Game Notes: The Rochester Americans continue their four-game homestand tonight as the Oklahoma City Barons make their inaugural trip to The Blue Cross Arena for the first of back-to-back tilts in Western New York. The 7:05 p.m. contest will be the third of four scheduled meetings this season between the interconference rivals and will be broadcast live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk. The teams will meet again in downtown Rochester tomorrow night to bring the season series to a close.
AMERKS FAN GUIDE
Audio: Jay McKee with Don Stevens
2011-12 AHL Standings
ROC Stats OKC Stats
BUF Stats EDM Stats
Thursday's Weather Forecast
Head-to-Head: The back-to-back games between the Amerks and Barons this week will mark the second time this season the teams will have faced off on consecutive nights. Back on December 27 and 28, the teams met for a pair of games in Oklahoma City, where the Amerks came away with a two-game sweep over the AHL’s then first-place team with a pair of one-game decisions, both of which required extra time. The first meeting resulted in a 4-3 overtime victory for the Amerks on Drew Schiestel’s game-winning power-play goal 3:21 into the extra session. Schiestel (1+1) and Paul Szczechura (2+1) each contributed multiple points in the effort and Drew MacIntyre finished with 27 saves. The very next night, Rochester responded with a 4-3 win via the shootout as Jacob Lagace (2+0), Marcus Foligno (0+2), and Phil Varone (0+2) chipped-in two points apiece, while David Leggio turned in a 22-save effort to help the Amerks improve to 2-0-0-0 this season against the AHL’s top team in the Western Conference.
Amerks Sign Pair of Defensemen to Pro Tryouts: Rochester reinforced its defensive corps on Wednesday with a pair of signings in defensemen Maury Edwards and Brock Matheson, who each joined the team on 25-game Professional Tryouts. Edwards, 24, has appeared in 23 games for the Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL) this season, recording 10 points (3+7) and six penalty minutes and ranks second on his team in scoring among defensemen. The 5-foot-11, 176-pound Edwards has appeared in 12 combined American Hockey League games with Providence, Lake Erie and Peoria following the completion of his collegiate career. A native of Rocky Rapids, Alberta, Edwards played four seasons with UMass-Lowell (H-East), where he registered 79 points on 28 goals and 51 assists in 147 games. Edwards was a Hockey East First Team All-Star in 2008-09. Matheson, 24, has appeared in 19 games for the Stockton Thunder (ECHL) this season, recording one assist and 13 penalty minutes. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound blueliner played in two AHL games last season with Binghamton following the completion of his collegiate career. A native of Ganonoque, Ontario, Matheson played four seasons with Union College, where he registered 24 points on nine goals and 15 assists in 141 games.
Amerks Notes: Rochester (17-13-5-3, 42 points) enters the contest after earning three out of a possible four points last weekend that saw the Amerks host the North Division rival Toronto Marlies and Hamilton Bulldogs on back-to-back nights at The Blue Cross Arena. After salvaging a point in a 2-1 overtime time loss to Toronto on Friday night, Rochester responded with a 3-1 win over a Hamilton team that claimed six of the first seven meetings between the two teams this season. Foligno scored a pair of goals, including the game-winning tally, and Leggio stopped 35 of 36 shots as the Amerks have now collected points in nine of their last 10 games and improved to 6-1-1-2 in their last 10 outings. The netminder enters play tonight with a .954 save percentage and 165 saves over his last four starts, which includes a season-high 49-save performance in a 4-3 shootout loss in Hershey on January 8.
