How The Amerks Can Beat The Crunch, Observations From Practice, MacWilliam Suspension, Nelson Injury Update

As Tuesday’s practiced drew to a close, Coach Taylor called the players into a half-circle. Taylor’s message was clear — the only game that matters is game 3. It doesn’t matter what happened in Syracuse, just focus on winning the game in front of you. The players responded with enthusiasm. Having lost the first two games of the series in Syracuse, the Amerks are just one loss from elimination in the best of 5 series. Here’s what the Amerks need to do to beat Syracuse Crunch.

Successful offense begins with a successful breakoutThe breakout in games 1 & 2 was consistently atrocious. Passes missed their marks more often than not. When the Amerks were able to maintain control of the puck, their timing was off. This resulted in more offsides than usual. When the Amerks weren’t throwing bad passes they were facing intense pressure from the Crunch forecheck. Syracuse successfully pinned the Amerks down during breakout, forcing mistakes and turnovers. As frustration mounted the Amerks shifted to using Redmond to carry the puck through the neutral zone and across the blue line. Unfortunately that plan looked half-baked. As soon as Redmond breached the offensive zone he’d chip a pass to his side and the Crunch jumped all over it. Fixing the Amerks breakout requires two things — crisp, precise passing and mitigating the Crunch’s oppressive forecheck. Merely making better passes will go a long way towards defeating the Crunch forecheck.

Goaltending needs to improveLinus Ullmark was a brick wall through the 1st half of the season. He’s been less impressive since returning from recall with the Sabres in January. During Ullmark’s most recent recall he sustained a concussion. Since returning he looks “off” — as if he’s experiencing post-concussion symptoms. It’s visible in his body language but he’s also having issues moving post-to-post. Ullmark is also losing track of his position relative to the net. The defense in front of him has been lacking, but he has made a lot of mistakes and the Crunch have been able to capitalize on them. If I was coach I’d be starting Adam Wilcox in game 3. Wilcox has looked sharp and fired up in practice. He also finished out the regular season strong. It’s never easy to start your backup goaltender in a big game but given Ullmark’s recent performance starting, Wilcox is the best option.

Everyone needs to step up their defensive gameThe Amerks need to play better defense. Throughout games 1 & 2 the Crunch systematically picked the Amerks apart. The man at the back post was almost always open. The Crunch owned the corners. As the Amerks lost battles they started to double team which left Crunch players wide open. To top it all off Amerks forwards were too quick to exit the zone. The Amerks need to regain composure in their own end. This starts with better positioning. They need to stick to their man and cycle rather than over committing. Not only will this prevent some Crunch scoring chances but it will also help improve the breakout.

MacWilliam has been suspended for 3 games. He returned the the ice for an altercation after being ushered to the tunnel. MacWilliam has been one of the Amerks best defensemen, offering grit and a stay-at-home mindset. His suspension leaves a huge void in the Amerks defense and eliminates a physical threat to the Crunch. The suspension is a bit heavy handed — especially considering this is the playoffs. What this means is that the Amerks will be without MacWilliam throughout the remainder of round 1. If the Amerks are eliminated prior to game 5 MacWilliam will need to serve the remainder of his suspension next season.

Casey Nelson was absent from practice this week after sustaining an upper body injury in game 1. Nelson delivered a very hard rib-crushing stand-up hit in the corner during the 2nd period of Friday’s game 1. If I had to take a guess as to when he sustained the injury, that’s the moment.

Concerns and observations from practiceDuring practice on Tuesday a few things stood out. Most notably, Ullmark still looked “off.” Gill spent a considerable amount of time taking shots at the open end of the ice as practice broke up. His timing looked off and he appeared to be frustrated. Few details about Gill’s injury are known but it’s clear he isn’t feeling 100%. Wilcox was fired up. After making a big save during a half-ice scrimmage he wooed and celebrated, riding his stick into the corner. It was an impressive save followed by an equally impressive celebration. Bailey and Taylor had a long discussion at center ice. It was impossible to hear what was being said but based on body language I’d guess it was all positive. Nylander didn’t feel the need to redeem himself after being benched in the 3rd period of game 2 — he displayed the amount of effort we’ve come to expect from him. Nylander was also among the first players off the ice.

