Playoff Primer, Nylander Update, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Jacob Bryson Join the Team

The first round of the AHL playoffs are set and the Rochester Americans will face the Toronto Marlies. Any doubts I had about the Amerks playoff preparedness were erased during yesterday’s practice. For the first time since I started covering the Amerks this team looks like they genuinely want to make a deep playoff run. Anyone can say the right things in an interview — these are professionals after all — but they are wearing their emotions on their sleeves. Everyone is having fun out there. Working hard for sure, but enjoying every minute of it. No one looks ready to go home. This team is also more of a family than in seasons past. Everyone is supportive of one another and there is lots of friendly chirping and cheering throughout practice. Gone are the days of robotic drill execution and singular efforts. During a break between drills coach Taylor stressed that everything was about the team, not personal accomplishments. It’s an important message but not one that he had to deliver. The Amerks are already executing on a team mentality. 

To be successful this postseason the Amerks only need to do one thing — keep their intensity at 110% from the first puck drop to the last. If they can execute on that, they are unstoppable.

 

Taylor: Nylander is “uncomfortable” — “it is what it is”One player has been inexplicably missing from action. Alexander Nylander has been injured since his recall with the Sabres. Nylander suffered what was described as a cut on his leg that required stitches. At the time of the injury Sabres staff indicated that Nylander would only miss a few games. In an interview with ESPN Rochester yesterday, Taylor said that Nylander was “uncomfortable” and that “it is what it is.” When a coach describes a situation as “it is what it is” they aren’t happy. I’ll let you read between the lines as to what that means in this situation.

 

There are lots of ways to watch the playoffsIf you want to catch the action the best way to do that is to head to the Blue Cross Arena and watch the games in person. There are two options for watching from home:

  • AHL TV is your only option for catching home games outside of the Blue Cross Arena. Pricing starts at $7.99 for daily access and $24.99 for the entirety of Calder Cup Playoffs. Both options offer access to all teams and all games. At first I was frustrated that they didn’t have a single-team away option but after further consideration the package options are smart. For $24.99 you can watch any and all AHL playoff games and not have to worry about your investment. If your team is eliminated early you can still watch the remainder of the playoffs. It’s also smart marketing by the AHL since it will undoubtedly lead to more viewership.
  • MSG Network will be broadcasting first round away games in the Buffalo and Rochester markets.

 

Grab Your Blue Hard HatThe first 3,000 fans at tonight’s game will receive a blue hard hard which correlates to this year’s playoff slogan “Blue Collar Built.” Slogans are always hit-or-miss and everyone has an opinion about this year’s. I guess it all comes down to how you view Rochester’s current identity. Regardless, the party-style hats should be fun.

 

First look at Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Jacob BrysonUkko-Pekka Luukkonen and Jacob Bryson Joined the Amerks for the post-season. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen saw action in the final game of the season against the Belleville Senators and secured a 4-2 win by making 32 saves. While Luukkonen looked good, he won’t see action in round 1 of the playoffs unless Wedgewood and Wilcox have disastrous starts to the series. Jacob Bryson only had his first full practice with the Amerks yesterday and he is not expected to suit up for a game anytime soon. It’s important to have both around for the playoff run, if for no other reason than getting a taste of the culture, but they aren’t going to steal a spot just yet.

The Amerks face off against the Toronto Marlies at 7:05pm tonight at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, NY.

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.

Recapping Last Night’s Overtime Loss

Last night the Rochester Americans lost to the 31st place Binghamton Devils by a score of 4-3 in front of 8,367 fans. The game-winning goal came courtesy of atrocious officiating. 3:12 into overtime, Taylor Leier was called for tripping. Binghamton had gotten in on net with little resistance and Leier was following through to the trapezoid to prevent a follow-up scoring chance. His stick was near the feet of his man as the Binghamton player fell to the ice. The call was soft at best and it put the Amerks down a man, forced to defend a 4 on 3 power play for Binghamton. During that penalty kill Victor Olofsson recovered the puck in the slot and took off down ice. That’s when Brett Seney jumped off the bench and made a play on Olofsson — both making contact with Olofsson and causing Olofsson to defend against the defensive play. The problem is that Seney jumped off the bench several seconds before the man he was replacing got to the bench. Since Seney immediately entered the play, he was in violation of a textbook example of too many men. The refs did not make a call and Olofsson’s drive did not result in a goal. The next time down the ice Binghamton breached the zone in what might have been an offsides drive and ultimately scored. While the offsides call was perhaps too close to make, the too many men call was not.

