There's no easy way to say it: the Buffalo Sabres are riding the struggle bus right now. Between being shutout for a few games in a row, managing a (rare?) win here or there, dropping games in overtime... everyone is frustrated, and it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
To that, I say this: at least we've got the Rochester Americans, who are putting together a solid season in the AHL. As of December 11, the Amerks are third in their conference and second in their division.
They've gone 14-5-3-3 in 25 games so far this season, amassing 34 points. That ties them with the Providence Bruins (who have played one less game) and puts them six points behind the league-leading Toronto Marlies. (How is it that the Marlies are ALWAYS good?!)
The Amerks have scored 85 goals this season, third-most in the AHL, behind only Lehigh Valley and Charlotte. Their 75 goals-against is seventh-best in the league, and overall, the Amerks haven't lost a game in regulation since November 18, a stretch that's seen them go 5-0-2-2.
This past weekend, the Amerks played three games, all on the road. They beat Springfield 2-1 Friday, then fell 3-2 to Hartford Saturday in a shootout. Rochester capped off the busy weekend with a 4-1 win over Bridgeport Sunday.
Through 25 games, left winger C.J. Smith leads the Amerks across the board, averaging a point-per-game with eight goals and 17 assists. The 23-year-old is having a solid season, which includes three power-play goals and 69 shots on goal.
Center Sahir Gill, perhaps an unfamiliar name to Sabres fans, is second on the team in scoring with 17 points (6-11), while defensemen Zach Redmond, Brendan Guhle and Stuart Percy all have 15 points each on the season.
The Amerks also recently got Alexander Nylander back in their lineup. He made his season debut on November 17, and has put up four points (1-3) but is a minus-8 in 11 games.
In net, Linus Ullmark has been the main man for Rochester. He's appeared in 18 games this season and has a 2.63 GAA and .920 save percentage.
Of course, everything hasn't exactly been handed to the Amerks on a silver platter. In the past month, they've lost several players to NHL call-ups, including Hudson Fasching, Evan Rodrigues and Kyle Criscuolo (since returned).
Meanwhile, captain Kevin Porter hasn't played since November 25; Justin Bailey played last on November 18, just his fourth game of the season, and is out with a lower-body injury. Taylor Fedun was up in the NHL but has been on injured reserve since November 17. Nathan Paetsch has played only two games, back in October, and has been dealing with a lower-body injury.
At any rate, the Amerks are generally having a decent season so far, and it's a glimmer - albeit a small one - of hope that Sabres fans can look to.
The Amerks return home for a pair of games this week. They host Utica on Wednesday and Toronto Friday, both 7:05 p.m. puck drops. They'll then hit the road to visit the Comets Saturday at 7 p.m.
P.S. If you want another glimmer of hope in the Sabres organization, look to the ECHL, where the Cincinnati Cyclones are 12-9-1-0 on the season. With 25 points in 22 games, they're third in the Central Division and seventh in the Western Conference. We'll ignore the fact that they've lost four consecutive games heading into this week.