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!