As infuriating as the officiating was, the game never should have went to overtime. The Amerks had a slow start to the game but managed to net two goals by the end of the 1st period. Will Borgen and Victor Olofsson scored twice within 2:09 of each other. To start the 2nd period, Brandon Braddock and Brett Seney scored twice for Binghamton within 19 seconds of each other. Eric Tangradi scored a little under the 6 minute mark of the 2nd to give Binghamton the lead through 2 periods. Rasmus Asplund scored 1:55 into the 3rd period, tying the game at 3. That gave the Amerks 18 full minutes to net a go ahead goal against the last place Devils, but they were unable to do so. An embarrassingly bad 2nd period was too much to overcome.

The Amerks sit securely in second place in the North Division, but last night’s loss raises serious questions about the Amerks’ ability to win at home in front of a big crowd and push through the first round of the playoffs. The Rochester Americans have a chance to redeem themselves in Syracuse at 7pm tonight.

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.

The Housley Problem

I could explain how the players have given up on Phil Housley. I could explain how his method for selecting which players to scratch and which to suit up is wrong. I could explain why his defense doesn’t work. I could layout why most of his coaching decisions are flawed. I could pick apart his press conferences. Everything I could say would be true. But then you already know everything I could say.

Housley isn’t a bad coach. He’s the wrong coach for this Buffalo Sabres team. He’s the wrong coach because he expects greatness without showing them the way. That might sound ridiculous but the Sabres are not a mature team, nor are they a member of a mature organization. Housley is demanding performance the players simply can’t deliver and he has proven that he is unwilling to develop them on the ice — instead he tells them to watch the game from the sidelines. This was true for Tage Thompson and Lawrence Pilut, both of which watched more games from the press box than any talented prospect should. It was also true for Alexander Nylander when he was benched because his line mates weren’t moving fast enough. Housley needed to enter this season with the mindset that developing the talent he had was the single most important objective of the season. Instead he benched and scratched players for making mistakes. That approach works with a mature roster but it doesn’t work with an immature roster. Mistakes are going to happen. If you want developing players to learn from their mistakes you need to explain what went wrong, how to avoid making the mistake again, and then send them back on the ice where they can improve whatever went wrong. Instead Housley sat players for making mistakes and then pointed those mistakes out to the media as justification. The players didn’t learn their lesson — they were embarrassed and ostracized. Housley didn’t teach them anything but how to give up. Make a mistake, sit. Motivation? I think not. In my opinion that’s the number one reason Housley lost the locker room and the reason players gave up on him. While we like to think of hockey players as consummate professionals their response to Housley is justified. He gave up on them every time they made a mistake and they gave up on him after two seasons of neglect.

Since Housley isn’t the right coach for this Sabres team why not just move on from him? Why was Housley even brought back for a second season? This is where General Manager Jason Botterill deserves criticism. If finishing 31st in the league wasn’t enough of a reason to move on from Housley, the moment Ryan O’Reilly stated that he had lost his love for hockey, Housley’s fate should have been sealed. Rather than move on from the wrong coach, Botterill moved an unhappy player. I’m sympathetic to Botterill’s decision — even if it was wrong — because I wouldn’t want to trade places with him. He inherited a train wreck of an organization. There were no free contracts to work with, little salary cap room, and he was playing to a disenfranchised fan base. To make matters worse, his predecessor Tim Murray drafted poorly. Botterill had his hands full trying to fix these issues and firing a coach after just one year on the job would have raised questions. The last thing a new GM wants to do is operate under a cloud of uncertainty, but the end result is the same. By sticking with Housley he’s left fans wondering if he himself is the right person for the job. Let me be clear— I do not think Botterill should be fired — but he needs to stop worrying about how it looks to fire his first coaching hire and do what needs to be done.

We can nitpick the Ryan O’Reilly trade but given the state of the Sabres and the talent he had available for trade, he took the best offer that was on the table. Why not hold on to O’Reilly? Because he was miserable and Botterill couldn’t let that resentment fester among his teammates. Also, hindsight is always 20/20. At the time pretty much everyone thought Botterill did well.

The biggest mistake Botterill made when trading Ryan O’Reilly was what he did with Tage Thompson. Thompson should have been immediately assigned to Rochester where Chris Taylor would have developed his talent. Instead he spent half the season watching his teammates play from the sidelines.

The biggest piece of evidence suggesting that Botterill can turn things around in the NHL lies in the AHL. The Rochester Americans are enjoying back-to-back seasons of success and just clinched their second straight playoff berth. When Botterill took the helm, the Amerks were in bad shape. Rochester had just endured 3 losing seasons and a playoff drought to match. The Amerks missed the playoffs 6 out of 10 seasons prior. That playoff drought ended during Botterill’s first season as GM. He signed an Assistant General Manager, Randy Sexton, who also serves as General Manager of the Amerks. Botterill and Sexton signed quality veterans and moved on from prospects that weren’t working out. They signed Chris Taylor as head coach of the Amerks and Taylor has been doing a great job developing talent. Taylor is patient and he lets players learn from their mistakes. He understands that the only way to learn from mistakes is to play through them and get better as result. His team’s performance speaks for itself and his team’s success will translate to more success for the Sabres.

