Momentum and turning points are overstated and mostly bogus, but in Friday night's game between the Rochester Americans and Toronto Marlies, there was a moment where every person in the building new Andrey Makarov was going to be pretty darn difficult to beat.
It was early on. The penalty-happy referees had stripped the game down to a flowless special teams contest in the first period, calling five minors in less than six minutes of play. The Amerks were stuck at 5-on-3 and scrambling in their own zone when the puck bounced perfectly on the stick of a Marlies forward, who slung a pass to the AHL's best-goal scoring defenseman TJ Brennan.
Brennan, who has 22 goals and 44 points, fired away. Makarov whipped across the crease and nabbed the laser beam with his glove. Amerks fans remember shots just like that blowing by goalies when Brennan was a member of the Sabres' organization.
Not this time. Toronto players were shaking their heads. Fans were standing. Amerks players knew their netminder was on his game.
“For him to make that save down 5-on-3 on a broken play where we got over rotated, he comes across and makes that save and it was kind of like, “OK, we're alright now,” head coach Chadd Cassidy said.
The young prospect goalie stopped 27 of 28 in Rochester's 3-1 win and improved his save percentage to .919 in seven games. The win moved Rochester into seventh place in the Western Conference – one point up on Oklahoma City and Charlotte (2 games in hand) - with five games remaining.
They certainly would not be in the race without Makarov, who replaced both Nathan Lieuwen and Matt Hackett. He has shown quickness and competitiveness that is eyebrow-raising.
“He's always square to the puck,” forward Luke Adam said. “Sometimes you notice some goalies after the first shot are out of position or one-time shots are out of the position, but he seems read the play so well that he is always over there square.”
Amerks captain Kevin Porter netted his 17th goal of the season to open up the scoring with just over seven minutes remaining in the first period. After allowing a breakaway goal to Toronto forward Josh Leivo midway through the second, Luke Adam tipped home the game-winning goal on a shot from Phil Varone.
Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, who has often been a healthy scratch and even in the ECHL recently, stepped up with strong play from the start. He sealed the game on a bullet shot past Toronto goalie Christopher Gibson.
“That was a huge goal,” Adam said. “To get that insurance goal gives a little bit more comfort, you don't grip the stick as tight. It was a great shot by him. I don't think there's many goalies who could stop that one.”
The Amerks will play Saturday and Sunday. Makarov is likely to play each of the three games in three days. They will need his strong play to continue in order to make the post-season.
Mikhail Grigorenko was held pointless for the first time since joining the Amerks, but he played well. There was a breakdown or two defensively, but effort was there and so was his ability to work along the walls and come away with pucks.
Mike Zigomanis was back in the lineup after missing an extended period of time. He won't play the role he may have expected to when he signed in Rochester, but he is a tremendous leader by example and adds defensive savvy and depth scoring
Joel Armia is putting together a terrific stretch. He controlled the puck well and added an assist on Porter's goal. He now has 19 assists on the year.
Phil Varone was the game's best player for most of the night. He had five shots on goal and two assists