The Amerks returned home late Sunday night from an unpleasant road trip, had a day off yesterday and back to work on Tuesday morning. No one was happy about the outcome.
If you weren’t paying attention, the Amerks played three games on the road, gave up leads in each one and lost three games. Game 1 Recap – 6-4 loss || Game 2 Recap – 5-3 loss || Game 3 Recap – 6-4 loss.
Kevin Porter talked about the weekend losses saying, “If just one guy on the ice isn’t doing their part it can end up in the back of your net. Happened to us a few times this weekend and ended up coming up with a few losses. We’re going to start looking forward, only have 11 games left, focus on those and make sure we’re ready to play.”
That one guy was a different one guy at various times in three different games, not just one individual person.
What does a hockey team do after a bad road trip or even a bad game? Get back on the ice for a longer than usual practice and work on what needs to be fixed. At one point in practice Chris Taylor yelled out to the defense, “Make them work, finish them off.”
Finish them off doesn’t mean plowing a guy into the boards or an open ice hit that sends a guy into another time zone. Get your body into their hands so they can’t play the puck, skate through someones stick so they can’t make a play.
Talking about how the practice was influenced by the weekend results Chris Taylor said, “We wanted to work on a lot of stuff, especially our forechecking. We have three days of practice this week, refresh on a lot of stuff.”
“This weekend we had some positives, we have to take those positives. Did we have negatives? For sure. Obviously you don’t get any points on a three game trip there’s a lot of negatives that come with that,” Chris Taylor said.
“There was some positives so we’re going to take those and then we fix the negatives during this week at practice as we get back to work.”
“I think the guys are focused, they were really focused on the ice today. I thought it was a really good practice. We’re sticking together. It’s tough at this point when you don’t get any points but I like the guys attitudes, we’re here to work and we’re not going to put our heads down. We’re going to be men about it and fix things.”
The thing that needs to be fixed is the physical defensive part of the team game. They give teams too many opportunities.
The second half of the season hasn’t been good at all and everyone knows it. Injuries, call ups and individual player performances are all a part of it.
Chris Taylor addressed that with, “We don’t make excuses around here. We come to the rink, everyone has to fill in, do a different job here and there and we expect everyone to do that. We count on our depth and we didn’t get any points. To me that’s disappointing for all of us in the dressing room.”
A big question is whether or not Linus Ullmark be back before the playoffs. The Buffalo Sabres have talked about using him down the stretch which would indicate they plan to keep him up until the end of their season. The Amerks season extends a week past the finish of the Sabres season.
Taylor said that’s a Buffalo decision when I asked about Ullmark and added, “Right now we’re focused on Adam Wilcox and Jonas Johansson, they’re going to get lots of playing time. Great opportunity and they have to seize the moment.”
Goaltending development coach Seamus Kotyk was at practice this morning working with both of the goalies. He isn’t mentioned often but has been a regular at Amerks practices throughout the season.
It’s rough losing you’re number one goalie in the last push of the season. That generates the age old debate of the NHL team hurting the AHL team. At the same time the Amerks second half losses aren’t pinned on the goaltending.
Justin Danforth is the newest player to experience an injury. His right foot or ankle was hurt at some point in the game on Friday night. He was walking out of the rink with crutches and is on the week to week time frame to return.
About the only thing that can be done after a weekend like the Amerks had is look at individual efforts of someone that stood out. This weekend it was Alexander Nylander. The points he’s put up have been great on paper but many of them have been hand outs versus having a real impact on the scoring play.
“Alex is getting into the dirty areas and playing the right way. He’s improving every day. He’s very approachable, he wants to learn, he wants to get better. Even at practice he’s working hard and the guys are helping him out,” Taylor said when asked about Nylander.
“He got all of three of those assists in Hartford because he created them.”
The first was a quick pass from behind the net to CJ Smith. The second was a defensive play in the neutral zone breaking up the play that resulted in Colin Blackwell carrying it in for another CJ Smith goal. The third was winning a puck battle down low, sending it up the boards to Matt Tennyson who shot a puck that went off of CJ Smith’s arm and into the net.
Taylor added, “His three assists weren’t just assists on the score sheet, he had an impact on the game with those plays.”
By comparison, a week ago I had written about his stats and how they were more handouts versus having an impact. Read that here.
Justin Bailey had everything click for him in back to back games against Toronto in February and he started having impacts in every game since. Hopefully that Hartford game was that type of game for Nylander to do the same.
The playoffs have been a guaranteed since the middle of the season but the team still hasn’t officially clinched. The Amerks need three points or a Laval loss in regulation and overtime loss.
Talking about the playoffs and clinching will be a sigh of relief Taylor said, “I think for a lot of guys they’re grabbing their sticks just because of what happened here last year with them. It’s tough on them, they want to make the playoffs as bad as they can.”
Kevin Porter talked about this last stretch of 11 games saying, “We don’t want to back into the playoffs we at all. We want to go in winning games, playing our best. Peaking at the right time. Hopefully we’re getting this out of the way, peak a little bit and ride this into the playoffs.”
“It’s in our own hands,” Taylor said. “We have the next four games here at home that we can do that.”
As he finished that last sentence the backdrop came crashing down used for television cameras . The ghosts within Blue Cross Arena have a sense of humor.