Chris Schiffner is the man behind the Amerks Extra Twitter feed and the chief editor of AmerksExtra.com. Chris founded Amerks Extra in order to provide fans with a voice during one of the most tumultuous periods in the organization's history. Amerks Extra has evolved into a leading source for Amerks news and discussion. When not covering Amerks Hockey, Chris is on the ice playing the game himself.

Game 1 Recap: Syracuse Dominated, Amerks Looked Lost

Last night’s game against the Syracuse Crunch started on a positive note. Porter carried the puck down ice, held the puck until his defender committed to him, and chipped the puck over to Bailey who was wide open in the middle of the ice. The pass missed its mark but Bailey managed to scoop it up and head to the net. The extra work to play the puck meant Bailey lost the element of surprise. He got off a shot but there wasn’t much on it. A minute later Nylander walked in on net with a pair of slick dekes, after which he delivered a centering pass to the slot. Syracuse goalie Eddie Pasquale read the play and didn’t open up. With loads of playoff experience the Crunch didn’t let these early chances set the tone. The Crunch turned up the pressure and never backed off.

To be fair, the Amerks were in the game through two periods of play. Dumont put the Crunch on the board first. Redmond answered back less than a minute later, scoring with a shot from the point. McBain made it 2-1 Crunch halfway through the 1st. Criscuolo evened up the score with a goal in the final minute of the 1st period after tearing down the right side. The game was tied at 2 heading into the first intermission. Crunch’s Masin scored the lone goal in the 2nd period. The Amerks trailed by just 1 entering the 3rd period. The Crunch guaranteed a win with 3 unanswered goals in the 3rd. Bradley scored the 1st goal of the 3rd period a little more than 8 minutes in. Dumont completed a hat trick by scoring 2 goals in the 3rd period—his third being an empty net goal with 52 seconds remaining in regulation.

While the game was close on the scoreboard through 2 periods, the Crunch pretty much dominated the Amerks through the last 40 minutes of hockey. By the time Masin put the Crunch up in the 2nd, the Amerks looked tired and confused. The breakout was a disaster all night. Bad passing and poor decisions gave the Crunch an opportunity nearly every time the Amerks attempted to exit their zone. The Amerks were playing a different style of hockey than they’ve played all season. Rather than executing a methodical breakout they were trying a run and gun style—attempting to gain a step on the Crunch. As the Amerks offense vacated the defensive zone looking for a pass, the Crunch applied an overwhelming forecheck. Rather than getting a jump on the Crunch, the Crunch pinned the Amerks down and often forced a turnover. The Amerks made picking off the puck easy with some of the worst passing they’ve displayed all season. As the Crunch applied more pressure, the decision making got worse. Ullmark was even responsible for 3 (atrocious) turnovers as he tried to accelerate the Amerks breakout. Ullmark only managed to keep the puck out the net on two of those turnovers by sheer luck.

There were some bright spots in last night’s loss. Bailey was working hard down low and he stepped up his physical play. Redmond made big plays all over the ice and developed some of the Amerks best scoring opportunities. Redmond was the only Amerk to finish the game positive, earning a +1. Criscuolo showed he still has that scoring touch. Griffith earned some chances for himself and assisted on both of the Amerks goals. MacWilliam made some veteran defensive plays and used his size to negate Crunch physicality. Tennyson gave his best effort of the season.

A few players stood out for all the wrong reasons. Baptiste was merely going through the motions. He was consistently a step behind, he kept himself out of danger along the boards, and he avoided the corners. When he skated back to the bench he did so with all the speed of a sloth. He’s clearly more concerned about saving his body for the NHL than leading the Amerks to a championship. Fedun had a rough night. He took a stick to the face early in the game. After getting patched up he spent the rest of the night scrambling. Guhle had a hard time reconciling his offensive-slanted style of play with the very real need for an aggressive defense.

Ultimately the Amerks were outplayed. The breakout was sloppy and defensive coverage was loose. Consistent failure on the breakout led to demoralizing pressure by the Crunch, which in turn led to lots of Crunch scoring chances. The Amerks spent more time pinned down in their own zone than in any other game this season. If the Amerks are going to turn things around, it all starts with an improved breakout.

The Amerks face the Syracuse Crunch in game 2 of the series tonight at 7pm in Syracuse.

Chris Schiffner is the man behind the Amerks Extra Twitter feed and the chief editor of AmerksExtra.com. Chris founded Amerks Extra in order to provide fans with a voice during one of the most tumultuous periods in the organization's history. Amerks Extra has evolved into a leading source for Amerks news and discussion. When not covering Amerks Hockey, Chris is on the ice playing the game himself.

