In a game that did not run short on excitement, the Rochester Americans defeated the Syracuse Crunch on home ice, 6-5, last night. The Amerks fell to the Crunch on the previous night in Syracuse, so the victory did come with a nice taste of vengeance.
Entering the night, the Amerks power play was an abysmal 0 for its last 25 chances. Of the 12 forwards in the Syracuse lineup, 6 of the forwards stand at an astounding 6’4 or taller, which seemed to give the Amerks some difficulties in the last matchup. The teams so far had split the season series, 1-1, and should start gaining a nice level of familiarity, as they are facing one another a total of 10 times this season. Marcus Foligno comes into the game sitting at 3rd in the league with a sensational 38.5% shooting percentage. It was also nice to see Brian Duff of “NHL On The Fly” fame among the 4,006 that were in attendance.
The Amerks wasted no time getting the high-flying evening started. Just 50 seconds into the game, Mark Voakes picked up a turnover in the neutral zone, and set up a nice give-and-go play with Rochester native Derek Whitmore. Voakes burned right by the Syracuse defense and promptly deposited the puck into the top corner with a slick wrist shot. This was his first goal of the season. 1-0 Amerks.
5 minutes into the period, it appeared that Marcus Foligno broke in alone and had a step on the defense, and was blatantly tripped on the breakaway. The refs must have been watching a different game than I was, as no call was made on what surely looked like a penalty – unless tripping suddenly became legal, and I missed the news. Just a few seconds later on the ensuing faceoff, the Crunch get a breakaway of their own, and Dan Sexton buries it past David Leggio. Game tied, 1-1.
The tie did not last long. One minute later, Colin Stuart finds Zack Kassian cherry-picking, sending him on a very clean breakaway. Kassian makes a beautiful juke, drops the goalie, and roofs it for his 5th goal of the season. This made it 2-1 Amerks, with 13:30 to go in the 1st period.
Later in the period, Rochester went on a power play and looked flat, leaving them scoreless in their last 26 chances. After some nice work down in the zone by the line of Foligno-Voakes-Whitmore creates a couple great scoring chances, the Amerks take a penalty. The Crunch quickly capitalize on a goal by defenseman Bryan Rodney. They have now scored on 5 of their last 9 power plays against Rochester – the Amerks might want to stay out of the box. Game tied at 2-2 with 7 minutes left in the period.
The first period ends 2-2, with the Amerks outshooting Syracuse 12-6.
Two minutes into the second stanza, Travis Turnbull nabs his first goal of the season. Phil Varone dug it out of the corner, fed it to Jacob Lagace in the circle, and Lagace sent a perfect pass across the slot and through the legs of the Syracuse defense, right to the tape of an awaiting Turnbull. The wide open tapper puts the Amerks back on top, 3-2.
Shaone Morrisson clips a member of the Crunch accidentally in the eye, drawing blood, and setting up a 4 minute power play for Syracuse. For the first time this weekend, the Amerks special teams comes up big, as Voakes is able to get a clean breakaway and buries it into the top shelf again, for his second of the night/season. The shorthanded goal makes it 4-2 Rochester.
Shortly after the goal, an obvious Syracuse high stick catches Varone in the face. For the second time of the evening, the refs were watching a different game than me, as no call was made, other than a roughing call on T.J. Brennan for sticking up for the incident on Varone. Syracuse again scores on the resulting power play – ANOTHER breakaway. This time it is Nicolas Deschamps. The Crunch at this point have converted on 6 of their last 10 power plays against Rochester. Amerks still leading, 4-3.
Blown coverage by Morrisson helps set up a tying goal by Syracuse. A shot by the Crunch leads to a puck slowly dribbling behind Leggio, and Morrisson leaves John Mitchell to go in alone and help the puck the rest of the way in. Sexton picks up an assist on the goal, giving him 8 points in the last 2 games against Rochester. 4-4 with the period half over. This guy seems destined for AHL player of the week status.
A Crunch shot on goal from the point following a faceoff in the Amerks zone leads to a juicy rebound put in by Patrick Maroon. Alex Biega was not paying attention to him on the play. With 7:30 left, Syracuse takes the lead, 5-4.
The final 3 minutes of the 2nd become a shooting gallery brought on by Syracuse. Somehow, Leggio keeps them from scoring and stands on his head, making a handful of brilliant saves. The Amerks appeared to have deflated , losing all confidence in last half of the period, and their passing became sloppy. Shots are now 24-18 in favor of Syracuse, as the Crunch outshot Rochester 18-6.
Gameplay slowed down in the 3rd period, until the final few minutes. With 4:30 left in the game, Kassian just misses a chance to tie it on a nice wraparound attempt. The Amerks continued picking up tenacity, with Lagace just barely missing on a point blank slapper in the slot with 4 minutes left. A minute later, Voakes splits the defense and almost puts it through the five-hole of veteran goalie Jeff Deslauriers.
Paul Szczechura wins the ensuing faceoff, and chips it into corner. Kassian does all the work there, and feeds it right back to Szczechura, who was just getting off his knees from faceoff, and he snipes it top shelf to tie game at 5-5 with 2 minutes to go. This is Szczechuras first of season. The hard work of the Amerks pays off, and the crowd is energized by the effort.
With 1:16 left, Foligno tries to fight Maroon. Maroon decides to chicken out and not drop his gloves and gets pounded in the back of the head by Foligno. The Crunch are sent to the power play to finish regulation. 3rd period ends tied, sending us to oooooooooooooovertime. The Amerks are 0-2 in extra innings this season.
Just after the Syracuse power play ends in OT, Szczechura and Brayden McNabb break loose up the ice for a 2 on 1. Perfect back and forth passes lead to a spectacular McNabb goal, pinged in right off crossbar 56 seconds in. The Amerks win 6-5, and send the fans home happy.
-Szczechura looks like a very serviceable depth center, if the Sabres ever need one. He was skating smoothly, creating chances, and seemed to anticpate plays nicely.
-Joe Finley looks to have been a rewarding gamble by Buffalo. He has been very mobile and using his size well, and has shown versatility by playing both forward and defense. Nice aggression as well.
-For the Ryan Miller naysayers that have recently shown up among the Sabres fanbase- keep in mind that neither David Leggio or Drew MacIntyte have looked like they could be capable NHL backups at this point. If Miller was traded, making Enroth the starter, we would need a reliable backup in return. Also keep in mind how long it took Buffalo to find a reliable back up.
-Foligno and Kassian look like they are both progressing well in the AHL. Both forwards have been showing grit by crashing the net and working hard in the corners, and both have been displaying skill and scoring touch by getting points on the board consistently. Watching Corey Tropp receive his recent call-up should only further fuel their hunger to reach the next level.