The Amerks, who own the second-best winning percentage (.553) among division rivals, still trail Toronto by a mere five points for the top spot in the American Hockey League’s North Division. Coming off its 3-2 win in Binghamton last 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 Brayden 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 20 games with the Sabres, McNabb has recorded one goal and four 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 seven 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: Despite seeing his career-best seven-game point streak (4+5) halted last weekend against Toronto, Varone’s two assists against Hamilton give him 16 points in his last 15 games for a total of 22 points (5+17) on the season, 14 of which have come over the last month. Coming off his two-goal outing last Saturday against Hamilton, Foligno shows nine points (3+6) in as many games, a stretch that includes three multi-point appearances. Derek Whitmore has six points (3+3) in his last nine games with the Amerks since making his NHL debut for the Sabres on December 20. T.J. Brennan, who carried a career-best seven-game point streak (3+5) into 2012, shows 10 points (3+7) in his last 11 games and has only been held scoreless three times during that stretch. In his last 13 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. Alex Biega also shows points in two of his last three games while Kassian has recorded four points (2+2) in his first four games back with the Amerks since his latest stint with the Sabres.
Team and League Leaders: Whitmore remains Rochester’s top point-getter with a team-high 15 goals and 24 points, in addition to a team-best 126 shots on goal. His 15 goals rank him tied for 14th among the AHL’s top goal scorers as the Rochester native has now scored 10 goals in his last 20 games. He also ranks ninth in the AHL in shots on goal. With seven helpers through his last nine games, Varone has taken over the team lead with 17 assists and moved into second on the team and 17th among league rookies in scoring with 22 points overall. Mark Voakes is one of just two Amerks players to appear in all 38 games thus far along with Varone. Though presently on NHL recall, defenseman Joe Finley leads the Rochester with 78 penalty minutes and a team-best +11 on-ice rating, good enough 17th among league leaders in that category. Foligno ranks tied for fourth in the AHL with five game-winning goals this season, which is the most among first-year skaters.
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 week, three of Rochester’s top five 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 22 points, Foligno at a close second with 21 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 109 goals through the first 38 games this season, but more impressively, 30 have been potted 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 MacIntyre – so much that their numbers are nearly identical. Leggio, who has started the last four games, boasts an 11-9-1 record with a 2.72 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage in 21 games. He also presently ranks tied for 14th 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 599 saves in 1,237 minutes played compared to MacIntyre’s 506-save count in 1,073 minutes of service.
By The Numbers: The Amerks are 7-6-3-1 (18 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 37 goals while allowing 27. The Amerks have scored the first goal in just 19 of the first 38 games of the campaign and show an 11-6-1-1 record when doing so, including a 7-2-0-0 mark at home. Rochester is also 9-0-1-0 when leading after two periods, a streak that also comes with an unblemished 6-0-0-0 mark at home.
Too Close For Comfort: Seventeen of the last 26 games for the Amerks have been decided by one goal, including seven of the last eight. Of Rochester’s 38 games thus far this season, 22 of them have been determined by a one-goal difference, 12 of which were settled either in overtime or via the shootout, for an 8-6-5-3 mark in favor of the Amerks.
Home, Sweet Home: Home-ice advantage has certainly been a factor in Rochester’s recent success as the Amerks are 7-3-1-0 in their last 11 games at home. After beginning the season with just two home wins, the Amerks show an 11-5-1-1 record (24 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.
Lending A Hand: 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 18 total recalls make the 75-mile trek west down Interstate 90, including several on game day. In addition to Brennan and Finley, Sabres have also required the services of MacIntyre, Whitmore, Foligno, Szczechura, Tropp, Kassian, and Stuart, who along with McNabb, remain with Buffalo.
Special Teams Breakdown: The Amerks have gone 21-for-119 (17.6%) on the power-play over their last 25 games, despite failing to convert on four chances in their recent win over Hamilton. On the penalty kill, Rochester has successfully killed off 132-of-164 (80.5%) shorthanded situations, including 68 of 80 at home for an 85.0% efficiency rate, good enough for the league’s seventh-best rating in that category. Operating at a 19.5% success rate, the Amerks also have the league’s ninth-best power-play unit at home. 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 Maxime Legault officially skated in his 100th AHL game last Saturday against Hamilton.
