a great game Friday then Saturday and Sunday we didn’t play as well. We have to start stringing together some games that we’re playing a full 60 minutes.”
For great reason Taylor remains positive saying, “They just have to play hard and play as a team and good things will happen. We have good players, good people in there so we just have to get back on track here.”
Getting away from playing a team game is what has caused some players to go through scoring droughts which has also resulted in losing games. Since the beginning of the year the point was to play a team game and individual stats would come. Playing a team game is what earned Casey Nelson a call up and he’s earned more time playing the right way. The same can be said about Nick Baptiste.
With 23 games left in the regular season the standings are more in focus than before. Tonight is against the Syracuse Crunch, a team one point below the Amerks. Three of the next five games are against the first place Toronto Marlies.
Kyle Criscuolo talked about division games saying, “Every game is a 4 point swing really. We need to make sure we take care of business now and make sure by the end of the season we’re in a good spot.”
Talking specifically about Syracuse he said, “They’ve been playing really well since the beginning of the year. After their first 15 games or so they’ve been one of the best teams in our division and obviously we know where they stand right now so we need to bring our A game and we’re ready to work.”
Syracuse has won the last three games this season against Rochester. A stat Rochester has in their favor is their 4-1-0 record when playing in Buffalo at Key Bank Center.
“Can’t look back on those (Syracuse) games, just have to look forward,” Kevin Porter said about the past. “Tonight’s a huge game. We’re up a point on them and want to keep them behind us.”
Talking about how important these games are Chris Taylor said, “Every game at this stage of the game is very important and to feel good about ourselves too we need to come out hard and play our game. We’ve got off it a little bit here. Even Friday I didn’t like some of the things that we did but we got the win. We have to get back to simplifying a lot of different things.”
I asked Kyle Criscuolo if the teams place in the standings may have impacted their game in getting a little too comfortable. He replied with, “We’ve been playing close games all season. We definitely need to get back on track and play a little bit of a meaner game. I don’t think we got complacent, there’s great parity in our division.”
The message to the team was clear this week, there’s going to be a lot of eyes on everyone as individuals and as a team. The talk of playing more of a team game is because they’ve gotten away from that. When someone is selfish it’s noticed. When someone doesn’t make a pass it’s noticed. When someone does make a pass, clears the zone or starts a rush even if that person doesn’t show up on a score sheet it’s noticed.
Kyle Criscuolo talked about the added excitement for the game in Buffalo saying, “Everybody in the locker room right now is looking forward to the game tonight. We’ve talked about it a little bit and Coach Taylor keeps harping on the fact that good teams make players look good so everybody wants to play a good team and everybody will benefit from that.”
“There’s going to be a lot of people watching,” Kevin Porter said about playing in Buffalo. “It’ll be exciting playing in that building so hopefully the guys get pretty pumped up for it.”
Management watches every game. They see what the team is doing and how they’re doing it. Randy Sexton is often at practices. They’re visible in the dressing room after games so playing in a different building shouldn’t change the way anyone plays. They notice those passes mentioned above or lack of passes.
Being noticed for whatever reason also ties in with the upcoming trade deadline.
The Buffalo Sabres are at the bottom of the standings and everyone knows there’s going to be some changes. All eyes will be on the Amerks tonight more than ever. Whether or not those changes will impact the Amerks in some way is only known by Jason Botterill and Randy Sexton.
Chris Taylor has been through a lot of trade deadlines in his career. Asked about it he said, “It’s everywhere in hockey. Everyone wants to see it, hear about it and see whats going on. Especially with Buffalo and where they’re sitting in the standings a lot of people speculating on what’s going to happen. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the NHL or AHL you just have to worry about what you need to do and get focused for each and every game.”
“Always an exciting time, kind of a nervous time too,” Kevin Porter said. “You never know what’s going to happen. Guys try not to think about it but it’s kind of in the back of their minds at the same time.”
A lot on the minds of everyone towards the last quarter of the season. The coaches have talked about it. The players have had their own meetings about it.
Kyle Criscuolo kept this line simple, “We need to get back on track and everybody is dialed into that.”
Daniel Muzito-Bagenda will be back on the lineup tonight against Syracuse and expect Linus Ullmark to get the start in net.
Colin Blackwell is sitting out game two of his two game suspension.