Game Notes: The Rochester Americans wrap up their Eastern Conference swing with an 11:30 a.m. matinee with the Albany Devils on Wednesday, March 28 at the Times Union Center in the Capital District. The game will be the fourth and final meeting between the two teams this season and will be broadcast live on WBER 90.5 FM.
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Head-to-Head: The Amerks have won two of the first three get-togethers between the clubs this season, with home-ice proving to be the deciding factor. Both of Rochester’s victories have come at The Blue Cross Arena, while the Devils won the only contest at the Times Union Center. In the teams’ most recent meeting in Rochester back on December 9, Drew MacIntyre stopped all 40 shots sent his way in a 3-0 whitewash for the Amerks. Alex Biega chipped in a goal and an assist on the offensive side with Marcus Foligno and Derek Whitmore also finding the back of the net. Rochester is 4-3-0 all-time against the Baby Devils. Biega and second-year forward Jacob Lagace each have four points (1+3) against the Devils this season and are the only two Amerks to record at least one point in all three games throughout the season series with Albany.
Amerks Notes: Rochester (32-23-7-4, 75 points) enters the contest after battling back from an early two-goal deficit to defeat the Syracuse Crunch in a shootout by a 4-3 score this past Saturday at the War Memorial at Oncenter. The win also snapped a brief two-game skid for the Amerks, who have now collected points in four straight and 11 of the last 13 games. Phil Varone and Evan Rankin each produced a goal and an assist in the winning effort and netminder David Leggio, making his 13th consecutive start in the paint, stopped 31 shots in regulation before denying all five Syracuse shooters in the skills competition. Paul Szczechura also lit the lamp in regulation play and Varone netted the only tally in the shootout to give Rochester the win. Wednesday’s contest sees the Amerks, the winners in six of their last nine games, complete a stretch of eight straight games against an Eastern Conference opponent. Rochester is 4-1-1-1 thus far over its eight-game stretch, which includes three consecutive wins over the defending Calder Cup champion Binghamton Senators.
The Amerks remain in the thick of a very tight playoff race in the American Hockey League’s Western Conference standings, where only six points separate the third place team from the 10th place team. Rochester, currently ranked seventh, joins Charlotte, San Antonio and Peoria as one of four teams with 75 points fighting for the last two playoff spots heading into the final week of March. The Amerks, however, have one game in hand of San Antonio and two of Peoria. With a 9-2-1-1 showing over their last 13 games, the Amerks have the second-best mark in the league over that span next to Norfolk, who recently set a new league record with its 20th consecutive victory.
Working Overtime: Saturday’s shootout win over Syracuse represented Rochester’s fourth straight game that has gone beyond regulation time and the sixth in the last 11 outings for the Amerks. Entering the final month of the 2011-12 regular season, the Amerks lead the AHL in games decided after regulation with 21, showing a 4-7 mark in overtime while going 6-4 in shootouts.
Rookie Magic: The Sabres have had six different players score their first career goal this season: Corey Tropp, T.J. Brennan, Zack Kassian, Brayden McNabb, Marcus Foligno and Travis Turnbull. The last time six different players scored their first goal for the Sabres was 1992-93: Richard Smehlik, Viktor Gordiouk, Yuri Khmylev, Scott Thomas, Doug MacDonald and Matthew Barnaby.
Foligno Making His Mark With The Big Club: The transition to the National Hockey League has been a quick one for Foligno, who recorded points in five straight games for the Buffalo Sabres between March 10 and March 19. With six goals and four assists in just his first nine NHL games, including his second two-goal game last Monday night in Buffalo’s 7-3 rout over Tampa Bay, Foligno became just the third Sabres rookie in team history to record seven points through his first six career NHL appearances, joining Hall of Fame defenseman Phil Housley and former Amerk Ray Sheppard. Only five other active NHL players have scored six or more goals in their first nine career games, a feat accomplished by Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne (8), Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin (8), Minnesota’s Devin Setoguchi (7), New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk (6) and Washington captain Alex Ovechkin (6). On March 14 against Colorado, Foligno notched his first career multi-goal NHL game and came within a goal of becoming the first Sabres rookie to score a hat trick since Jason Pominville did so during the 2005-06 season.
Leggio Leading The Way: Leggio, who has started 13 straight and 21 of the last 24 games for the Amerks, boasts a 24-18-2 record with a 2.64 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage in 44 games. Only Milwaukee’s Jeremy Smith has played more games than any other AHL goaltender with 48 this season. Fresh off his AHL career-high 24th win of the season Saturday in Syracuse, he presently ranks in the top five among AHL netminders in saves (1,271) and wins (24). Leggio is also third in minutes played (2,637) and leads the league with six shootout wins. The fourth-year netminder is on pace to match his single-season career-best 27 victories he notched with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades during the 2008-09 campaign.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense: Rochester’s success as of late can be attributed to the increase in offensive contributions from its blueliners. Since defeating Hershey by a 5-2 count on February 22, the Amerks have scored 45 goals to win nine of their last 13 games, but more impressively, 15 have come off the stick of a defenseman, including all three regulation tallies in a 4-3 loss to Syracuse on March 21. Nick Crawford has two goals in his last three games, while veteran defenseman Shaone Morrisonn needs just one more goal to match his single-season career-high of five he netted as rookie with Providence during the 2002-03 campaign. The duo of Brennan and McNabb continue to lead all Rochester rearguards with a combined 54 points (19+35) between the pair this season. Brennan enters Wednesday’s game with five goals in his last 11 games for a season total of 14, which ties him for second in the AHL in goals by a defenseman.