If Botterill can build a winning team in Rochester he can do the same in Buffalo — it just takes longer to right the ship in the NHL thanks to the nature of the salary cap. Turning around an underperforming NHL team requires a combination of well developed prospects and smart trades. For that reason Botterill deserves two more years before we pass judgement. By that time he should have legitimate NHL-ready players coming up the pipeline from Rochester.

Ownership is far from blameless in all of this. Before Botterill and Housley, the Pegula’s did the worst thing ownership can do. The Pegula’s empowered Sabres players to fire their coach. You could call that speculation, but here are the facts: the Pegula’s took it upon themselves to interview players about the organization and shortly thereafter they fired their coaching staff and general manager. For all their faults — and there are plenty — this was their biggest misstep. Players don’t have to like their coach but they have to listen to and respect them. Players that have the power to fire their coach don’t have to listen to or respect them. They’ll just have them fired when they don’t like the message. A dedicated hockey president would not have made this mistake. A dedicate hockey president would have walked away from Tim Murray far sooner than the Pegula’s did. The Pegula’s are inexperienced franchise owners and while they have a desire to be involved at every level they would better serve their fan base if they focused on the big picture and hired qualified staff to handle day-to-day operations.

For all their faults, there is one clear choice for Jason Botterill and the Pegula’s — it’s time to fire Phil Housely. Terminating Housley will reflect poorly on the organization, but no worse than back-to-back seasons of embarrassing finishes. Botterill will take heat for picking the wrong coach and keeping him around too long. The Pegula’s will take heat for a continued string of poor staff decisions. With egg on their faces, Botterill should continue as General Manager and the Pegula’s can continue Skyping into meetings from Florida.

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.

The Amerks Are Burning Down The House

Last night the Rochester Americans faced the Utica Comets in a lightly attended Friday night home game at the Blue Cross Arena. A kitchen fire left Utica’s goalie Richard Bachman in a haze during the 2nd period, but it was the Amerks who smoked Bachman scoring 2 goals on just 3 shots in the 3rd period. Lots of blocked shots and strong team camaraderie propelled the Amerks to a decisive 4-0 win, giving Wedgewood his first shutout of the season.

Redmond opened up scoring with a power play goal. Pilut cycled and passed to Olofsson, who hit Redmond with a perfect pass. Redmond fired a blazing one-timer from the point that beat Bachman as he slid across the crease. Porter scored the only goal in the 2nd period. A loose puck was heading towards the slot and Bachman came out to play it. Porter got the jump on Bachman and beat him to the puck. All it took was a quick deke and light back-handed shot for Porter to put the Amerks up 2-0. 8:45 into the 3rd period O’Regan redirected Borgen’s shot from the point, putting the Amerks up 3-0. As the period neared the 13 minute mark Nylander broke in on net for a quality scoring opportunity but Bachman made the save. The ref’s hand went up on the play signaling a delayed penalty. Then in a odd moment, Utica’s Jesse Graham slapped the puck in anger and the puck ended up in the back of the net. Nylander was given credit for the goal since he was the last Amerk that touched the puck. The refs discussed the goal and decided that even though there was a delayed penalty pending against the Comets, slapping the puck didn’t constitute control and therefore the goal was good. With this fluke goal Utica’s night was over.

Tyler Randell and Vincent Arseneau gave the crowd at the Blue Cross Arena a boost of energy early in the 3rd period with a fight in front of the Amerks bench. Arseneau landed several punches early but I’d give this match to Randell, who landed several punches late and snapped back to his feet after losing his footing not once, but twice. Randell ultimately ended the fight after Arseneau lost his helmet.

Pilut had assists on 3 of 4 Amerks goals, Olofsson tallied another assist, and Redmond scored another power play goal. With their continued production, Olofsson, Redmond, and Pilut are currently the leading scorers in the AHL (in that order).

While he isn’t leading the league in points, Porter has really impressed me this season. He continually demonstrates his veteran experience with smart plays all over the ice. His 2nd period goal was a clear example of that experience and he made it look easy. Nylander, who I have been critical of in the past, is showing signs of improvement. Instead of standing out for turnovers and ducking checks, he is finding the puck and getting to the net. He even played the body a bit last night, opting for throwing his shoulder instead of avoiding contact along the boards. Nylander still needs a lot of development but I no longer consider him a liability — and dare I say it — he’s developing into an asset.