When the Amerks Season Started to Fall Apart…and Why

The Amerks have been in freefall since the second week of January. After winning 12 out of 17 games, they were shutout by the Syracuse Crunch on January 13th by a score of 4-0. Since that shutout loss the Amerks have won just 3 of their last 15 games. The Amerks are currently 4th in the North division, slipping from the top position they held at the end of December. Since slipping to 4th there has been a noticeable change in player attitude. The team is having less fun. There are fewer smiles on the bench. Players seem to care less. Once a favorite for a deep playoff run, fans are beginning to wonder if they’ll even make it out of the first round. So why did this season go off the rails?

Just one game before the Amerks losing streak began, two prospects returned to the line-up. Justin Bailey returned from an injury he sustained while on recall with the Buffalo Sabres and Alexander Nylander returned from playing in the World Junior Championship. Were either of these players responsible for the winless streak? The timing certainly fits, but is the solution to ending this losing streak really as simple as benching two players? After careful analysis I do not believe the return of these players is the cause of the recent issues.

To identify the root cause of the Amerks freefall, I charted out major roster events along side the Amerks schedule and game results. It became clear that the problem was caused by a flurry of roster changes and a talent vacuum resulting from a few high-profile departures. Steve Moses left for the KHL after the game on December 20th. Even after his departure, the Amerks went on to win 3 of their next 4 games. The roster was able to absorb the loss of Moses. Andrew MacWilliam was injured in the game on December 29th. The Amerks lost the game on December 30th but following that loss, Taylor Fedun was returned to the Amerks after being on recall with the Sabres. The Amerks went on to win 2 of their next 3. The roster was able to absorb the loss of MacWilliam and Moses with the return of Fedun. Colin Blackwell was injured in the game on January 10th. Following that game Justin Bailey returned from injury, Nathan Paetsch returned from injury, and Alexander Nylander returned from the World Junior Championships. The Amerks went on to lose 3 of their next 4 games – 1 regulation loss and 2 shootout losses. The Amerks roster was not able to absorb the loss of Blackwell even with the return of two top prospects. Across the next pair of games, Baptiste was recalled, Casey Nelson was recalled, and Garret Ross was injured. A roster already depleted by injury and abandon was not able to absorb these losses and the losing streak was solidified.

Following the loss on January 13th, the top 2 lines saw a shakeup. Baptiste was promoted to the top line and Griffith took Baptiste’s spot on the second line. Following Baptiste’s recall Eric Cornel took his spot on the top line. Sahir Gill has had an appreciable drop in production since the line shuffling began. The shuffling of lines has been more dramatic since C.J. Smith’s injury announcement on February 12th. This past Wednesday, the Amerks lost to the Syracuse Crunch by a score of 2-1 while playing their annual match at the KeyBank Center – a score that is not representative of how poorly the Amerks played. In that game Nylander was promoted to the top line where he had 1 shot and earned no points. Bailey has also seen promotion, and while he had a couple of good scoring chances in Sunday’s game against the Binghamton Devils he has not been able to find the back of the net. These line changes have made it clear that coach Chris Taylor is trying anything to right the ship but he has yet to find a combination that is effective. Unfortunately the team requires an influx of new talent to replace what was lost to injury, recall, and defection. Not new line combinations.

The only influx of talent has come by way of recall from the Amerks ECHL affiliate the Cincinnati Cyclones. Justin Danforth and Daniel Muzito-Bagenda, both of which are having sensational seasons in the ECHL, have been added to the Amerks roster. Based on Wednesday’s game, though, their presence is not enough to return the Amerks to winning.

It’s time for Jason Botterill and Randy Sexton to demonstrate their managerial prowess. With the Sabres being sellers as they approach the trade deadline, the timing couldn’t be more perfect to acquire some additional talent for the Amerks.

Here’s a fairly comprehensive list of roster events and game outcomes. Have something to add to my analysis? Sound off on Twitter or in the comments!

Chris Schiffner is the man behind the Amerks Extra Twitter feed and the chief editor of AmerksExtra.com. Chris founded Amerks Extra in order to provide fans with a voice during one of the most tumultuous periods in the organization's history. Amerks Extra has evolved into a leading source for Amerks news and discussion. When not covering Amerks Hockey, Chris is on the ice playing the game himself.