Whitmore Having A Career Year: Whitmore has certainly made the most of his homecoming this season and is in the process of assembling what could be a career year for the Rochester native. With a team-leading 25 goals on the season, Whitmore is on pace to set a new career-high and could become the first Amerk to reach the 30-goal mark since Thomas Vanek (42) and Jason Pominville (30) both topped the 30-goal plateau during the 2004-05 campaign. The fourth-year pro also needs just 10 more points to match his career-high of 47 (27+20) he captured last season with the Portland Pirates.
One For The Record Books: A crowd of 5,398 were on hand to witness the second-longest shootout in American Hockey League history on February 25 at The Blue Cross Arena as the Amerks and Lake Erie Monsters engaged in a marathon 15-round shootout battle. Eric Hunter scored for the Monsters in the third round, Varone answered for the Amerks in the fourth round, and Justin Mercier and Foligno traded goals in the 10th round to keep the game tied. Igor Gongalsky, on his second career shootout attempt, won it for Rochester as the 30th overall shooter. The longest shootout in AHL history was a 16-rounder between Cleveland and Utah on Dec. 3, 2004.
The Streak Continues: With a pair of goals against Lake Erie on February 17, Whitmore became the first player this season to net 20 goals on his way to posting back-to-back 20-goal campaigns for the first time in his professional career. In doing so, Whitmore also preserved Rochester’s 56-year tradition of having at least one player from each season since the team’s inception in 1956 to score 20 or more goals, a streak that was sparked by Bronco Horvath’s team-leading 37 tallies during the Amerks’ inaugural 1956-57 season.
Who’s Hot: Varone, the Amerks’ leading scorer on the season with 47 points (9+38), comes into matchup with six points (1+5) in his last five games, giving the first-year pro 19 points (2+17) in the last 16 games and at least one point in 16 of the last 22 games. After starting the season with just six points in the first 23 games, the rookie forward has recorded an impressive 41 points in the last 43 games to rank fourth in the AHL in scoring during that span and has been held scoreless just seven times over the last 25 contests.
Despite seeing his four-game point streak (4+2) cut short last week, Szczechura shows goals in six of his last nine games as he approaches his second straight 20-goal season. Szczechura has also recorded 23 points (13+10) in his last 28 games and moved into second on the team in scoring with 38 points (17+21) despite appearing in just 47 games this season.
Team captain Colin Stuart, coming off his four-game point streak (3+3), has notched nine points (3+6) over his last 10 games. Brennan shows 21 points (10+11) over his last 28 outings games and has only been held scoreless 11 times during that stretch. Turnbull, who returned to Rochester on Tuesday, has six points (2+4) over the course of his last five games, including points in three straight between March 4 and March 10. With an assist against Binghamton on Friday, Mark Voakes has recorded seven helpers in his last six showings.
Team and League Leaders: Currently in the midst of a three-game point streak (1+3), Varone has been Rochester’s most consistent and productive player. With 41 points in his last 43 games, the rookie forward has quickly found himself at the top of the Amerks’ scoring leaders with a team-high 47 points (9+38), which place him tied for ninth among league rookies in overall point production. With 28 helpers through his last 35 games, Varone has also taken over the team lead with 38 assists and is the only Amerk this season to appear in all 66 games thus far. Varone’s 38 assists are also the most among AHL freshmen, good enough for 12th in the AHL in that category. Whitmore continues to lead the Amerks with a team-high 25 goals, including seven on the power-play. His 25 tallies rank him tied for 11th among the AHL’s top goal scorers, while he also ranks fifth in the AHL with 219 shots on goal. Defenseman Joe Finley leads Rochester with 113 penalty minutes.
Rookies Stepping It Up: The transition to the professional ranks for the Amerks’ rookies this season has undoubtedly been a successful one for the young Buffalo Sabres prospects. Coming into tonight, two of Rochester’s top four scorers are currently in their first pro season. The Amerks have scored 198 goals through the first 66 games this season, 48 of which have been scored by a rookie. On a team that features seven different first-year players, three have made their NHL debuts with Buffalo and even spent significant time with the big club.
