Game Notes: Fresh off their two-game split earlier this week with the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Rochester Americans continue their four-game road swing tonight as they journey to Central New York to take on the Syracuse Crunch at the War Memorial at Oncenter. The 7:30 p.m. matchup will be the fifth of 10 get-togethers between the longtime intrastate rivals and can be heard live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk.
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Head-to-Head: The matchup marks game No. 5 on the season between the two teams and the first since November 16, when the Amerks came away with a 3-2 win over the Crunch at The Blue Cross Arena. T.J. Brennan recorded his first multi-point game of the season and David Leggio steered aside 22 of 24 shots to give Rochester its then fourth straight win. The Amerks power-play struck for two goals, including Marcus Foligno’s game-winner late in the final frame, as Rochester outshot Syracuse 44-24 in the contest. Rochester, the winners of the last two get-togethers with Syracuse, brings a 3-1-0-0 record this season against the Crunch into tonight’s game, including an unblemished 3-0-0-0 mark at home. Three of Rochester’s first four games with Syracuse have been determined by one goal, and interestingly enough, the Amerks have been victorious in all three, needing a shootout win, an overtime win and, most recently, a regulation win, to maintain the upper hand in the season series.
Going for Milestone Win: With a win tonight over Syracuse, Rochester, who carries a 99-82-15 all-time record against the Anaheim Ducks’ affiliate, will successfully reach 100 regular season wins over an opponent for just the second time in the 56-year history of the franchise. The only other foe to yield a 100+ wins to Rochester are the Hershey Bears, who to date, have surrendered 184 games in 443 lifetime encounters with the Amerks.
Amerks Notes: Rochester (18-16-5-3, 44 points) enters the contest after coming up short in a 4-1 setback in the back-end of a two-game set with the North Division rival Grand Rapids Griffins Wednesday night at Van Andel Arena. The Griffins used a trio of first period goals less than three minutes apart to top the Amerks, who claimed the first game of the mini-series with a 4-3 come-from-behind shootout win last Saturday. Former Amerks Jamie Johnson and Doug Janik each contributed a goal and an assist to the lead the charge for the Griffins, with netminder Joey MacDonald turning away 30 of 31 shots in the winning effort. Derek Whitmore scored the lone goal for Rochester, with assists going to Phil Varone and Drew Schiestel. Leggio finished with 32 saves between the pipes. The loss was Rochester’s first in regulation on the road since a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Texas Stars on December 17. The Amerks are also 4-2-1-2 in their last nine games away from The Blue Cross Arena.
Despite the loss, however, the Amerks have now collected points in 10 of their last 14 games, including nine points through their last 10 outings. Rochester, who owns the second-best winning percentage (.524) among division rivals, still trails division-leading Toronto by a mere five points for the top spot in the American Hockey League’s North Division. Rochester’s roster is beginning to look much as it did at the start of the campaign as the Amerks have 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 three Amerks remain on recall with the big club; Brennan, fellow defenseman Brayden McNabb and veteran team captain Colin Stuart.
