The Rochester Americans captured a 5-2 win over the Cleveland Monsters at KeyBank Center Wednesday night, moving them four points ahead of the Monsters in the race for first place in the North Division.
“One of our best 60-minute games that we’ve played this year,” said head coach Chris Taylor after the win. “Liked every part of it, our goaltender, our defense, our forwards; I thought everybody did a great job tonight.”
With 19 points (9-3-1-0), the Amerks sit atop the North Division after Wednesday’s win. The Monsters aren’t far behind, at 7-5-1-0. Overall, the Amerks are second in the AHL’s Eastern Conference, one point behind the Charlotte Checkers.
The Amerks took a few minutes to find their feet in the game, getting outshot early by the Monsters. However, they started putting shots on net, and found the back of the net twice in the final two minutes of the opening period.
Justin Bailey opened the scoring for Rochester with just 1:50 to play in the first period as the Amerks began to take advantage of a strong forecheck. Bailey brought the puck into the zone and up the right side with a shot that went top-shelf over Jean-Francois Berube’s shoulder for his first goal of the season. The goal also marked the 100th point of Bailey’s AHL career.
“I was moving my feet, using my speed to my advantage,” Bailey said. “Making sure every time I got the puck, my first three strides are going forward.”
Just over a minute later, the Amerks found themselves up 2-0. Dalton Smith made some nice moves along the boards to get the puck to Zach Redmond, who shot it into the net with a laser for his team-leading 17th point of the season. He also leads the Amerks with nine goals - despite being a defenseman.
Another Redmond goal.....NBD ♀️ pic.twitter.com/kS3Gulv418— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) November 8, 2018
The Monsters got off to a slow start in the second period, registering just one shot on goal in the first 10 minutes to the Amerks’ six shots. After successfully killing a delay of game penalty, Rochester went up 3-0 on Bailey’s second of the night and second of the season. Berube came out of his crease to try to tip the puck, but Bailey beat him to it, did a quick turnaround slammed it home.
“Just a spur-of-the-moment thing,” Bailey said. “I was trying to get in front of it, try to get a breakaway, but the goalie came halfway out, so I figured I’d just put something on net.”
The Amerks’ three-goal lead lasted only 11 seconds, as Sonny Milano, recently demoted from the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, found the back of the net for his first goal of the season. Former Buffalo Sabres forward Nathan Gerbe notched an assist.
Rochester kept up the strong play in the third period, holding the Monsters to just two shots in the first half of the period and controlling much of the play.
They took a 4-1 lead just over the halfway point of the third on a goal by Wayne Simpson, who slapped it into the net from down low. Simpson was appearing in his 199th consecutive game and is the AHL’s current leader in that category. C.J. Smith assisted on the goal for his 10th point of the season.
“Our line was playing fast, and I found the puck on my stick for a few opportunities,” Simpson said. “I thought all four lines, all six D and the goalie, just a good game all-around.”
Rochester continued adding to the board, going up 5-1 on Simpson’s second of the night that came from a wrist shot from near the face-off circle to the right of the net.
“We’ve been struggling with the starts to the game over the last couple weeks, so it was good to see us go out and pretty much play 60 minutes,” Simpson said. “Even though we’ve been playing well, we haven’t really done that that many times, so it was good to see.”
In the end, the Amerks outshot the Monsters by a 39-26 margin, including 15 shots in the final frame. Scott Wedgewood made 24 saves in the victory.
Of note, forward Victor Olofsson didn’t play a shift in the third period and was not on the Amerks’ bench for the final frame. Head coach Chris Taylor said after the game that Olofsson had a “little lower body-injury” and would be re-evaluated Thursday.
Defenseman Brendan Guhle also missed Wednesday’s game in Buffalo. He has been sick for the past few days.
Returning to the Amerks lineup, however, was hometown forward Sean Malone. Malone suffered a knee injury in mid-September during training camp that kept him sidelined until tonight. He also faced injuries last season.
“Felt a little rusty, to be honest, off the start,” Malone said of Wednesday’s season debut, “But as the game went, I think I progressed a little bit better as things became easier for me. Coming back from a long-term injury like that, it’s hard to mimic those situations you have in a game in practice or at rehab skates. I was happy with the way we performed tonight.”
“It’s tough watching your team from the stands, as anyone can attest to here,” he added. “Finally, I’m able to play and get the monkey off the back and have some fun out there. It was really exciting for me and I put a lot of work into getting back out here.”
The Amerks are now on a two-game winning streak and will host Syracuse on Friday night before hitting the road for a three-in-three stretch next weekend, with games against Springfield, Providence and Hartford.