That’s it. Thursday was the last regular season practice for the Rochester Americans of the 2018/2019 season. They’ll have one more morning skate, two road games, and then the playoffs begin. Feels like yesterday we were asking if it was October yet as we waited for the regular season to start.
Nathan Paetsch was asked about the plan for the final weekend of the regular season and he said, “Get prepared for the playoffs playing our best hockey and win the division.”
“We want to get ready for the playoffs and we’re excited for the playoffs but we’re still focused on our main goal,” Paetsch added. “We were in first place in the division for a long time this season and we want to go back and grab that.”
The North Division title is going to come down to these final three games of the season. Syracuse is one point up on Rochester. Both teams play three games this weekend including one against each other. Toronto is locked into the third place spot with fourth place still up for grabs between Cleveland and Belleville. Rochester controls their own destiny. Win out the final three games in regulation and the North Division title belongs to them.
Here’s the current standings and games remaining. Cleveland has the toughest schedule with two against Charlotte.
Chris Taylor talked about the game on Friday saying, “We haven’t had a lot of great home games. I think for us on Friday it’s a big home game for us. I think with our home ice it’d be great to get our confidence and play well.”
Home record: 21-14-1-1
Away record: 24-8-3-1
The single season record for road wins in franchise history is 25 set by the 1998/1999 team. With two road games to go the team controls it’s own destiny in terms of winning the division along with breaking the record for road wins.
The away record is the best in the American League. The home record ranks 15th overall. Maybe having home ice is a disadvantage?
“I haven’t thought about it. Playoffs are just a different season,” Zach Redmond said when I asked him about the home record. “We’re going to have our fans behind us cheering loud. Playoff hockey is a little bit different than the regular season. Maybe we’re a little too cute at home sometimes trying to impress the fans and make that extra pass. When it comes to playoffs there’s none of that, I’m not worried about the home record. The fan base we have here is exciting and I think it will only help us.”
I asked Chris Taylor what he thought about this season going into the final weekend compared to last season and he said, “The biggest thing for us this year was the one goal games, we’ve done a really good job of getting the wins and results. Last year we had 37 wins and a lot of overtime losses. We really tightened that up and played on our toes instead of our heels.”
Last season the team had 11 overtime losses, six shootout losses, and overall played in 29 overtime games which tied an American League record.
“Last year we were afraid to lose, we wanted to do well for the organization, just make the playoffs,” Taylor added. “This year with the team we had I think we did a good job of finishing teams off.”
Chris Taylor has been mentioned in just about every article as a possible candidate for head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. He’s been around the organization as a player, assistant coach, head coach, and the only summer/training camp he’s missed since 2013 was in 2016 when he was in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“That’s just all because of our team and what they’ve done. Nothing to do with me,” Taylor said when asked how flattered he is that his name has come up as a candidate for the job. “It’s what our team has done. It’s the way the guys execute, it’s the way guys put pucks in the net, and the only reason my name has gotten there is because of the players.”
Friday night is the last regular season home game before the playoffs start and it should be a great crowd. The lower bowl is just about sold out as of typing this Thursday afternoon with the upper middle sections filling in.
I asked Lawrence Pilut how much he’s looking forward to what’s ahead and he said, “Its going to be fun. It’s going to be amazing. We’re so pumped up for the playoffs. I feel it in the room, I feel that the guys are so positive, and we’re having fun out there in practices together. It’s a really good mood in here.”
Andrew MacWilliam and Remi Elie are doubtful for the weekend. They’re both a little banged up and getting in some rest time before the playoffs. If the playoffs started tonight they would play.
Alex Nylander is still out with a lower body injury. Phil Housley had said he had a cut on his leg from the April 2nd game in Buffalo that required stitches. He hasn’t skated since. He did gingerly coast onto the ice for team pictures in skates and then left the building shortly after. A status hasn’t been given on when he could skate or play.
Tage Thompson scored another two goals earlier this week in Cleveland to increase his point total to seven (5G+2A) in five games.
Just to compare to some others on the team:
- Kyle Criscuolo has 6 goals in 40 games.
- Brendan Guhle had 5 goals in 50 games.
- Remi Elie has 8 goals in 28 games.
- Justin Bailey had 9 goals in 37 games.
“The more opportunity you get the more confidence you get,” Thompson said after practice this week. “With that you start getting more touches on the puck and that’s when your offensive abilities come out.”
Those offensive numbers are easy to point out but anyone who has watched the games has also seen the mistakes he’s made.
“I watch my shifts after every game,” he said about extra work. “I’ve talked to Toby about power play stuff and Gord on penalty kill stuff.”
He made a costly mistake this past Friday when he turned the puck over in the defensive zone that resulted in a goal against.
Tage Thompson to Carter Verhaeghe for the 4th goal of the game for the Crunch. pic.twitter.com/0LghXdZsdo
— Let's Go Amerks (@LetsGoAmerks) April 6, 2019
“Those happen, you’re going to make mistakes. No one plays a perfect game or anything like that,” Thompson said when I asked him about that. “Obviously you don’t want to do that and you want to learn from your mistakes. I didn’t see that guy coming down the slot. I thought I had the weak side D joining the rush. Those are plays you obviously want back. Can’t dwell on it. It’s what you do after that. Focus on your next shift and find a way to be better.”
That’s a benefit to the American League and something that the staff has stressed for two seasons. Mistakes are going to happen and it’s how you respond.
The two games against Syracuse were the first time Thompson had played against them. I asked him about his reaction to those games and he said, “Very intense playoff games for sure. I can tell that the teams don’t like each other very much. I felt that the first game, the first shift. Those are the games that are exciting, those are the ones you want to play in.”
Anyone that has watched the games Thompson has played in has also seen a high number of sticks that have been broken in games. Unofficial counts are from four to six.
After his first goal in Cleveland he gave his stick a flex on his way back to the bench. I asked him about that and he said, “I’ve had some bad luck here with my sticks, they seem to be breaking quite a bit lately. I was just making sure it was ready for the next shift. Sometimes you get a bad batch and they seem to break in the same spot.”
After Thompson scored he gave his stick a flex probably a little surprised it didn't break in half. pic.twitter.com/uBre8i67PC
— Let's Go Amerks (@LetsGoAmerks) April 9, 2019
Last Saturday in Syracuse the second goal of the game was scored by Andrew MacWilliam in front of the net. The assists went to Dalton Smith and Tyler Randell. An unlikely trio to score a goal.
“That was unbelievable. They get rewarded but they did all the right things,” Chris Taylor said when I asked him about the goal. “Veilleux did a great job of being underneath (in the defensive zone), Randell made a nice outlet pass to Smith, and then Dalton made a nice pass to Mac and the celebration was even better. Nothing better than those guys getting rewarded for what they do.”
What they do and bring to this team is something that doesn’t show up on a score sheet. They may not put up the points but they provide a lot of time, space, and even provide their own defense with some breathing room. You’ll rarely see them stuck in their own end, almost always pressuring teams down ice.
Big Mac from D Smith!! Amerks up 2-0. pic.twitter.com/UgKtDyV2dY
— Let's Go Amerks (@LetsGoAmerks) April 6, 2019
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