There’s 21 games remaining in the regular season for the Rochester Americans and the North Division race is closer than it has been all season. The team plays road games tonight in Utica, Saturday in Syracuse, and finishes the week at home on Sunday when they host Syracuse. Three divisional games with two against the team they’re currently tied for first place with – the Syracuse Crunch.
Zach Redmond said after practice on Tuesday, “These games are big. Whether it’s game one (of the season) or right now. Right now it’s when you really notice those points add up or you notice teams kind of catching you. Right now there’s no bigger week than this week.”
There’s only seven points separating first place and fifth place. Belleville is on a 14 games point streak and continues to gain ground. Rochester and Syracuse have been in a constant back and forth. Toronto is in third place only four points back. Here’s the current standings:
In a three game stretch gaining four out of six points throughout the season can be seen as successful but that isn’t going to be good enough going forward. Redmond addressed that saying, “Where we’re at that’s probably ok but it’s not what we we’re shooting for. Right now is when you want to distance yourself and starting getting into those playoff habits which means when you get scored on now being down. Just making sure your play is consistent. Right now with 21 games left that’s what we’re looking for.”
Rochester has a 5-3 record in eight games vs Utica this season. One overtime win and one shootout win in those games. Wednesday is the first of two final games between the two teams.
Rochester has a 4-1-1-1 record in seven games vs Syracuse this season. Four of those seven games have gone into overtime, two decided in a shootout. There’s six games remaining this season between these two teams, two of them this weekend.
Chris Taylor talked about the games ahead saying, “Separation and playing the right way going into where we’re going. There’s 21 games left and we’re close to the playoffs. First and foremost we have to make the playoffs.”
The goal of the season from training camp was to be an elite playoff team. When Jason Botterill took over as General Manager of the Buffalo Sabres he repeatedly said the goal was development through winning. Last season the goal was to make the playoffs and take it from there. They accomplished that goal but it still wasn’t good enough. Continuing to play important games makes everyone better as a player.
“I think that’s kind of the emphasis they put on this team at the beginning of the season,” Zach Redmond said when asked about playing important games. “There’s no better way to develop your young guys, to kind put those vibes throughout the organization to win. It’s something we’ve done a pretty good job of this year. These games and playoff games there’s no experience like them. It’s just something you have to go through. It’s definitely helping in their development and everyone as a team.”
The message was clear in practice this week – these three games are going to be a big part of the year and they have to separate themselves.
“Points are always important. I think you know, everyone knows, these next three games are huge for us,” Matt Tennyson said after practice. “It’s only a few points separating one, two, three, and four is close. Belleville is kicking at five. The next few games are huge for us and going down the stretch the points are always huge. You want to have home ice advantage going into the playoffs, you want to make sure you make the playoffs first. Not saying we have any doubts of that but every game is important, we take every game as serious as the next.”
The team has been confidence from training camp that they can beat anyone when they play a 60 minute game and that isn’t any different now. The loss on Saturday night was an example of failing to do that.
“We weren’t playing the way we normally play and that’s not good enough for me or the team or anybody,” Chris Taylor said about Saturday. “We have high expectations of our club.”
The right things are being said, they know the importance of every game going forward, and now it’s time to prove it. The fourth quarter of the season is about to begin.
Matt Tennyson said, “We’re excited to finish the year off strong and make a long playoff run.”
CJ Smith was assigned back to Rochester on Saturday afternoon and immediately joined the team for the home loss to Belleville. He had an immediate effect on the game with a short handed assist in the first period to setup Sean Malone to score.
When asked about getting sent back and being frustrated he said, “Can’t sulk on it, obviously a situation you don’t want to be in, it is frustrating. I’d hope anybody is frustrated in that situation. I think I’m making steps in the right direction. Just have to keep working for those opportunities and keep working to get better. I just have too much respect for the coaching staff and too much respect for the guys on this team to have a bad attitude.”
Lawrence Pilut was also assigned back to Rochester at the end of last week and played in his first game Saturday. It wasn’t the best game compared to when he started the season but after almost three months away it isn’t considered anything other than a speed bump. He’s proven he can be an NHL player and dominated the start of the AHL season.
Redmond talked about having Pilut back and said, “Maybe he’s a guy that doesn’t deserve to be down here but again that’s how the deadlines and the rosters kind of shake things out and he’s young. We’re definitely happy to have him. He’s a guy that shows up everyday, takes it seriously, and has fun at the same time. He’s just a great model for how a young player should be and he’s committed. We’ll take them how we can get them.”
Talked about the impact the NHL trade deadline can have on a locker room Zach Redmond said, “There is kind of a level of clarity in the locker room afterwards because you know this is your team going forward and hopefully you can stay healthy and stringing a bunch of games together.”
Zach Redmond and Andrew MacWilliam were two of a handful of players that met up with Brendan Guhle when the news came out that he had been traded. Guhle was family to this team and they all wish him the best.
Danny O’Regan has apparently been assigned back to Rochester. It’s not clear if he’ll join the team in Utica at this time.
Kevin Porter and Wayne Simpson are both considered day to day.
Kyle Criscuolo is still out and considered week to week.