Oklahoma City Notes: Oklahoma City (24-11-2-3, 53 points), playing its first of a three-game road trip tonight, comes into the matchup on the winning end of a 3-1 decision in the second leg of a two-game set with the Abbotsford Heat last Sunday at the Cox Convention Center. The win snapped the Barons’ season-long four-game losing streak, in addition to Oklahoma City’s five-game home drought that hasn’t seen the team win at home since December 17 against Houston. Aside from their recent struggles, the Barons remain atop the Western Conference with 53 points and are currently tied with Abbotsford and Hershey for the most wins in the AHL with 24. The Barons, with points in 12 of their last 17 games, have allowed the league’s fewest goals (92) and average the fewest goals against per game at 2.30. Additionally, Oklahoma City is tops in the Western Conference with a .662 point percentage, second in the AHL behind Hershey’s .705. The Barons have gone a franchise-record six games without a power-play goal since matching a club-high with a 4-for-7 performance on January 1 at Houston. Oklahoma City is 0-for-29 in its last six games on the power-play, dropping its league ranking from second after the Houston game to 14th following Sunday’s 3-1 win over Abbotsford. The Barons are 17-0-1-2 when scoring a power-play goal and 7-11-1-1 when held without.
Team and League Leaders: Oklahoma City’s balanced scoring attack is led by Ryan Keller, who has notched 28 points on 13 goals and 15 assists in 38 games. Keller, who helped Binghamton to it’s first-ever Calder Cup championship last season, also leads the Barons with a team-high 95 shots on goal. After riding a four-game point-scoring streak in which he tallied four goals and three assists, the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, native enters play tonight having been held scoreless his last three outings. He currently ranks fourth in the AHL with four game-winning goals.
Phillippe Cornet is first on the team and eighth in the AHL with 17 goals, seven of which have come on the power-play. His seven man-advantage goals rank him among the top 10 in the AHL. Cornet also leads the league with five game-winning goals. Mark Arcobello, meanwhile, is one of three Barons skaters to have a team-best 15 assists and former Amerk Triston Grant leads the team with 74 penalty minutes. Rookie forward Hunter Tremblay’s three shorthanded goals this season rank him third in the AHL in that category. Oklahoma City’s defense is anchored by 19-year pro and three-time Calder Cup winner Bryan Helmer, who leads all Baron rearguards in scoring with 16 points (1+15) in 39 games.
In net, the Barons are led by the tandem of Yann Danis and David LeNeveu, who both rank among the AHL’s top goaltenders in goals-against average and save percentage. The duo enters play tonight with identical numbers, boasting a 2.13 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage that ranks them second and eighth among league netminders, respectively. Danis, who shows a 15-8-1 record in 25 games, also ranks tied for third with three shutouts, fourth with 15 wins and 12th with 614 saves. LeNeveu has appeared in 17 games, posting a record of 9-5-2 with one shutout and 401 saves.
Ties to Rochester: The Barons have three players with ties to Rochester on their roster this season, including former RIT grad and captain Dan Ringwald, who led the Tigers to the NCAA Frozen Four in 2010, Rochester native Kevin Montgomery, a Gates resident and product of Rochester Youth Hockey and former Amerk Triston Grant, who called the Flower City his home last season as a member of the Florida Panthers organization.
100,000th Fan: The Amerks will welcome their 100,000th fan of the 2011-12 season prior to tonight's game against Oklahoma City. The team has averaged 5,441 fans for a total of 97,933 through the first 18 home games of the season, representing an increase of more than 55 percent over last season through the same number of games. As a show of appreciation for the tremendous fan support, the Amerks will honor fan No. 100,00 tonight with an autographed team jersey and stick, while the fan will also get to enjoy the game in a suite.
Tim Hortons Two for Two Days: The game also falls on the next installment of the new “Tim Hortons Two for Two Days” ticket promotion, which offers two 200-End tickets, two Tim Hortons travel mugs and two First Coffee Free coupons starting at just $22.00.
Next Game: Rochester and Oklahoma City will square off for the second time in as many nights on Friday, January 20 as the two teams bring their season series to a close. Game time is slated for a 7:35 p.m. start at The Blue Cross Arena and will be broadcast live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk. The game will also be televised live on Time Warner Cable SportsNet Channel 26.
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)