When the Toronto Marlies took a 3-2 late in the third period, nearly every Rochester Americans player looked up to the rafters. All at once, they were asking, “will this ever end?”
The Amerks dropped their ninth straight game on Friday night at Blue Cross Arena despite outplaying the Marlies for much of the night. For the second time in three games, they put together a strong performance against Toronto and were not rewarded.
Friday night's game had all the looks of a bounce-back win. Each time the Marlies scored, the Amerks got back on the board. Their forwards forechecked hard and sustained pressure, their defenseman improved greatly at getting pucks up to the wing and their goaltender was on his game. When Brayden Irwin scored off a Luke Adam tip to tie the game 36 seconds into the third period, you would have put all your chips on the Amerks.
But some losing streaks have eyes. They see the slightest moment of weakness and strike. That was the case on this night. Just like that, a routine rush down the stick-side wing turned into a crossing pass, turned into a one-timer, turned into a goal. The slightest misplay by the defenseman to allow the pass and the goaltender's positioning to allow the puck to bounce off his body and into the net. The losing streak spotted the slip and took advantage.
The Amerks fell behind early in the second period on a deflected shot that appeared to go off defenseman Nick Crawford's skate. It took nearly the entire period of having the puck on his stick, but forward Joel Armia finally broke through with a goal to tie the game at one. His goal, just the second in his last 22 games, was netted on a dynamic stick-handling play. The rookie danced around a defender, drove to the net, whipped a shot off the netminder's pad, then slammed home is own rebound.
“Best player tonight for us offensively,” coach Chadd Cassidy said. “In terms of his ability to create one-on-one, get pucks to the net. He scored a goal going to the net, hopefully there is a message there. But like we have talked about all season, he has to be consistent.”
Armia's consistency has been an issue for much of the season, but he showed why the Sabres' organization believed in his skill when he was selected 16th overall.
Consistency in effort has not just been a problem for the young forward during the losing streak. The entire team could be accused of having too many ups and downs. It was apparent from the start that veterans – namely Colton Gillies – were out to end the streak.
“I needed to get back to playing Colton Gillies style hockey,” he said. “That's me being first on the forecheck, finishing checks hard and letting guys know when I'm out there.”
The Amerks now face an uphill battle to get into the playoffs, but not one that is impossible. They enter Saturday one point out of eighth place with the same number of games played as the Charlotte Checkers. If the OKC Barons win over the weekend, they will drop to 10th.
Luke Adam has been through the bottom spot blitz three years in a row for Rochester.
“Seems like we have to win the last game to make the playoffs, so it's almost like every game is a playoff game,” he said. “We can't be hoping this team loses or that team loses. We have to win games. If we keep playing like we did tonight, we'll have success.”
There could be help on the way. Mark Pysyk is expected to return to the lineup Wednesday and Mikhail Grigorenko could be assigned to Rochester.