Game Notes: After beginning the New Year away with a three-game road trip, the Rochester Americans return home to The Blue Cross Arena this weekend for a pair of divisional bouts, starting tonight when the first-place Toronto Marlies come to the Flower City. The 7:35 p.m. contest will be the fourth of 10 scheduled meetings this season between the two teams and will be carried live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk.
AMERKS FAN GUIDE
AUDIO: Ron Rolston with Don Stevens
2011-12 AHL Standings
RCH Stats TOR Stats
BUF Stats TOR Stats
Friday's Weather Forecast
Head-to-Head: Rochester has dropped all three get-togethers with Toronto this season, with its most recent loss coming in the form of a 3-2 setback in the back-end of a home-and-home series with the Marlies on November 19 at Ricoh Coliseum. After the Amerks took a 2-1 lead midway through the second period, Toronto responded by scoring twice in the closing minutes of the second and held on in the third period despite a barrage of shots from the Amerks. Marcus Foligno and T.J. Brennan each scored for Rochester while Brayden McNabb recorded two assists and David Leggio made 25 saves. Derek Whitmore and Paul Szczechura each collected an assist as well for the Amerks, who outshot the Marlies 14-3 in the final 20 minutes and 34-28 for the game.
Amerks Notes: Rochester (16-13-4-3, 39 points) enters the contest after claiming four out of a possible six points in what turned out to be a rather successful first weekend of the New Year. Despite posting a 1-0-0-2 record in their three games this past weekend, the Amerks have now collected points in seven of their last eight games and show a 5-2-1-2 record in their last 10 outings. The Amerks, who own the second-best winning percentage (.542) among division rivals, still trail the division-leading Toronto Marlies by a mere six points for the top spot in the American Hockey League’s North Division. Rochester also comes into the game as one of the least penalized teams in the AHL and is just one of five clubs to have fewer than 500 penalty minutes. Coming off its 3-2 win in Binghamton on Saturday, Rochester has not lost a road game in regulation since December 17 (6-2 loss at Texas) and is 3-1-1-2 in its last seven games away from The Blue Cross Arena. The Amerks’ roster is beginning to look much as it did at the start of the campaign as Rochester has seen the return of several of its missing players, including the likes of Corey Tropp and Zack Kassian, who’ve each spent considerable time with the Buffalo Sabres. With an almost healthy lineup in Buffalo, only two Amerks remain on recall with the big club, rookie defenseman McNabb and veteran team captain Colin Stuart.
Atlantic City Bound: The American Hockey League announced last week that McNabb has been named to the Western Conference All-Star roster for the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic. The game will take place in historic Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Monday, Jan. 30. McNabb, who is currently on recall to the Buffalo Sabres, has appeared in 19 games for the Amerks this season, recording 10 points on one goal and nine assists to go along with a +5 rating and 16 penalty minutes. His lone goal on the season, which was the first of his professional career, was the overtime game-winner in a 6-5 victory over Syracuse on Nov. 6. The 20-year-old rookie blueliner was recalled to the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 26 and has remained with the parent club since then. At the time of his recall, McNabb was leading all Amerks defensemen in scoring and currently ranks third on the team in that capacity. In 19 games with the Sabres, McNabb has recorded one goal and three assists. A native of Davidson, Saskatchewan, McNabb made his NHL debut on Nov. 26 versus the Washington Capitals and scored his first NHL goal/point on Dec. 26 against the Capitals.
‘Rankin’ Among The Best: Despite missing the last five games with an injury, Evan Rankin, who signed a pro tryout with the Amerks on November 25, has produced at nearly a point-per-game pace since joining the team, recording 12 points (7+5) in 13 games after beginning the season with Toledo (ECHL). With several of the Amerks’ top scorer’s shuttling back and forth between Rochester and the Buffalo Sabres, Rankin’s 12 points are tops on the team since November 25. During his tenure with the Amerks, Rankin has been held scoreless just five times and has contributed four multi-point games. His seven goals already rank him tied for fifth on the club.
Who’s Hot: Coming off the first multi-goal game of his professional career over the weekend, Phil Varone enters the weekend on a career-best seven-game point streak (4+5) and has 14 points in his last 13 games. The rookie now has 20 points (5+15) on the season, 12 of which have come over the last month. Another first-year player who’s also been productive as of late is Foligno, who has four assists through his last five games and has registered seven points (1+6) in the last six outings. Whitmore has six points (3+3) in his last seven games with the Amerks since making his NHL debut for the Sabres on December 20. Brennan, who carried a career-best seven-game point streak (3+5) into 2012, shows nine points (3+6) in as many games and has only been held scoreless once during that stretch. In his last 11 games in an Amerks sweater, a span that includes two recalls to Buffalo and an injury absence, Brennan has registered 12 points on six goals and six assists. Forward Igor Gongalsky, who signed a professional tryout with Rochester on December 21, recorded points in back-to-back games for the first time this season after scoring a shorthanded goal Saturday in Binghamton and assisting on another Friday in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Maxime Legault also enters play tonight with two points (1+1) in three games.