Ullmark Proved He’s Ready For The Top Job

Photo credit: Sabres PR

There’s little hope for the Sabres this season. Having won just 11 of 44 games there is only one team with a worse record – the Arizona Coyotes. As poorly as this season has played out, Ullmark’s performance in last night’s win over the Columbus Blue Jackets offered Sabres fans a glimmer of hope for the future.

The Sabres kept the pressure off Ullmark throughout most of the 1st period. In uncharacteristic fashion, the Sabres offense was able to control play in the offensive zone and the Sabres defense kept quality scoring chances to a minimum. Pouliot put the Sabres on the board first by stuffing in a rebound. Ullmark ended up facing 11 shots in the 1st while the Sabres registered 15 shots.

The 2nd and 3rd periods were a different story. The Blue Jackets registered a collective 34 shots to the Sabres 14. Ullmark stood strong and even flashed his glove against Blue Jackets’ defenseman Seth Jones.

The most impressive part of Ullmark’s game wasn’t his flashy save or the fact that he led the Sabres to a win – it was the progress he’s made over the last couple of seasons with the Amerks. Just two years ago Ullmark had issues with moving post to post, reading plays, and maintaining his cool. This season he’s putting his long legs to use and has no problem covering both sides of the net. He’s demonstrating a level of premonition, seemingly knowing what his opponents are going to do before even they do it. Most importantly, Ullmark is incredibly composed. He doesn’t get caught running around. He doesn’t let goals mess with his head. He’s cool, calm, and collected.

Ullmark finished his 2017-18 NHL debut with 44 saves in a 3-1 win over the Blue Jackets, building a case for his promotion to the top spot. Enjoy Ullmark while you can Amerks fans. He won’t be an AHL’er much longer.

Chris Schiffner is the man behind the Amerks Extra Twitter feed and the chief editor of AmerksExtra.com. Chris founded Amerks Extra in order to provide fans with a voice during one of the most tumultuous periods in the organization's history. Amerks Extra has evolved into a leading source for Amerks news and discussion. When not covering Amerks Hockey, Chris is on the ice playing the game himself.

Here Comes Buffalo…?

If you would have told me the Buffalo Sabres would be 3-7-2 after 12 games I would’ve called you crazy. To find a record worse you have to go back to the tank year of 14-15 when the Sabres started 2-9 (including any OT losses). Phil Housley and GM Botterill have their work cut out for them now. If this pattern continues; Buffalo, say hello to Swedish defenseman, Rasmus Dahlin.

It’s hard to understand what the issues are for the Sabres. Opening night against the Montreal Canadiens everyone assumed the Sabres had fixed their issues—only needing more shootout practice. If only there had been a way to see the complete onslaught the Sabres would face in the next few games. They dropped their next game against the New York Islanders 6-3, in which 4 goals of the game were shorthanded (two a piece). The next game against the New jersey would continue to exploit the Sabres faults. New Jersey would blow the door open and win 6-2. Surprise, surprise, the Sabres allowed FOUR shorthanded goals in three games; starting the season 0-2-1.

Fast forward to today, the Sabres have a record of 3-7-2. Their recent stretch has been quite the head-scratcher. Sabres dropped a game to the Las Vegas Golden Knights on October 17. During that game, the Sabres went into the third period down 4-1. They rallied to score three straight, with a tying goal from Kane with 8.9 seconds left in the game. The Sabres went on to lose that game in overtime 5-4, and then lost the following game against the Vancouver Canucks 4-2. The very next day the Sabres beat the Boston Bruins in overtime 5-4. Buffalo was down 4-0 and scored two in the Second period to battle back. Pouliot got the Sabres within 1 in the third. Then, with a little over 2 minutes remaining in regulation, Evander Kane tallied another goal and tied the game. After a nice nose-grinding shift, Ryan O’Reilly roofed a back hander and ended the game. Tuesday, October 24, Buffalo faced off against the Detriot Redwings. Beniot Pouliot scores the game’s lone goal to solidify a 1-0 win for the Sabres. The following night they dropped a game 5-1 to Columbus—nobody showed up to play.

Their next game would come on Saturday, October 28th against the San Jose Sharks. Buffalo took a 2-1 lead until 11 seconds left in the 2nd period. Buffalo blew their lead and eventually lost the game 3-2. Phil Housley even said the team begins to fall apart at key times during the game… GREAT! After two seasons of tanking and a rebuilding year, and a disappointing season where we should’ve made the playoffs but finished even worse than our rebuild year, we are stuck with a team that can’t pull it together.

