When we were walking to the elevators that take you down, away from the press boxes and suites following Friday night’s Amerks/Monsters matchup, the three stars of the night were being announced (as chosen by the night’s media). Tonight’s third star, with three assists, was Mikhail Grigorenko. Some champion in the crowd announced him to be "another soft Russian." Because nothing says soft like a 3-point night?
Maybe I’m wrong, but what if I’m right? (Ingram Hill, What If I’m Right?)
In addition to Grigorenko’s three assists, Phil Varone had a goal and two assists, Joel Armia had a goal and an assist, and Andrey Makarov stopped 32 of 33 shots as the Amerks defeated the Lake Erie Monsters in regulation. It was a refreshing look at a team that, although not poor, has struggled with that one missing piece through a LONG stretch of near misses.
Make no mistake – Friday night was not a case of the Amerks getting lucky or defeating a team who was really bad at hockeying. The Amerks won definitively, and truly looked like the better team. It’s the first time in a really long time – going back to October, actually – that the Amerks have looked like the better team on their own. Where it hasn’t been a fluke or what appeared to be a one-time deal. The team, as a whole, looked better and looked more solid. Which may be surprising, considering Varone was open about saying "there’s a lot of us haven’t skated five days, six days before this one." He agreed with my sentiment, though, saying "I thought it was a pretty strong game for us."
Part of that strength? The power play. The Amerks managed to net two on their six power play opportunities (you’re welcome, Hockey Fights DV), which has been lacking as a whole through the recent slump. "Honestly, a win is more fun … I think we deserve a win. Guys played well in front of me," said Makarov after the game. Head Coach Chadd Cassidy agreed. Not wanting to take away from how great Makarov played, he also complimented his d-corps tonight, and their ability to stay out of Makarov’s way and let him see what was coming at him. He consistently came up with the big saves Friday night – another thing that the Amerks had been sorely lacking throughout that slump prior to the Christmas break.
The third thing that the Amerks have been lacking has been consistency. It’s hard to find consistency in a chronically rotating schedule, considering Joel Armia, Tim Schaller, Grigorenko, and Mark Pysyk have all spent time in Buffalo recently. They’re all top-minute men on Cassidy’s roster, and it’s highly likely that Buffalo will need someone for Saturday’s matchup against the Islanders. On top of that, Johan Larsson is still with the big club and Amerks stalwarts Drew Bagnall and Nick Petrecki are still injured.
How does Cassidy work with this? "You have to be where you’re at. Everyone wants to play in the NHL. You have to be committed to where you are." And Grigorenko will agree, "You have to bring your best effort … and Chad has been really helpful. He comes to me and tells me what I need to do." It’s evident, not only with Grigorenko, but with the team as whole. Despite the moves and the injuries, Cassidy is working to get the consistency and to groom these young players into NHL-ready and NHL-worthy athletes.
Speaking of injuries, however, Zac Dalpe had to be helped off the ice partway through the third period. Cassidy said that he didn’t think it looked as serious as it did on the ice, but that he was still considering it a serious injury. That’s not good news to hear for a guy who has been a rather solid member of the starting lineup throughout the season so far. Dalpe was assisted off the ice and was not putting pressure on his left leg. I know I’m not alone in wishing him a speedy recovery.
The Amerks continue their home stand in downtown Rochester as the Toronto Marlies come to town Saturday night. The Marlies are 11-10-8-0 with 30 points and sit in 12th place in the Western Conference, two spots above the Amerks. Given Makarov’s start tonight, I would anticipate Nathan Lieuwen getting a start against the Marlies on Saturday. Lieuwen was spectacular in his shootout win against the Adirondack Flames last Friday, stopping all of the shooters and acquiring a minor lower body injury in the process. He’s healed, however, and hopefully that win gave him the boost that he needed to jump-start his own rebound.
I have committed to Hockey Fights DV, donating $1 for every goal scored by Patrice Bergeron, $2 for every Amerks win, and $1 for every Amerks PPG to the Alternatives for Battered Women, in Rochester, NY. Through December 15, I have donated $45. You can help, too. Find out how at hockeyfightsdv.tumblr.com/about