By The Numbers: The Amerks are 13-11-3-1 (30 points) this season against North Division rivals and show a 19-12-4-3 (45 points) mark versus non-divisional foes. Rochester has outscored its opponents 113-90 at The Blue Cross Arena this season. The third period has been the Amerks’ strong suit thus far as the club has accounted for 62 goals while allowing 51. The Amerks have scored the first goal in 34 of the first 66 games of the campaign and show a 21-10-1-2 record when doing so, including a 12-4-0-1 mark at home. Rochester is also 19-1-1-1 when leading after two periods, a streak that also comes with a nearly perfect 14-0-0-1 mark at home.
Home, Sweet Home: Home-ice advantage has proven to be a major factor in Rochester’s recent success as the Amerks are 10-2-2-1 in their last 15 games at home, which includes points in eight straight games dating back to February 22. After beginning the season with just two home wins in the first five outings, the Amerks enter the week showing a 20-9-3-2 record (45 points) this season when playing in their downtown barn. Conversely, Rochester is 12-14-4-2 (30 points) away from the friendly confines of The Blue Cross Arena.
Special Teams Breakdown: After going 5-for-30 on the man-advantage over their last eight games at home, the Amerks currently have the league’s 13th-best home power-play unit, converting on 28 of 153 chances for an 18.3% success rate. On the penalty kill, Rochester has successfully killed off 214-of-268 (79.9%) shorthanded situations, including 115 of 141 at home for an 81.6% efficiency rate. As a team, Rochester has allowed eight shorthanded goals against, four coming at home and four on the road. They have also scored seven shorthanded goals, including a team-high two from Varone.
Milestone Watch: Morrisonn will set a benchmark in his 10-year career on Wednesday in Albany when he touches the ice for his 700th professional game. Morrisonn, a first-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2001, made his pro debut during the 2002-03 AHL season with Providence before going on to appear in 480 career NHL games with Boston, Washington and Buffalo. Stuart reached another personal milestone in last Friday’s loss to Binghamton as the team captain officially broke the 200-point plateau in his AHL career with his second goal of the game at 16:25 of the second period. He’s also just five goals shy from 100 AHL tallies. Finley skated in his 100th professional game on March 17 in Binghamton and celebrated the century mark by assisting on Szczechura’s game-winner in overtime. Rankin, who recently notched his 200th professional point, needs just one more assist for 100 in his pro career.
Albany Notes: Albany (28-28-6-5, 67 points), kicking off a three-game homestand Wednesday, comes into the matchup after dropping a pair of decisions to the league-leading Norfolk Admirals as part of a two-game weekend set. After losing 2-1 on Friday night, the squad came up short by a score of 4-3 on Saturday. In the most recent outing, Vladimir Zharkov, Mattias Tedenby and Matt Anderson provided a goal apiece, while Keith Kinkaid finished with 35 saves between the pipes. The Devils, who have won just one of their last 10 games, are currently in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, but trail eighth-place Syracuse for the final playoff spot by just four points.
Team and League Leaders: Rookie-winger Joe Whitney currently paces the Devils offense with a team-high 40 points through the team’s first 67 games of the campaign, ranking him tied for 14th amongst league freshmen. Fifth-year pro Steve Zalewski enters the contest in sole possession of the club’s goal-scoring lead (16), with Zharkov (15) and Eric Gelinas (15) following right behind. He is also third with 36 points and fourth with 20 assists. Additionally, he is second with seven power-play goals. Since being acquired on Feb. 9, 2011 in a trade, Zalewski has accumulated 59 points (27+32) in 91 games for Albany.
With the help of nine goals and four assists during his last 20 games, Zharkov is second on the team with 37 points and tied for second with 15 goals. Also, Zharkov is second with 22 assists. With 55 games under his belt this season, he is averaging a team-best 0.67 points per game. For his Devils career, Zharkov ranks third for points (111), sixth for goals (40) and third for assists (72). Gelinas, a 20-year-old blueliner from Vanier, Ontario, has 24 points (12+12) in the last 37 games and has posted 29 points in 66 appearances this season. He is tied for second on the team with 15 goals and is first with eight power-play goals. Additionally, he is first in the AHL for goals by a defenseman.
The Devils have split the goaltending duties between Kinkaid (37) and Jeff Frazee (31) throughout the bulk of the season, as the duo has alternated starts for the past 19 games. Kinkaid boasts a 15-17-3 record with a 2.85 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage. With three shutouts, he is one shy of tying a club record for shutouts during a single season. Frazee, meanwhile, as compiled a record of 11-17-2 to go along with 2.72 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage.
Rochester native and team captain Stephen Gionta became the Devils’ all-time leading scorer earlier this season and holds franchise records for games played (356), assists (78), and points (132).
Next Game: Rochester returns home on Friday, March 30 for the first of back-to-back tilts with the North Division rival Toronto Marlies at The Blue Cross Arena. The same two teams will meet again the following night to bring their season series to a close. Both games are slated for a 7:35 p.m. start with all the action being carried live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk.