Amerks: December in review

The Amerks put up a subpar month of December, but remain a top team in the North Division

Brayton Wilson
January 09, 2019 - 3:06 pm

Photo: Micheline Michaelina - Rochester Americans


It was a rollercoaster month of December for the Rochester Americans that saw the team going 6-6-1 and falling out of the top spot in the North Division. However, the Amerks sat just two points back of Syracuse by the time the new year rang in on January 1.

December started off with a 3-0 loss to the Binghamton Devils at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton, New York. This off the heals of a 1-0 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins the night before at Blue Cross Arena. The Devils came out prepared to face their North Division foe, while Rochester came out flat and only managed 22 shots on goal to Binghamton's 38. After a late goal in the first period by Devils forward Blake Pietila, Scott Wedgewood managed to keep things close into the third period. However, an Eric Tangradi goal that got a lucky bounce off Andrew MacWilliam gave the Devils a 2-0 cushion with just 9:17 to go. Nick Lappin added an empty-net goal with 1:42 left to give the Devils their first win of the season against the Amerks.

However, the Amerks then went on to string together a three-game winning streak, partially thanks to goalie Jonas Johansson. The first two games of the win streak saw the 23-year-old netminder shine with a 25-save performance against the Utica Comets, followed by a 26-save performance against the Providence Bruins.

The Amerks rounded out the streak with a big 4-3 divisional win over the Crunch at the War Memorial Arena in Syracuse. That game saw goals come from Wayne Simpson, Tyler Randell, Danny O'Regan and Victor Olofsson, while Adam Wilcox turned aside 25 of 28 shots faced in the win.

The Amerks had a chance to extend their win streak to four games on Wednesday, December 12 back at Blue Cross Arena against the Devils. However, the team came out flat in the final 40 minutes of play to hand Binghamton a 5-1 win in the Flower City. The Amerks out-shot the Devils 16-8 in the first period, but some mistakes in the defensive end cost Rochester two goals. The second of the first goals saw Zach Redmond turning over the puck in the Amerks' zone while on the power play, leading to a shorthanded goal from Devils forward Yegor Sharangovich. From there, the Amerks did not recover as the Devils added two early goals in the second period to chase Johansson from the net at the 1:53 mark of the period. Sean Malone added a goal off a beautiful feed from Alex Nylander to get the Amerks on the board, but the Devils added another goal with 4:53 to go in the second. The third period saw the Amerks only mustering up eight shots on goal in a rather non-spirited effort while down by four.

However, the team bounced back with an important two wins over their North Division rival in the Cleveland Monsters.

The Friday night game in Rochester saw the Amerks come away with a 3-1 win on home ice, with Wedgewood nearly pitching a shutout if it hadn't have been for an Adam Clendening goal with 1:11 to go. The Amerks got out-shot on the night by a 43-26 total, but still got three goals from Nylander, C.J. Smith and O'Regan.

On Saturday, it was off to Northeast Ohio and a matchup with the Monsters at Quicken Loans Arena. The Amerks held a 1-0 lead for most of the game before the Monsters tied the game late in the third period. However, C.J. Smith would be the hero in overtime as he converted on a rebound chance in front of the net to give Rochester the extra point.

The Amerks entered the holiday break on a sour note with three straight losses for the first time in the 2018-19 season.

On Wednesday, December 19, the Amerks blew a 4-1 lead to the Belleville Senators, giving up two goals in the second period, then two more goals in the final 2:43 of the third period. Rochester got off to a flying start, getting three goals in the first period from Olofsson, Eric Cornel and C.J. Smith. That was enough to chase starter Marcus Hogberg from the Belleville net after facing five shots on goal in 11 minutes of action. Olofsson added another goal just 1:24 into the second period, but then the Amerks kept letting the Senators come to them while they sat back and tried to hold on for dear life. Belleville ended up out-shooting the Amerks in the second and third by a 24-16 total, but the Amerks didn't show much signs of life until they suddenly faced a 5-4 deficit with 1:45 to go.

Then on Friday and Saturday, Rochester hosted the Hartford Wolf Pack for a two-game set at Blue Cross Arena. The two games were a mess for the Americans as they were out-scored 9-3, even though they out-shot the Wolf Pack 71-67 along the way.

Friday saw the Amerks and Wolf Pack tied at 2-2 heading into the third period when the Wolf Pack went to work in the offensive zone. Steven Fogarty gave Hartford the lead just 5:35 into the third as Wedgewood bit hard on a pass from Vinni Lettieri from behind the net to Fogarty coming in the other way. Fogarty then tucked it in between the puck and the post to give the Wolf Pack the advantage. Later in the period, defenseman Chris Bigras dropped the dagger on the Amerks with a goal with 7:40 remaining in the game.