Atlantic City Bound: The American Hockey League announced Tuesday that Kassian has been named to the Western Conference All-Star roster for the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic. Kassian replaces Amerks defenseman McNabb, who is currently on recall to the Buffalo Sabres. The All-Star Classic will take place in historic Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Monday, Jan. 30. Kassian, in his first full season of professional hockey, has recorded 21 points on 10 goals and 11 assists in just 26 games with the Amerks this season to rank fourth on the team in scoring. He also ranks tied for third on the team in goals and fifth in assists despite appearing in fewer games than each of the teams’ top six scorers, and is tied for the team-lead with eight power play points (2+6). The 21-year-old rookie was recalled to the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 24 and appeared in 18 NHL games with the Sabres, recording six points (3+3) and 13 penalty minutes. Kassian made his NHL debut on Nov. 25 against the Columbus Blue Jackets and collected an assist for his first career point. The following night, he scored his first NHL goal in a win over the Washington Capitals. A native of Windsor, Ontario, Kassian was selected by Buffalo in the first round (13th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
‘Rankin’ Among The Best: Despite missing the last 11 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). 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 recently halted, Varone shows assists in back-to-back games that give him 18 points in his last 19 games for a total of 24 points (5+19) on the season, 16 of which have come over the last month. Defenseman Nick Crawford, meanwhile, saw his season-high four-game point streak of one goal and three assists snapped Wednesday in Grand Rapids. Kassian, too, had his three-game point string (2+1) cut short, but the first-year pro still shows seven points (3+4) in his first eight games back with the Amerks since his latest NHL stint with the Sabres. Foligno shows 10 points (3+7) in his last 13 games, a stretch that includes three multi-point appearances, and Travis Turnbull has found the back of the net three times over his last six outings. Though currently on NHL recall with Buffalo, 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. Jacob Lagace has recorded three points (1+2) in his last five appearances while Paul Szczechura has collected a goal and an assist through his last four games.
Team and League Leaders: Coming off his first goal since January 6, Whitmore broke his season-long seven-game scoring drought when he netted the lone goal in the Amerks’ 4-1 loss to Grand Rapids on Wednesday night. He remains Rochester’s top point-getter with a team-high 16 goals and 25 points, in addition to a team-best 135 shots on goal. His 16 goals rank him tied for 16th among the AHL’s top goal scorers, while he also ranks eighth in the AHL in shots on goal. With nine helpers through his last 11 games, Varone has taken over the team lead with 19 assists and moved into second on the team and 17th among league rookies in scoring with 24 points overall. Mark Voakes, who has three points (2+1) in six games, is one of just two Amerks players to appear in all 42 games thus far along with Varone. Defenseman Joe Finley, who returned to Rochester on Tuesday from an NHL stint with the Sabres, leads Rochester with 80 penalty minutes and a team-best +11 on-ice rating. Foligno ranks tied for fifth in the AHL with four game-winning goals this season, which are 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 weekend, three of Rochester’s top four scorers are currently in their first pro season and three points are all that separate them in the overall points table. Varone leads the group with 24 points, Foligno at a close second with 22 and Kassian, who recently returned from the Sabres, sits third with 21. The next closest rookie is McNabb with 10 points, but he remains on NHL recall with Buffalo. The Amerks have scored 118 goals through the first 42 games this season, but more impressively, 31 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 Drew MacIntyre – so much that their numbers are nearly identical. Leggio, who has started seven of the last eight games for the Amerks, boasts a 12-11-1 record with a 2.87 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage in 24 games. He also presently ranks tied for 10th among AHL netminders in saves and 14th in wins. Leggio enters play tonight with a .929 save percentage and 261 saves over his last seven starts, which includes a season-high 49-save performance in a 4-3 shootout loss in Hershey on January 8. MacIntyre, meanwhile, shows a 6-10-2 record with a 2.92 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage in 19 games between the pipes. Leggio has made 695 saves in 1,422 minutes played compared to MacIntyre’s 525-save count in 1,132 minutes of service.
By The Numbers: The Amerks are 8-7-3-1 (20 points) this season against North Division rivals, but show a 10-9-2-2 (24 points) mark versus non-divisional foes. The third period has been the Amerks’ strong suit thus far as the club has accounted for 40 goals while allowing 30. The Amerks have scored the first goal in just 21 of the first 42 games of the campaign and show a 12-7-1-1 record when doing so, including a 7-3-0-0 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: Eight of the last 12 games for the Amerks have been decided by one goal, including seven straight from December 27 to January 13, a three-week span that saw Rochester go 3-1-1-2. Of Rochester’s 42 games thus far this season, 23 of them have been determined by a one-goal difference, 13 of which were settled either in overtime or via the shootout, for a 9-6-5-3 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 7-5-1-0 in their last 13 games at home. After beginning the season with just two home wins, the Amerks show an 11-7-1-1 record (24 points) this season when playing in their downtown barn. Conversely, Rochester is 7-9-4-2 (20 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, the 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-132 (15.9%) on the power-play over their last 29 games, despite failing to convert on four chances in Wednesday’s loss to Grand Rapids. On the penalty kill, however, Rochester has successfully killed off 145-of-180 (80.6%) shorthanded situations, including 76 of 89 at home for an 85.4% efficiency rate, good enough for the league’s sixth-best rating in that category. Operating at an 18.1% success rate, the Amerks also have the league’s 13th-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. Maxime Legault officially skated in his 100th AHL game last weekend against Hamilton, while Szczechura’s next assist will represent the 100th of his AHL career.