Coach Chris Taylor deserves a lot of credit for keeping the locker room attitude positive after a rough start to the 2018-19 season. The Amerks have righted the ship and currently lead their division.

The Amerks face the Laval Rocket tonight at the Blue Cross Arena at 7:05pm.

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.

Amerks Look To Avoid Repeat of an Attrocious Opening Night

Amerks fans that missed portions of Friday night’s game due to long security and concession lines were the lucky ones. Following a playoff showing last season and lots of roster changes in the off-season, expectations were high. The Amerks failed to deliver, losing 6-2 to the Charlotte Checkers. While fans in Buffalo booed the Sabres for a poor showing on opening night, fans in Rochester, who also had to deal with poor arena management, simply got out of their seat and left. Some went to find the dinner they couldn’t purchase in the arena. Some went home. The one thing that everyone can agree on is that nothing went right on opening night, on or off the ice.

C.J. Smith scored early in the 2nd period with an impressive shot on a lead pass at the offensive blue line from Kyle Criscuolo. Lawrence Pilut, who had an assist on C.J. Smith’s goal, scored late in the 2nd. Neither goal was enough to neutralize the Charlotte Checkers powerhouses Janne Kuokkanen (2G, 1A), Nicolas Roy (2G, 1A), and Andrew Poturalski (1G, 3A). By the mid-point of the 3rd period it was like the Amerks were playing an NHL team — an NHL team that was sitting back to avoid embarrassing the opponent they have to face again the following night.

So what went wrong? Everything. In the offensive zone the Amerks defense was jumping into the play rather than guarding the blue line. In the defensive end Amerks forwards weren’t supporting defense. The Amerks rush was a hot mess (hotter than the food being served at the concession stands!). The Amerks constantly turned over the puck. To top it all off the entire roster avoided physical contact like they were Alexander Nylander in the playoffs. Chris Taylor said as much in his post-game interview (minus my colorful description about physicality).

Taylor isn’t quite sure what he saw on the ice but it wasn’t what he’s been coaching. Fans aren’t quite sure what happened anywhere in the arena. One thing is certain — if Saturday night’s game is a repeat of Friday night, it will set a disastrous tone for the 2018-19 season.

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.
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Playoff Primer, Nylander Update, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Jacob Bryson Join the Team

The first round of the AHL playoffs are set and the Rochester Americans will face the Toronto Marlies. Any doubts I had about the Amerks playoff preparedness were erased during yesterday’s practice. For the first time since I started covering the Amerks this team looks like they genuinely want to make a deep playoff run…. Continue Reading

Recapping Last Night’s Overtime Loss

Last night the Rochester Americans lost to the 31st place Binghamton Devils by a score of 4-3 in front of 8,367 fans. The game-winning goal came courtesy of atrocious officiating. 3:12 into overtime, Taylor Leier was called for tripping. Binghamton had gotten in on net with little resistance and Leier was following through to the… Continue Reading

The Housley Problem

I could explain how the players have given up on Phil Housley. I could explain how his method for selecting which players to scratch and which to suit up is wrong. I could explain why his defense doesn’t work. I could layout why most of his coaching decisions are flawed. I could pick apart his… Continue Reading

The Amerks Are Burning Down The House

Last night the Rochester Americans faced the Utica Comets in a lightly attended Friday night home game at the Blue Cross Arena. A kitchen fire left Utica’s goalie Richard Bachman in a haze during the 2nd period, but it was the Amerks who smoked Bachman scoring 2 goals on just 3 shots in the 3rd… Continue Reading

Amerks Look To Avoid Repeat of an Attrocious Opening Night

Amerks fans that missed portions of Friday night’s game due to long security and concession lines were the lucky ones. Following a playoff showing last season and lots of roster changes in the off-season, expectations were high. The Amerks failed to deliver, losing 6-2 to the Charlotte Checkers. While fans in Buffalo booed the Sabres… Continue Reading

Opening Night — New Scoreboard Shines, Bad Hockey, and An Arena Management Disaster

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Pegula’s Awarded NLL Expansion Team In Rochester — New Scoreboard — Blue Cross Arena Upgrades Outlined

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Botterill Reshapes Goalie Landscape – Signs Carter Hutton and Scott Wedgewood

This morning marked the beginning of the 2018-19 NHL Free Agency Hunger Games. As expected the Sabres have had their hand in the cookie jar and what they pulled out is deals with two solid goalies. The Sabres signed Carter Hutton as their first-string goalie and Scott Wedgewood as the Amerks first-string goalie. Linus Ullmark… Continue Reading

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