Saturday was not much of a better outcome for the Amerks as they faced a 2-0 deficit in the first period with a pair of goals from Peter Holland. The crushing blow was dealt late in the second period as Lettieri continued his dismantling of the Amerks with a goal with nine-seconds remaining in the second stanza. After Wilcox failed to cover the puck alongside the net, the puck bounced to a wide-open Lettieri in the slot and he made no mistake. Wilcox was replaced with Wedgewood for the third period, but the change in net did not matter as Hartford added two more goals and dominated the third by out-shooting Rochester by an 18-9 total. Yannick Veilleux broke the shutout bid by Marek Mazanec with 10:45 to go, but the Amerks looked lifeless again as they finished out the game before getting the three-day break for Christmas.

Right after Christmas, the Amerks returned to action for two more wins against North Division foes.

Wedgewood started off the two games with a 4-0 shutout win over Cleveland as he stopped all 31 shots he faced at Quicken Loans Arena. While he played a stellar game in goal, the Amerks put up a complete 60-minute effort with goals coming from Simpson (2), C.J. Smith and Kyle Criscuolo. The next game, Wedgewood turned out another excellent performance with a 35-save effort in a 5-1 win over the Toronto Marlies at Blue Cross Arena. 

However, the Amerks closed out the month of December the same way it started - with another disappointing loss. This time, it came at the hands of the Utica Comets at the Adirondack Bank Center in Utica. With the game at 2-1 in favor of the home squad entering the third period, Cornel was able to tie the game up at the 2:49 mark of the third on the power play. However, the Comets re-gained the lead just 4:16 later as Brendan Gaunce got a shot to squeak through Wilcox to give Utica the lead. After Darren Archibald added an empty-net goal with 49-seconds to go, Justin Bailey scored with 12-seconds left to make things interesting in the late stages of the game. However, the Comets held off another Amerks attack to hold on to the 4-3 win.

December was Rochester's worst month of the season, but to still win six games and earn points in seven of 13 games is still not bad.

In November, the Amerks' power play went on a major cold streak, going just 3-for-35 in 10 games played. This month saw those numbers increase and play a little above average with 12 goals on 50 chances. That was a 24-percent conversion rate, which is a bit more than the Amerks' average power play percentage through the first three months at 21.7-percent. In the final three games of the season, Rochester's power play exploded with seven goals on 16 opportunities. Overall, the Amerks scored at least one power play goal in eight of the team's 13 games this month.

Where the Amerks struggled in December was with their lack of discipline and the constant parade to the penalty box. Rochester was called for 54 penalties in the month, but only managed to kill off 42 (77.8%) of those infractions. Overall, the Amerks have killed off 78.6-percent of the team's penalties in the 2018 portion of the schedule.

In case you missed it, here is how the schedule played out for the month:

  • Saturday, December 1 - at Binghamton Devils (3-0 loss)
  • Wednesday, December 5 - vs. Utica (5-2 win)
  • Friday, December 7 - vs. Providence (2-1 win)
  • Saturday, December 8 - at Syracuse (4-3 win)
  • Wednesday, December 12 - vs. Binghamton (5-1 loss)
  • Friday, December 14 - vs. Cleveland (3-1 win)
  • Saturday, December 15 - at Cleveland (2-1 OT win)
  • Wednesday, December 19 - vs. Belleville (5-4 loss)
  • Friday, December 21 - vs. Hartford (4-2 loss)
  • Saturday, December 22 - vs. Hartford (5-1 loss)
  • Wednesday, December 26 - at Cleveland (4-0 win)
  • Friday, December 28 - vs. Toronto (5-1 win)
  • Friday, December 30 - at Utica (4-3 loss)

Game of the Month: December 15th at Cleveland

The Rochester Americans boast one of the best road records in the AHL, picking up nine wins in 14 games played, which is a 71.4-percent win rate away from Blue Cross Arena.

Arguably the biggest road win of the month came in Cleveland, Ohio on December 15th when the Amerks traveled to Quicken Loans Arena to complete a home-and-home series with the Monsters. At the time, Cleveland was right in line with the Amerks in the standings, sitting within a couple points of the Amerks for the top spot in the North Division.

After Brendan Guhle opened the scoring late in the second period with a power play goal, the Amerks carried the 1-0 lead into the third period. However, after a late delay of game penalty to C.J. Smith, former Amerks and Sabres forward Nathan Gerbe tied the game with a power play goal at the 16:49 mark of the third.

That was enough to send the game to overtime, where Smith was able to make up for his earlier mistake. With 1:28 remaining in the bonus round of hockey, Smith followed up on an O'Regan shot in front of goalie Jean-Francois Berube to give Rochester the extra point.

