For the second year in a row, the Rochester Americans were swept out of the Calder Cup playoffs in the first round. Last year it was at the hands of the Syracuse Crunch and this year it was by the defending champion Toronto Marlies.
All season we heard the Sabres and general manager Jason Botterill speak about the importance of development for the Amerks and how they held hopes of a long playoff run. The roster consisted of a handful of hopeful future Sabres players that could have benefited from a playoff push. Unfortunately, that’s not how things played out.
While that’s a disappointment and there’s no denying that fact; there was growth this season as well. Just because they were eliminated earlier than expected doesn’t erase all the good things they were able to accomplish throughout the season.
Focusing on the playoff series with the Marlies itself, the Amerks lost two games on home ice and couldn’t find the back of the net with capable scorers on the roster.
The other facts are they outshot the Marlies 101-66 in the three games and ran into a goaltender that posted a .960 save percentage in the series. Kasimir Kaskisuo was the best player for Toronto and came up big after a season with a .896 save percentage.
On the other hand, Scott Wedgewood struggled from the opening game posting a .863 save percentage in the series. He couldn’t keep his team in games with some poor goals against when they were having a hard time finding the net at the other end of the ice.
The Amerks hit posts and missed opportunities to capitalize on their scoring chances in all three games. Sometimes all it takes in the playoffs is having some bad luck and running into a hot goaltender. After the series Marlies, head coach Sheldon Keefe praised the Amerks and even spoke of how lucky they were at times.
The full Keefe quote on Rochester: pic.twitter.com/qlfl71EHNk— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) April 25, 2019
Keefe is a coach in an organization that has analytical data flowing through their veins. I’m sure he was made aware throughout the series that his team was being outplayed for the most part in shot rates and scoring chances.
Moving past the playoff failure, there are 76 games worth of positivity to build on. The Amerks won 43 and recorded 99 points. They finished second in the North Division behind the Crunch and their 102 points. Those 43 wins are the most since the 2011-12 season and most points recorded since the 2004-05 season.
Regardless of overall season goals that’s impressive.
While winning is important at any level of hockey or sports in general for that matter; the primary goal of the AHL is to develop players to make that next jump to the NHL. We saw plenty of that this season in regard to Sabres prospects.
Victor Olofsson scored 30 goals in 66 games as a rookie coming over from Sweden. When he got his look at the end of the season with the Sabres it was easy to see he improved his all-around game from what was seen in training camp.
Rasmus Asplund is another player that developed nicely throughout the season. He took some time to get acclimated to the North American game early but was an impact player in the second half of the season. Other players like Will Borgen, C.J. Smith, Lawrence Pilut and even Alex Nylander had good seasons that give the Sabres hope for their future.
Chris Taylor has shown a tendency to be a good developmental coach in his two years behind the bench in Rochester. He’s led them to two straight postseason appearances and coached them to one of the better regular seasons in franchise history.
Going 0-6 in two postseason appearances isn’t a great look and possibly takes him out of the running for the Sabres head coaching job if that was a real consideration. However, the result of these three games doesn’t make him a bad coach. He’s probably best suited to serve in his current role and the NHL is further away than originally expected.
This season for the Amerks wasn’t a complete failure or whatever word you’d like to use. It was a season of growth, that was needed, that ended with a bad result. The next wave of Sabres prospects will be coming through next season and we’ll see if they can get some playoff success to build on.