The Amerks have the chance to do something tonight they haven’t done since April 12, 2104 and that’s win five games in a row. Andrey Makarov was in net that game and Kevin Porter scored the game winning goal in a shootout. That season the team also had a seven game winning streak. Kevin Porter departed after that season before returning in 2017/2018. Johan Larsson is the only player from that game that’s still in the Buffalo Sabres organization (Game Summary).
The team is well aware of what they’ve done the last four games but Danny O’Regan keeps things in perspective. “It’s nice to win those four games but you can’t be coming in on a high horse and looking at scores and stuff,” he said. “We just have to work hard. We have so much depth on our team you can’t really take a game off. There’s so many guys that can step in and do your job.”
A couple of early season injuries have the lineup on offense set in terms of scoring lines. Andrew Oglevie and Myles Powell are considered day to day with Sean Malone expecting to return at the end of October. Defensively is where guys are anxious to get some playing time. Three defensemen are currently sitting out that any other season would be in the lineup – Nathan Paetsch, Brandon Hickey and Matt Tennyson. Jack Dougherty is another early season injury (day to day).
“That can be the tough part of the game. We have that guys that deserve to be in the lineup that aren’t in right now,” Zach Redmond said when asked about how the defensemen are dealing with the situation. “That being said we have nothing but good character guys on the team and they’ve taken it as well as anyone can. It is a long season too and injuries come up. It is hard to stay patient but the guys that are out right now are doing a good job.”
Chris Taylor talked about the defense saying, “Not too often you have nine highly skilled defenseman in the American League and we do. It’s good and bad, it’s tough to tell the person that they’re not playing.” Taylor added, “makes everybody keep practicing harder because they don’t want to come out of the lineup.”
Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu appeared to have been injured late in the Sabres game on Thursday night. As of writing this there haven’t been any updates on his injury but if it’s serious we may have the first call up of the season.
Victor Olofsson is the real topic of conversation. He’s currently leading the American League in scoring with 12 points (5G+7A) and less than two weeks into the season has introduced the league to his lethal shot.
The hot start to the season has been somewhat surprising to him and the coaching staff. Everyone knew what he was capable of after a dominating season in Sweden but there’s always an adjustment period to North American hockey. A week ago Chris Taylor had talked about wanting to get the confidence level up for Olofsson.
“I think so, I’d get some confidence too getting player of the week and then right after another 4 points,” Taylor said when asked if that confidence has arrived. “It’s good for him, he’s working at it. He’s working on his game, staying out there after practice putting in the hard work. He’s not just saying ok I got four points I can have an easy day.”
Zach Redmond was asked about Olofsson and he said, “For me what that stands is his shot but for such a young guy he has a lot of poise with the puck. Those players don’t come around all that often and we’re lucky to have him.”
Olofsson helping Wedgewood work on a fast glove. pic.twitter.com/l0LaqzYnf3
— Let’s Go Amerks (@LetsGoAmerks) October 18, 2018
Team chemistry wasn’t going to be used as an excuse after the first two losses but two weeks later the team is now contributing that to some success. Playing better defensively has helped as well.
Victor Olofsson said, “I think the chemistry is way better and we kind of know where we have each other on the ice.”
Chris Taylor talked about what’s clicking for Olofsson compared to the first weekend of the season, “He’s using his speed now. He didn’t use it the first two games and I think he’s getting more comfortable especially on the smaller ice surface with the timing of it and just used to his teammates. We’re putting him into situations that we were hoping that he would have success and he’s earning our trust in those areas. On the power play he’s not just one dimensional of his shot. Everybody’s worried about him and now he’s passing and giving other guys opportunities. He’s using every asset that he has.”
Six of the seven assists for Olofsson have been on the power play. Teams know about his shot but they also know he’ll set someone else up to score without hesitation.
The Toronto Marlies won the Calder Cup last season and aren’t off to the best start only five games into the season but that doesn’t mean anyone will take them lightly.
This will be the second of five straight divisional games for Rochester.
“These are big games right off the start,” Chris Taylor said after practice on Thursday. “We have to make sure we understand how important these points are.”
Toronto is coming off of losses to Utica where the final score was 7-4 and 5-3. The same Utica team that just lost 6-1 against Rochester. The scores stand out but ask anything can change on any given night in this league.
When Jason Botterill hired Randy Sexton and Steve Greeley as assistant GM’s there was an immediate and renewed focus on success at all levels, not just the NHL. The way teams like Toronto and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton built their AHL teams was going to be the foundation of success for Rochester.
“I don’t want to say we took their model (Toronto) but we spent a lot of money this summer and brought in a lot of extra bodies kind of like they do and they’ve had success with all that,” Zach Redmond said. “They’re a team where it doesn’t matter what the record is, they’re a team that comes out hard and they have a lot of skill. They’re just a good team in general, well ran. There’s no taking them light despite the record and it’ll be a good test for us.”
On top of the money spent on returning players like Redmond and MacWilliam along with bringing in Scott Wedgewood and Wayne Simpson it’s also helped having the young talent find success early on. Redmond said, “we have a lot of good young guys, which I don’t want to say it’s hit or miss, but we’re lucky to have some of the young talent that we do down here.”
Four of the top 10 scorers in the league heading into tonight belong to Rochester, three of them are considered young guys. Olofsson leads the way with 12 points (5G+7A). Lawrence Pilut is tied for second with 10 points (2G+8A). Zach Redmond is tied for third with 9 points (4G+5A) and Alex Nylander is tied at 10th with 7 points (2G+5A).
League leading scorer Victor Olofsson is keeping a level head early in the season. He’s a dangerous weapon on the ice but off the ice he’s modest and soft spoken. He said, “I think you just have to take it one game at a time, just do all the small things really good. You can’t skip anything out there, just try to play a good solid game overall and hopefully it will continue.”
Extending the winning streak to five games on a Friday night at home can go a long way towards rebuilding a fan base that may still be hesitant after opening weekend. Words and highlight videos can only do so much compared to winning in front of a home crowd.
In case you missed it, check out the highlights from the win on Wednesday night in Utica.
The team will be selling autographed mystery pucks before the game for Hocktoberfest.