Here is a run down of how some players performed in the month of December:

  • C.J. Smith

Smith turned things up in the month of December, especially in the goal scoring department. The 25-year-old went on to score seven goals and register 12 points in 13 games played before getting his first call up of the season to the Buffalo Sabres on December 31. Smith led the team in scoring with 29 points in 33 games at the time of his call up, and also led the team with 108 shots on goal. In November, Smith was snake bitten with the amount of quality chances he had and nothing to show for it on the scoresheet. However, December was a good month for the second-year Amerk, and it was a well deserved call up to the Sabres.

  • Alex Nylander

Despite a lighter month of production on the scoresheet, the Nylander has been, arguably, the most consistent player for the Amerks this season. The 20-year-old continued his much improved play into December, even though he only picked up a goals and two assists in 10 games played. He continues to play better away from the puck, he's engaged in the play in both ends of the ice, and is helping his team out in some key spots every game. Overall, Nylander put up 20 points (7+13) in 30 games through the first few months of the season. Nylander did deal with a couple of minor injuries during the month, one lower-body injury and one upper-body injury, but it has not deterred his play much at all. The development with Nylander continues, and while mistakes are going to happen here and there, his play should be a positive sign for his future with the Sabres.

  • Victor Olofsson

While Olofsson has been known for his outstanding shot and his ability to score goals, his production this season has not come with him putting the puck in the net. Instead, it has been mostly through his puck distribution and setting up his teammates to score. The 23-year-old winger only scored three goals in December, but was able to pick up seven helpers, five of them came in the final three games of 2018. It's not like Olofsson is not shooting the puck and creating some scoring chances for himself and his teammates. Olofsson registered 81 shots on goal through December, and has registered a shot on goal in all but one game for the Amerks. He's transitioning well to the North American game, and it seems like his goal production is bound to pick up the more and more he produces. However, to say he is ready for the NHL game is jumping the gun a bit. Let him pressure cook in the AHL for a while and continue to improve his overall game. He'll get there eventually though.

  • Justin Bailey

It has been a nice turnaround for Justin Bailey this season after getting off to a rough start in October and November. In December, the 23-year-old scored four goals and picked up nine points, and his consistency has picked up and has been better for the Amerks. Overall, Bailey had nine goals and 20 points in the first 32 games of the season. This comes after registering just three assists to start the season in October, and continuing his inconsistent play into November. However, Bailey produced a solid December, which hopefully means he can continue to improve to help the Amerks make a deep run come April.

  • Dalton Smith

Dalton Smith continues to be a vital piece to the puzzle for Rochester's success this season. The 26-year-old AHLer only had a goal and three assists in 24 games through December, but his style of play has been key for some of the Amerks' big wins in 2018. Standing at 6' 2" and 205-pounds, you have to watch out for Smith every time he steps on to the ice with his ability to make some big hits and get under the skin of his opponents. With this, he's able to open things up for his linemates on the ice, and it has resulted in some big-time momentum swings for the Amerks. Overall, the Amerks are 18-6-0-0 when Smith is in the lineup playing, primarily, a fourth line checking role. When Smith is not in the Amerks lineup, they are 4-6-2-0.

  • Brendan Guhle

Much like Bailey, Guhle's game has turnaround for the better after a slow start in 2018. In December alone, Guhle scored twice and added five assists in 11 games played. On top of his offensive production increasing, the 21-year-old is looking much more comfortable on the ice, especially in his own end. Guhle has a total of four goals and 12 points this season in 29 games, and the Amerks are certainly hoping his confidence level can continue to grow this season to where his offensive output only increases. If he can make that happen, he could be a key piece to Rochester's success as the season starts to wind down.

  • Will Borgen

Borgen is one of only six players for the Amerks this year to have played in every single game, and while he's not lighting up the scoresheet, he continues his strong two-way play on the blue line. December did not look good, in terms of scoring, with zero points to account for, but his overall production throughout the season has been something to admire. Like many of the young players on the roster, the growing pains will exist, but he continues to trend in a positive way. Now, all he needs to do is boost his offensive numbers a bit.

  • Zach Redmond

Redmond's red-hot start to the 2018-19 season has cooled off quite dramatically. After scoring 13 goals and registering nine assists through October and November, the 30-year-old veteran only scored twice and picked up three assists in 13 games in December. Not to say that a cool down was not expected, but the Amerks rely on his production from the back end quite a bit. However, Redmond still led the team through the first three months of the season with 15 goals, and was one point back of C.J. Smith for the team lead in points.

  • Scott Wedgewood

As has been the case all season, Wedgewood's numbers on paper have not shown him to be having a stellar season with a 2.94 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage in 20 games. However, the 26-year-old goaltender has been phenomenal in just about every game that he has appeared in. Last month, Wedgewood stood tall and gave everything he could, pitching a 3-3-0 record, a 2.41 goals-against, a .936 save percentage and earning a shutout. He has been tested night in and night out, but rarely has he flinched with his play this season. Look for Wedgewood to continue to get a majority of the workload in goal as the season progresses.

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