As the Rochester Americans embark on the regular season’s home stretch, every available point in every game is becoming increasingly important toward securing a playoff spot. With 29 games remaining, the Amerks occupy second place in the American Hockey League’s North Division, trailing the first place Toronto Marlies by just four points. The club also currently sits in eighth place overall in the Western Conference standings.
Two players who have stepped to the forefront lately are forwards Paul Szczechura and Marcus Foligno, both of whom are in the midst of four game point streaks heading into Wednesday morning’s critical matchup against Toronto. The duo has combined for 13 points over that span, primarily skating on a line with Phil Varone.
Foligno’s recent surge has seen him take over the team’s overall scoring lead with 28 points (12+16) in 45 games. Over the past four outings, the first-year forward has chipped in six assists and said he is feeling more comfortable about his own game as well as his linemates.
“I think a lot of this (recent success) has to do with more confidence and getting better with my game,” said Foligno. “Playing with Varone and Pauly (Szczechura), those two guys are very good and fortunately we had a big game in Syracuse to help the team out. Things have been going good so I just want to keep it rolling.”
Szczechura, who was named the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending February 5, has tallied seven points (4+3) over the last four games, highlighted by his three-goal, four-point performance against Syracuse on Saturday in which he scored the game-winning goal in overtime to complete his first hat trick. The 26-year-old now has 24 points (9+15) on the season despite appearing in just 28 games for the Amerks.
“Right now they are going in,” he said following Monday’s practice. “I need to keep getting it on net and working hard and hopefully they will keep going in.”
Szczechura was also quick to point out the fact that their entire line has been clicking lately and complimenting one another nicely.
“We have been playing well together. Give credit to the other two guys, they have been getting up on the forecheck and getting pucks, which really helps a lot so we can play in the offensive zone.”
Although the team helped its own cause by picking up five out of a possible six points over this past weekend’s three-in-three, which included a win and an overtime loss against the Abbotsford Heat, both players realize that there is a lot more work to be done.
“We want to catch Toronto because that would put us in first place in our division and third place in the conference,” Foligno said. “We have to work hard so we can keep going, and hopefully we get some guys back that are healthy in Colin Stuart, Michael Ryan and Corey Tropp because they can help us a lot.”
While last week’s three-game stretch was crucial in keeping pace with Toronto, the Amerks know that they must continue to rack up the points.
“The weekend definitely helped us out in the standings with things being so tight right now,” said Szczechura. “This is the part of the season where teams either pull away or pack it in, so we need to continue moving forward and keep the momentum going.”