Team and League Leaders: With three points in his last four games, Whitmore remains Rochester’s top point-getter with a team-high 15 goals and 24 points, in addition to a team-best 120 shots on goal. His 15 goals rank him tied for 12th among the AHL’s top goal scorers as the Rochester native has now scored 10 goals in his last 18 games. He also ranks eighth in the AHL in shots on goal. With five helpers through his last seven games and goals in three straight, Varone has taken over the team lead with 15 assists and moved into second on the team in scoring with 20 points overall. Mark Voakes leads the team with a +10 rating and is one of just two Amerks players to appear in all 36 games thus far along with Varone. Joe Finley leads the Amerks with 73 penalty minutes, good enough for sixth among league rookies in that category.
Rookies Stepping It Up: The transition to the professional ranks for the Amerks’ freshmen this season has undoubtedly been a successful one for the young Buffalo Sabres prospects. Entering this weekend, three of Rochester’s top four scorers are currently in their first pro season and one point is all that separates them in the overall points table. Varone leads the group with 20 points, Foligno at a close second with 19 and Kassian, who recently returned from the Sabres, is not too far off with 18. The next closest rookie is McNabb with 10 points, but he remains on NHL recall with Buffalo. The Amerks have scored 105 goals through the first 36 games this season, but more impressively, 28 were scored by a rookie, which equates to more than 25% of this year’s total offense. On a team that features eight different first-year players, four have made their NHL debuts with Buffalo and even spent significant time with the big club.
Sharing The Crease: The goaltending duties for the Amerks this season have been equally shared among the tandem of Leggio and Drew MacIntyre – so much that their numbers are nearly identical. Leggio, who has started the last two games, boasts a 10-8-1 record with a 2.85 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage in 19 games. He also presently ranks tied for 16th among AHL netminders in wins. MacIntyre, meanwhile, shows a 6-9-2 record with a 2.85 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage in 18 games between the pipes. Leggio has made 525 saves in 1,114 minutes played compared to MacIntyre’s 506-save count in 1,073 minutes of service.
By The Numbers: The Amerks are 6-6-2-1 (15 points) this season against North Division rivals, but show a 10-7-2-2 (24 points) mark versus non-divisional foes. The third period has been the Amerks’ strong suit thus far as the club has accounted for 36 goals while allowing 27. The Amerks have scored the first goal in just 18 of the first 36 games of the campaign and show a 10-6-1-1 record when doing so, including a 6-2-0-0 mark at home. Rochester is also 8-0-1-0 when leading after two periods, a streak that also comes with an unblemished 5-0-0-0 mark at home.
Too Close For Comfort: Sixteen of the last 24 games for the Amerks have been decided by one goal, including the last six straight. Of Rochester’s 36 games thus far this season, 21 of them have been determined by a one-goal difference, 11 of which were settled either in overtime or via the shootout, for an 8-6-4-3 mark in favor of the Amerks.
Home, Sweet Home: Home-ice advantage has certainly been a factor in Rochester’s success as the Amerks are 7-3-0-0 in their last 10 games at home. After beginning the season with just two home wins, the Amerks show a 10-5-0-1 record (21 points) this season when playing in their downtown barn. Conversely, Rochester is 6-8-4-2 (18 points) away from the friendly confines of The Blue Cross Arena.
The Road ‘More’ Traveled: The reunion between the Buffalo Sabres and Amerks not only restored hockey’s longest NHL-AHL affiliation, but it made the commute for those fortunate enough to earn a recall to Buffalo almost effortless to get there. The Amerks have seen 10 different players over 17 total recalls make the 75-mile trek west down Interstate 90, including several on game day. In addition to Szczechura and Tropp, the Sabres have also required the services of MacIntyre, Whitmore, Foligno, Brennan, Finley, Kassian, and Stuart, who along with McNabb, remain with Buffalo.
Special Teams Breakdown: The Amerks have gone 20-for-111 (18.0%) on the power-play over their last 23 games, which includes going 2-for-4 in last Sunday’s shootout loss to Hershey. On the penalty kill, Rochester has successfully killed off 125-of-156 (80.1%) shorthanded situations, including 61 of 72 at home for an 84.7% efficiency rate, good for the league’s 10th-best rating in that category. As a team, Rochester has allowed a league-most eight shorthanded goals against, four coming at home and four on the road.
Milestone Watch: MacIntyre is a mere two wins short of 50 AHL victories while Rankin is four points shy of 200 professional points and six assists away from 100 assists. Back for a second stint with the Amerks, veteran forward Michael Ryan is just two games away from his 400th professional game, 214 of which have been played in Rochester. More than a month removed from skating in his 500th professional game, Stuart is on the verge of yet another personal milestone, needing just 11 more points for 200 in his AHL career. Szczechura needs just three more assists to reach the century mark in his AHL career while Legault is on pace to skate in his 100th AHL game Saturday against Hamilton.
