It's either all of the goals or none of the goals. There, apparently, is very little in between for the Rochester Americans.
"I hope this charade isn't over, ‘cause I'm just having fun." (Hey, Monea!, Paper Moon)
After going five games without a win, and three of their last eight needing a goaltender switch, the Amerks were in a bad way. That 1950s "she went away to school in another state" kind of way. I walked away from Monday's game with the fan in me not wanting to blame anyone (but of course I had my villains), and wishing that I could really just point a finger at someone. Emphasis on someONE. But the truth was there was no ONE that was the problem. This was a rough team effort. You win as a team and you lose as a team and this was a losing team. However, that goaltending switching thing was weighing heavy on my soul (or something like that), and somewhere in the fog of my sleep aid Friday morning (#NightShiftProblems), I made mention that, unless Andrey Makarov was starting in net, we may as well chalk up a sixth straight loss. I don't know if I'm psychic or if maybe someone started FINALLY taking my coaching advice seriously (they should not do that, although I do know a thing or two, clearly), but here we were, with Andrey Makarov starting a game against the big, bad, always-a-pain-in-the-rear Marlies.
Except ... these weren't the Marlies that always give us fits. Wait. Stop. Read that again, then realize that I'm not kidding. If you've followed along since the Sabres have reacquired the Amerks, or even since The Time Of Which We Do Not Speak, the Marlies have always been a problem for the Amerks. Except these weren't the Marlies that Amerks fans are used to seeing. These looked more like the stereotypical MLSE tire fire. They were slow, they got trapped in their own end, they got bogged down with the Amerks quick turnarounds. But some of that can be contributed to the Amerks, as well. Johan Larsson spoke to that after the game, saying that they spent a lot of time talking about being a quicker team.
Coach Chadd Cassidy said that having Brayden Irwin back has made a difference, as well. Irwin is at home in front of the opposition's goaltender, increasing the number of skates, the number of sticks, and decreasing the ability of the goalie to see what's coming at him. In turn, Luke Adam put two pucks past Toronto netminder Antoine Bibeau, as did Matt Ellis. Johan Larsson and William Carrier each contributed, as well. Adam was quick to point out that Irwin was a healthy contributor to his goals, and simply stated, "he's great." Adam also said that he's confident about his own game at this point, and that he's happy with what's been going on. He should be - he's had seven points (5+2) in the last three games, and 15 points (6+9) in 14 games, despite the Amerks troubles.
I haven't been able to do this in a while, since they've been so terrible, so here it is in all its glory...
My Three Stars:
Phil Varone: With three assists tonight, Phil Varone quietly continues to make quite the campaign for himself with the helpers, as is par for his course. In 14 games, he has 15 points (5+10) and 26 SOG.
Joel Armia and Mikhail Grigorenko: (Yeah, I'm putting them together) With Armia's eleven (5+6) points and Grig's nine (5+4) points in 14 games, these two are a blast to watch. They have combined for the most fire power on the team, without a doubt, and generate speed that I haven't seen in a long time on this team. They have great chemistry, they make each other better, and they make the players around them better. They are, truly, a delight. Armia also has 29PIM and sometimes wears his sassy pants, which I thoroughly enjoy.
Andrey Makarov: Makky, as he's known to his teammates and coaching staff, looked solid in net tonight and Monday, finishing what Nathan Lieuwen should never have started. With a 4-3 record, he's allowed 15 goals, with a 2.25 GAA and 1 SO. He is also the owner of a .930SAV%. I am already praying to the hockey gods that he will start against the Chicago Wolves on Saturday.
BONUS STARS! Amerks defenseman Brady Austin got his first professional point Friday night, with an assist on Matt Ellis' second goal. Also, Mark Pysyk played in his 100th AHL game. Way to go, guys!
The Chicago Wolves (St Louis Blues) come to town Saturday night. The Wolves are 4th in the Western Conference, 2nd in the Midwest Division, with 20 points and a 9-3-2-0 record. They're not exactly the same team that the Amerks faced in the first round of the playoffs last season ... but they're close. A lot of the same faces are still around. This may be an okay thing, since the Amerks pushed the five game series to the hilt. Conversely, it may be a true test of a team that has only managed to not struggle against The MLSE Tire Fire - I mean, Marlies.
For what it's worth, and I hope it's worth something, the Amerks did step up to the plate against the Utica Comets last week, but couldn't hold their beans together in the second period, which was truly their downfall against the AHL's top team. If (and this is a big if, given their play of late) they can show up for three periods, like they did tonight, and play for ALL of the periods instead of just SOME of the periods (and if Makarov continues his quest for world domination! ... I mean, gets the start), it should be a good contest. Should. I just heaved a big sigh because there are so many unknowns with a team that just seems to be so all or nothing. Let's hope for all. Nothing won't cut it. Especially against a team whose slogan is "A little bad attitude makes for a lot of great hockey."