Syracuse Notes: Syracuse (18-17-3-2, 41 points), playing Game 2 of its season-long five-game homestand tonight, comes into the matchup on the heels of a two-game skid after dropping both games in a home-and-home series with the East Division-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last weekend. Managing just a pair of goals in a 6-2 loss to the Pens on Saturday, the Crunch closed out the two-game set the following night with a 4-3 setback in a game that saw an offensive surge by both teams. Syracuse’s Kyle Palmieri provided a pair of tallies and a game-high seven shots as the Crunch were outscored 10-5 on the weekend set. Despite their recent slide, however, Syracuse is 5-4-0-1 in its last 10 games, a streak that featured a three-game winning streak from January 7 to January 14, and has collected points in five of its last seven games. The Crunch, currently in their second year as the top affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, enter play tonight in fourth place in the American Hockey League’s East Division standings
Team and League Leaders: Syracuse’s balanced scoring attack is powered by fifth-year pro Patrick Maroon, who currently leads the Crunch with a team-high 25 assists and 45 points in just 39 games this season. Averaging 1.15 points per game, Maroon comes into tonight’s contest with nine points (6+3) in his last nine games and is presently in the midst of a four-game point streak of four goals and three assists. His most impressive outing in the stretch came on January 20 against Norfolk when he matched a season-high four-point game that also featured his first hat trick of the season. A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Maroon is also just one of two Crunch skaters to net 20 or more goals, including a team-best eight power-play tallies this season, which ties him for ninth among league leaders. Maroon’s 45 points are the sixth-most among the AHL’s top scorers this season, while he also ranks tied for sixth in the league in goals (20) and 13th in assists (25).
Palimieri, a second-year pro from Smithtown, NY, is off to another career year with a team-high 23 goals and is on pace to surpass the 29 he scored as a rookie for Syracuse in 2010-11. His 23 goals are the second-most among all AHL players, with 20 of them being scored at even strength. Palmieri also ranks tied for second in the league with five game-winning goals and seventh with a +15 on-ice rating. Palmieri, who started the season on a five-game point streak, enters play tonight having posted six consecutive multi-point outings in a nine-game stretch that held him scoreless on just three occasions. In those six games, Palmieri has recorded 15 points on 11 goals and four assists and has found the back of the net at least once in each of those six games. In just 23 appearances with the Crunch this season, Palmieri, producing just under 1.40 points per game, has registered 11 multi-point games and has been held off the scoresheet just eight times.
Rookie forward Peter Holland has also proven to me a major contributor to the Syracuse offense this season. Through just 36 games with the Crunch, Holland shows 31 points (13+18), making him Syracuse’s third-highest point-getter and the ninth-best rookie in the AHL. Goaltender Iiro Tarkki, who’s started two of the last four games between the pipes for Syracuse, currently ranks eighth among AHL netminders with 727 saves and 15th with a .914 save percentage. He’s also 9-12-2 with a 2.85 goals-against average.
Next Game: The Amerks conclude their four-game road swing on Saturday afternoon as they head north of the border to take on the North Division Toronto Marlies in their final contest prior to the 2012 AHL All-Star break. The 3:00 p.m. matinee will be the fifth of 10 scheduled meetings between the two teams this season and will be carried live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk.