Amerks On The Brink Of Elimination

Amerks On The Brink Of Elimination

Back to back losses in Syracuse have the Amerks clinging to life in the AHL Playoffs.

This is a FanPost written by steelopus.

How They Got Here

After barreling through the end of the regular season with a 10-game point streak, the Amerks hit a wall in the final weekend, blowing a chance to finish as the 2 seed and earn home ice advantage for Round 2, and nearly falling down to the 4 seed and being forced to play in the best-of-3 Round 1 series. Instead, they lost at home against Belleville and Cleveland, the two worst teams in the North Division, before traveling to Cleveland and winning their final regular season game to pull even in points with Syracuse. Both teams finished with 81 points, but Syracuse earned the 2 seed because they had more regulation wins. All of that to say... despite a dominant month of April, the Amerks struggled at the end when it mattered most, and found themselves staring down a best-of-five series against arguably their biggest rivals, with the Crunch owning home ice advantage. To make matters worse... the Amerks lost leading goal scorer Jiri Kulich to an undisclosed injury and he joined overall leading scorer Brandon Biro. The Amerks have struggled for offense all season and they entered the playoffs without their two best offensive threats.

Game 1

Friday night the teams battled to a 2-2 tie before Syracuse won it in overtime on a shot by Philippe Myers. It was an entertaining, competitive, and balanced game, with the Amerks battling back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits. Malcolm Subban was easily the best Amerks player on the ice, stopping 37 of 40 shots. Without his play the Amerks likely wouldn't have made it out of regulation.

Coach Seth Appert went with an 11F/7D lineup and I'm not quite sure why. In the regular season finale, the "ECHL" line of Kohen Olischefski, Matej Pekar, and Josh Passolt was arguably their best line. Inexplicably, Pekar was not in the lineup for Game 1. Also missing was Russian rookie Alexandr Kisakov. While both players are small and neither has excelled offensively this season, I still consider it a questionable choice to leave forwards off the roster for a team who has struggled continually to find offense.

Special teams were also a problem. The Amerks penalty kill finished the season strong, including a stretch of 10 games  and over 25 consecutive successful PKs, but in Game 1 they gave up two power play goals and could not convert on any of their three chances. Not having Kulich on the PP is a significant problem.

Another problem that I've been incessantly harping on all season...the Amerks played the majority of the season with no right-shot forwards. Only since the recall of Kohen Olischefski have they had ONE right-shot forward. This is one of my biggest gripes with the construction of the team. Too often they find themselves in scoring position at the right-circle/slot and are unable to get a shot off because it's on the shooter's backhand. This is a big problem on 2-on-1s and on net-front scrambles. Left-shots have to position their body to the left of the goalie in order to get off a good forehand shot, this leaves the front of the net exposed and open for defense to come in and clear pucks/sticks. Perhaps I'm not explaining that well... but it's been a noticeable problem all season, and it's particularly problematic when you're playing against a team for the 13th time in a season.

Syracuse surely knows the Amerks have limited options for shooting from that side of the ice and it allows them to prepare a defensive scheme to aggressively force the puck to the right side, thereby limiting quality shots. Anyway... ranting... the Amerks lost this game, but it was mostly competitive. The next night would be a much different story.

Game 2

On Saturday night both teams took the ice, but only one team actually showed up to play. I was among several dozen Amerks fans who made the trip down the thruway to catch the game in person... and we were rewarded with perhaps the most embarrassing effort we've ever seen from the Amerks in a playoff game - or perhaps ever. The Amerks finished the first period with zero shots on goal. Read that again. The Amerks finished the first period with ZERO shots on goal - and it was worse than it sounds.

They were outplayed in every way. The few scoring opportunities they had were wasted with passes to noone and shots that hit the end boards or the glass. Subban's 14 first period saves were once again the only reason the Amerks even had a chance going into the second period, but things did not improve.

Yes, they put some shots on the board, and generated some chances, but the wheels fell off completely midway through the second. Six minutes in, Syracuse's Gabriel Dumont kneed Amerks winger Filip Cederqvist. Cederqvist was helped to the locker room while Dumont was assessed a 5 minute major and a game misconduct.

The Amerks had 5 full minutes of power play time and they squandered them completely. They were unable to get any O-zone possession. Zone entry after zone entry were stifled by the Crunch at the blue line. The Amerks finished the second period having had a full 9 minutes of fruitless PP time - nearly half a period - and they could not capitalize, but they still went to intermission only down by 2. (Cederqvist did return to the ice, by the way, thankfully.)

The third period was more like the first, with the Amerks being out-played, out-skated, out-muscled, out-efforted... and the game ended exactly like you'd expect, with the Amerks not figuring out a way to get Subban out of the net for the extra attacker until too late - and once he was off the ice Syracuse quickly tossed a puck into the empty net.

Another crushing loss that left a lot of Amerks fans walking back to their cars through a downpour and driving home through a rainstorm. I've just about had it with Seth Appert as coach, but I'm sure the organization feels as though he's doing exactly what they want. There's no denying that he's done a heck of a job developing the young talent that the Sabres have given him. Quinn, Peterka, Samuelsson.... and this year Kulich, Rousek, Rosén, Biro... all of these guys have improved their games under Appert's watch... but the Amerks themselves continue to underachieve. Perhaps this is all the organization cares about - development - but all you need to do is look at Boston/Providence this season for an example that it's possible for *teams* to excel in both the NHL and the AHL simultaneously

The inability for the team to make adjustments during a game that is going the wrong way is very concerning to me, and it's not the players' fault. The coaches need to be able to make a change when necessary - especially when their season is more or less on the line... which it will be next Friday night (April 28th) back home in Rochester. Let's hope for a packed Blue Cross Arena, a healthier Amerks roster, and some changes from the coaching staff.

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