The Rochester Americans continued their free fall on Wednesday night, losing 3-1 to the Milwaukee Admirals at Blue Cross Arena. The loss was the club’s eighth in a row and – with a Charlotte Checkers win- dropped the Amerks out of a playoff spot.
Playing without top defenseman Mark Pysyk (injury), forwards Mike Zigomanis and Alex Hutchings (illness) and either of their goaltenders Nathan Lieuwen and Matt Hackett (call-ups), the Amerks were run over by the Admirals right out of the gate. They were out-shot 25-6 in the first two periods and entered the third down three goals.
“It’s disappointing to come out like that at home against a beatable team,” forward Kevin Porter said. “They are only a couple points ahead of us in the standings and we came out flat.”
To make matters worse, Rochester lost one of its top scorers Jamie Tardif “long term” with an injury according to head coach Chadd Cassidy. The Amerks’ coach also said several players – likely Johan Larsson and Rasmus Ristolainen - will be headed to Buffalo, leaving the minor league team’s chances at the playoffs looking bleak.
Players took responsibility following the game and Cassidy called for more effort, but the explanation for the Amerks’ drop off the face of the playoffs is as simple as a mass of injuries in Rochester and Buffalo that have caused call-ups. Three weeks ago, the top four defenseman in Rochester were Pysyk, Ristolainen, captain Drew Bagnall and Chad Ruhwedel. They were arguably the best group in the AHL.
“That’s on the older guys. It’s my fault,” Porter said. “That’s on the leaders and we have to take care of it.”
They went from top 10 in save percentage in Lieuwen to two netminders who spent the year in the ECHL. The forward group has been fairly healthy, but with four defenseman who have played in the ECHL this year on the back end, the wingers never see the puck.
The Amerks did have a strong third period, putting up their lone goal on a Phil Varone pass to Kevin Sundher. Dan Catenacci and Kevin Porter also hit posts in the third, where Rochester out-shot Milwaukee 10-7.
While the Admirals took all three stars officially, the Amerks received a tremendous performance from their goaltender Andrey Makarov. The prospect netminder stopped 29 of 32 shots, including a penalty shot by forward Joonas Rask.
If the Amerks are going to make the post-season, they will need more from many of their players, but the struggles of former first-round pick Joel Armia have come into focus. The first-year pro has one goal in his past 21 games and only six in 49 games.
“He has to make sure it is important to him,” Cassidy said. “If it isn’t important to him, the rest doesn’t really matter. He has got to make sure he comes to the rink and if he wants to be an NHL player he has to be a lot more consistent.”
The Amerks play Friday against Toronto – a game they will need to win if they are going to hang around in the playoff race.