The Sabres next game is against the one win Arizona Coyotes. This is a MUST win Thursday night. The Sabres can salvage the season but it has to start now. They have to put October behind them. If they keep pondering over what went wrong, they will bottom out this season. Guys like Kyle Okposo, Sam Reinhert, Johan Larsson, Jake McCabe, and Robin Lehner need to pick up their respective games because they’ve been a big part of the disappointing start to the season. Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Jason Pominville, and Evander Kane are stealing the show and those four guys can’t carry this team. They need a shake up and need it soon, otherwise this season will be over before it really began—another wasted season for talent that could thrive elsewhere.

Ready up Buffalo…

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How The Amerks Can Beat The Crunch, Observations From Practice, MacWilliam Suspension, Nelson Injury Update

As Tuesday’s practiced drew to a close, Coach Taylor called the players into a half-circle. Taylor’s message was clear — the only game that matters is game 3. It doesn’t matter what happened in Syracuse, just focus on winning the game in front of you. The players responded with enthusiasm. Having lost the first two… Continue Reading

Game 1 Recap: Syracuse Dominated, Amerks Looked Lost

Last night’s game against the Syracuse Crunch started on a positive note. Porter carried the puck down ice, held the puck until his defender committed to him, and chipped the puck over to Bailey who was wide open in the middle of the ice. The pass missed its mark but Bailey managed to scoop it… Continue Reading

When the Amerks Season Started to Fall Apart…and Why

The Amerks have been in freefall since the second week of January. After winning 12 out of 17 games, they were shutout by the Syracuse Crunch on January 13th by a score of 4-0. Since that shutout loss the Amerks have won just 3 of their last 15 games. The Amerks are currently 4th in… Continue Reading

Ullmark Proved He’s Ready For The Top Job

Photo credit: Sabres PR There’s little hope for the Sabres this season. Having won just 11 of 44 games there is only one team with a worse record – the Arizona Coyotes. As poorly as this season has played out, Ullmark’s performance in last night’s win over the Columbus Blue Jackets offered Sabres fans a… Continue Reading

Here Comes Buffalo…?

If you would have told me the Buffalo Sabres would be 3-7-2 after 12 games I would’ve called you crazy. To find a record worse you have to go back to the tank year of 14-15 when the Sabres started 2-9 (including any OT losses). Phil Housley and GM Botterill have their work cut out… Continue Reading

What Went Wrong Last Night? The System Isn’t Broken, The Players Are.

Ask a dozen fans about what went wrong last night and you’ll get a dozen different answers. Some have already been quick to blame “the system.” Blaming the system might be the easiest excuse but is it actually the problem? Not from where I stand. Housley and Taylor aren’t asking for anything revolutionary. They’re not… Continue Reading

Paetsch is Injured (Updated)

Update (10-20-2017): The official word on Paetsch is that he’s week to week with a lower body injury, but Amerks Extra has learned that the injury may be more serious than the official report might suggest. Apparently Paetsch suffered a hairline fracture to his lower right leg/ankle and will be out for 4-6 weeks. If… Continue Reading

The Amerks Look To Build On Early Success, Nylander Update, and What’s Up With Gionta

The Amerks have started the season off on the right foot. They won their first preseason game against the Toronto Marlies 3-2 in overtime, pulled out a 3-2 win against the Marlies in their second preseason game, beat the Syracuse Crunch 3-1 in their season opener, and pulled out a 3-2 overtime win against the… Continue Reading

It’s Opening Night in Rochester

The ice is prepped, the glass is clean, and the players are ready. In a few hours the Blue Cross Arena will be packed for the start of the 2017-18 Rochester Americans hockey season. You’ve probably picked up on the buzz surrounding this season on Twitter. If you haven’t followed preseason coverage, you’re in for… Continue Reading

Hockey Season Is Upon Us; How We Got Here and What’s Changed

The 2017-18 hockey season is upon us. The Buffalo Sabres open their season tonight at the KeyBank Center and the Rochester Americans open their season tomorrow at the Blue Cross Arena. A lot of changes during the off-season have reshaped the outlook of both franchises. Many looked to the Sabres and Amerks as playoff contenders… Continue Reading