Toronto Notes: Toronto (20-14-3-2, 45 points), currently in the middle of its seven-game road trip, comes into matchup after splitting a two-game set with the Atlantic Division’s St. John’s IceCaps at the Mile One Centre in Newfoundland. After taking Game 1 with the IceCaps by a 4-2 count on Tuesday, St. John’s responded with a 3-2 win on Wednesday night to avoid a two-game sweep at the hands of the Marlies. Kyle Neuber and Greg Scott provided the scoring for Toronto while goaltender Mark Owuya stopped 35 of 38 shots in the losing effort. The Marlies enter tonight’s game with four wins in their last six games, which includes a three-game winning streak from January 1 to January 6, and have played the most games among any other Western Conference team with 39. Toronto owns the second-best penalty kill in the league with an 87.1% success rate, in addition to having the AHL’s third-most effective penalty kill unit on the road (87.6% efficiency rate). The Marlies, who remain six points ahead of the Amerks as the AHL’s top team in the North Division, also rank among the league’s top five teams, trailing just six points behind the league-leading Hershey Bears.
Team and League Leaders: The Marlies come to the Flower City fueled by 11-year veteran forward Mike Zigomanis, who leads the Toronto offense with 26 assists and 34 points in 36 games this season. Originally a second-round selection (64th overall) of the Buffalo Sabres in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, the 31-year-old Zigomanis currently ranks tied for 12th among the AHL’s top point producers in overall scoring, while his 26 assists are eighth-most among league leaders. Zigomanis, who began the season on a seven-game point streak, has also accumulated 14 of his helpers this season on the man-advantage, good enough for fourth in the AHL. Averaging just under a point per game, Zigomanis enters play tonight with 12 points (4+8) in his last 10 games, including six points (3+3) over his last six outings.
Ryan Hamilton is first on the team and tied for sixth in the league with 17 goals, including a team-high seven power-play tallies that places him tied for 10th in the AHL in that category. Hamilton has also been playing well as of late, showing five points (3+2) through his last six games. He also strung together five straight games with goals from December 21 to January 1, a streak that was highlighted by a two-goal outing against St. John’s on New Year’s Eve. Fourth-year pro Joe Colborne ranks third on the team with 25 points (12+13) despite playing in just 28 games this season for the Marlies. Colborne began the campaign on an AHL career-best eight-game point streak that saw him collect 18 points (9+9) in the first 10 games of the season in a stretch that featured three three-point games, six multi-point games and goals in seven of the first nine games en route to earning the first AHL/Reebok Player of the Week honors of the 2011-12 season.
Similar to the Amerks this season, Toronto’s goaltending duties have been divided among the duo of Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas. In 15 games for the Marlies, Scrivens is 7-7-1 with a .907 save percentage and currently ranks 15th among AHL netminders with a 2.48 goals-against average. The Spruce Grove, Alberta, native is also 2-4-1 in eight NHL games with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Rynnas, in his second season with the Marlies, shows an 8-7-0 record with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage in 15 games. The Toronto backstop also presently ranks second among AHL goaltenders with three shutouts.
Ditch The Dorms: Tonight’s game falls on the next installment of the Amerks “Ditch the Dorms” promotion. Beginning this season, the Amerks are encouraging all college students to “Ditch the Dorms” on Friday nights and bring the party downtown for Amerks College Nights. Current students who present a valid college ID at the Box Office can get best available seating anywhere in the arena for as low as $10.00. In conjunction with Savor Catering at The Blue Cross Arena, Amerks fans ages 21 and over can enjoy “Amerks Happy Hour” from 6:30-7:30 in the Upper Atrium Bar with $2.00 drafts courtesy of Molson and Coors Light.
Seneca Casinos Legends Night: Tonight’s game will also be the first of five scheduled Seneca Casinos Legends Nights this season, featuring Sabres Hall of Famer and broadcaster Danny Gare. Gare will be on hand to sign autographs from 6:30 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. prior to the game and perform the ceremonial face-off. The Seneca Casinos Legends Series is now in its third year and will feature appearances by different hockey greats at four more Amerks games this season, including Thursday, Feb. 2; Friday, Feb. 17; Friday, Mar. 9; and Friday, Mar. 30. Fans can visit www.amerks.com for more information on the Seneca Casinos Legends Nights.
Next Game: Rochester remains at home on Saturday, January 14 as the Hamilton Bulldogs make their way to Western New York for the second time in as many weeks. The 7:35 matchup will be the eighth of 10 get-togethers between the North Division rivals this season and can be heard live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk.
TONIGHT'S WARM-UP MUSIC PLAYLIST
Rick Derringer - I Am A Real American
Chris Brown - Beautiful People
Bad Meets Evil - Fast Lane
Cold Play - Fix You
Volbeat - Guitar Gangsters and Cadillac Blood
Young The Giant - My Body
Kayne West and Jay Z - Paris
Nadia Ali, Starkillers and Alex Kenji - Pressure (Alesso Remix)