The Rochester Americans opened their two-game pre-season on Wednesday with a 4-3 loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at the Sports Centre at Monroe Community College. The Amerks fell behind 2-0, but tied the game at two in the second period with a pair power play goals. A goal at 18:08 by Penguins' forward Adam Payerl to put the road team up 3-2 proved to be the winner. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton added an open net goal to make it 4-2 and the Amerks scored with just two seconds left to set the final score.
Here's an in-depth look at player performances:
Who stood out...
Marcus Foligno was probably the best player on the ice for the first period and into the second. If you didn't know it was a pre-season game, you wouldn't have known because his intensity level was as strong as it was during his 14 games in the NHL. He was, as usual, very hard on the puck and aggressive with his forechecking and always around the net. The biggest struggle for many, including Foligno, was chemistry. There was some confusion on the Penguins first goal as all five Amerks failed to clear out the player in front of the net. He whacked at the puck three times before getting it past goalie David Leggio.
FINAL LINE: 21:18 ice time, 21 even-strength shifts, 8 PP, 3 SH, minus-3
Luke Adam is always a fascinating player to watch. Two hockey people could see the same game and one could come away thinking he'll be a star and the other might say he's going nowhere. Wednesday night, he scored a right-place-right-time goal on a monster shot by Mark Mancari that bounced right to his stick in the paint. He made several beautiful passes and was in position to score more than once. But he struggled in the neutral zone, having difficulty working the puck to his talented teammates Cody Hodgson and Corey Tropp. It's always tough to tell whether Adam makes the game look easy or he just isn't hustling. During the loss, it was probably a 50-50 split.
FINAL LINE: 15:18 ice time, 18 ES shifts, 5 PP, even
Mark Mancari has a ridiculously good slap shot. He assisted on all three goals and at least two were on laser-beam shots from the point on the power play, where he played at the point. Mancari talked about trying to become more flexible and quicker to improve his chances at the NHL, but it wasn't evident that he was skating any faster than the young players for the Penguins. He is embracing the role of a leader and will supremely help the power play.
QUOTE: “Ask any player, the very first game is the hardest. You have pickup games in the summer where you have (bad) habits where your heads are down. I think we saw it in the first period where we tried to pass the puck too much and didn't shoot enough. That's the good thing about exhibition games, you get used to it and learn quick.” - Mancari
FINAL LINE: 16:11, 17 ES, 7 PP, 1 SH, minus-2
Mark Pysyk looked a little thrown off at first by the size and speed of the American Hockey League. In fact, after the game he marveled at how difficult it was to get any player off the puck – unlike juniors where maybe one or two are a challenge. The speed seemed too much for him early in the game, but he started to find his game in the second period, especially when he was on the power play. Coach Ron Rolston said post-game he was impressed with Pysyk's tape-to-tape passing ability. It's clear that he has offensive skill, but he was overwhelmed in his own zone at times and will have up his physical game going forward.
FINAL LINE: 16:50, 20 ES, 5 PP, 0 SH, minus-1
QUOTE: “It was a lot faster. Everyone is strong on the puck and can make plays. In Juniors I think there are a lot more mistakes that you can capitalize on. Here it is a pretty clean game and everyone is strong on the puck.” - Pysyk
Zemgus Girgensons didn't play that much, but it was clear that he was aiming to impress. In his first shift, and second shift, he came out and hit the first player he saw. He played mostly on the left wing, but also filled in on the right wing. Girgensons created one chance with a pass from behind the net and was very physical along the walls. He did not seem over-matched, but did appear to be feeling for where he should be during a given situation.
FINAL LINE: 11:05, 15 ES shifts, 1 PP, 2 SH, even
QUOTE: “Again, he's only 18-years-old and playing in this league. A lot of those guys are playing at 23, 24, 25 and he's still learning and he was hard and he was physical and he's hard to play against. I liked his game and he's going to get better and better.” - coach Rolston
Cody Hodgson should skate circles around AHL players. On Wednesday, he did not skate circles around NHL players. That's not to say he didn't play a strong game, rather he played conservatively, mostly avoiding physical play, battles in the corners and the front of the net. It will be interesting to see whether he is more of a perimeter player in the AHL or if he becomes more aggressive the longer the season goes on. He will likely be on a line with Adam and Tropp because they have NHL experience and can handle his sharp passes and keep up with his outstanding speed. Hodgson acted as captain for Wednesday night's game, but will not be captain for every game
QUOTE: “We could have put together a few more plays, stuff like that, but that stuff will come. We might have been a little more hesitant than we might have been in the regular season but that's what exhibition games are for, so we can learn to feel each other out and it's a process.” - Hodgson
FINAL LINE: 20:11, 22 ES, 8 PP, 1 PK, minus-1
Kevin Porter worked harder than everyone else on Wednesday night. He isn't big, but he was one of the most physical players on the ice and never stopped skating hard on both ends of the ice. He is going to be a huge asset on the power play and penalty kill. At one point, he was hit in the face with a stick and missed some time, but came back and continued to play hard.
QUOTE: “That's what gets me going. Throwing a couple hits and taking a couple hits.” - Porter
The entire defense's performance was less than stellar. Alex Biega, Joe Finley and Matt MacKenzie struggled with the Penguins' speed, being blown past several times and relying on goalie David Leggio to bail them out. The Amerks are playing a more aggressive style to match that of Lindy Ruff's in Buffalo. That style is going to take some adjustment for the players who were in Rolston's system last season
Brayden McNabb was up and down, much like what we saw from him late last year in the AHL. He showed the plus-plus instincts he possesses on a 2-on-1 and flicked sharp, quick passes to teammates on the power play. But he did not bring much of a physical presence and made some mistakes with the puck. Normally a stay-at-home defenseman in Buffalo, he will have to learn to be smart with his decisions about when to pinch and step up into the play. The only other defenseman was T.J. Brennan, who had a very average game. He didn't show off his outstanding slap shot, nor was he physical. He didn't play terribly or look out of place, but he didn't blow the doors off either. For McNabb and Brennan, it makes sense to ease back during the pre-season game since their spots are secure.
Finley: 14:38, 17 ES, 0 PP, 3 SH, minus-1
Brennan: 22:29, 24, 9 PP, 0 SH, minus-2
McNabb: 26:03, 28, 7 PP, 2 SH, minus-2
Biega: 18:53, 25 ES, 0 PP, 2 SH, minus-1
MacKenzie: 16:08, 19 ES, 0 PP, 4 SH, minus-1
Rolston said Phil Varone's role is going to have to change for him to become an all-around player. It showed with 4 shifts on the power play and 4 shifts on the penalty kill on Wednesday. He played a solid game as expected. Mancari said after the game he was very impressed with Varone.
David Leggio was excellent. He stopped 28 of 31. Several of the 29 were on odd-man rushes or screen shots. He also showed his competitive fire getting on the officials about one of the goals. Connor Knapp was the backup and did not play.
Forward Evan Rankin only played 11:48. It's possible he was limited because he's getting over an illness at the beginning of camp.
The fourth line of Max Legault, Nick Tarasky and Rich Schofield brought very little. They will be much more important during regular season games when things often get chippy.
Drew Schiestel was the only scratch that you could say was of any surprise, but not really. You have to wonder if he is a healthy scratch right off the bat (which it looks like he will be) don't be surprised if he asks for a new beginning somewhere else.
It was mentioned before, but Rolston said they plan to play more aggressive to mirror the Sabres' system. This will require some adjustments, but makes a lot of sense with a much, much more skilled team than last year.
The Amerks play their final pre-season game on the road on Friday.
Follow Matthew Coller for Amerks updates all year long @matthewwgr