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.