It took a little more than seven periods, but the Rochester Americans finally remembered how good they can be. And when they did – a few minutes into the second period of Friday night's 4-3 win over the Grand Rapids Griffins - the flood gates blew open.
The Amerks had lost their previous two games, both by the score of 3-1 and both with offensive displays usually saved for soccer matches. They had been out-shot 72 to 54 in the L's to Toronto and Binghamton and scored one power play goal in 11 chances.
After an early second period goal by the Griffins to put Rochester down 2-0, it was easy to wonder if the Amerks – a team laced with should-be NHL players – was ever going to start playing like it.
Then, they did.
Just over four minutes into the second, captain Kevin Porter poked the puck away from a Griffins defender and fed it to forward Brian Flynn. The former Universtiy of Maine forward put the puck in the wide open side of the net for his first professional goal.
“It wasn't a very good pass,” said Porter, who was the game's first star. “I just threw it at the net and he batted it in. It was a nice play by him.”
After killing two second-period penalties, the Amerks finally got their first power play opportunity of the night.
During the first three games of the season, defenseman T.J. Brennan had only taken three shots. Considering he'd taken 150 in 52 AHL games last year (about three per game), three was as startling as the 1-for-11 power play in the last two games. Brennan also scored 16 goals last season, most of which game on the man advantage.
So, on Friday, he started shooting again.
Brennan took a feed from fellow defenseman Brayden McNabb and fired the one-timer past goaltender Jordan Pearce to tie the game.
“Creating offense from my shot is a big thing,” Brennan said. “Shooting, even if it's getting blocked, is letting them know that I'm shooting and sometimes that opens up passing lanes, too.”
Coach Ron Rolston said Brennan had been trying to be too cute with the puck in the past two games. He needed to let it rip.
“He has one of the best shots in the American Hockey League,” Rolston said.
After Brennan's goal, everyone else followed suit. The Amerks scored two more power play goals to go up 4-2. The first – on a power play created by a smart decision by veteran Nick Tarnasky to wait to fight before retaliating for a dirty hit - was punched in by center Phil Varone off a Mark Pysyk shot. The second a wrist shot by Cody Hodgson that bounced off Marcus Foligno, who was planted in front of the net. The Amerks finished 3-for-5 on the power play.
“We had good puck movement,” Rolston said. “It was a lot quicker tonight. We shot pucks, we had traffic and better retrievals. That was the key to the game.”
The Griffins added a fluke goal with just over two minutes left when an Amerks player fell on goalie David Leggio and poked the puck into the net. But the Amerks killed over one minute of empty net time to seal their second win of the year.
Luke Adam – An NHL scout said that many are wondering what happened to Adam's game from early last year. He's lacked aggressiveness and confidence and he isn't going to the net or getting pucks there. Playing on a line with Hodgson and Mark Mancari and getting power play time, there's no excuse for not producing.
“He's a shooter and he's got to get himself into situations where he can get a shot off. Right now that's going to be his next challenge is getting into areas where he can get shots.” - Ron Rolston
Mark Pysyk – On both ends of the ice and on the power play, Pysyk was terrific on Friday. He made smart decisions with and without the puck and showed quick improvement in his own zone.
“Good hockey players adapt quickly. He's an extremely smart hockey player. So he's always in great position, he has a great stick, he's a defenseman who can pickpocket people, he doesn't try to make a play that isn't there to try to impress people, he's just efficient and good positionally.” - Rolston
Cody Hodgson – While he helped to create a goal, Hodgson hasn't skated circles around the league yet like some expected. Maybe with the labor situation looking uglier and uglier in the NHL, he'll kick it up a notch soon. That said, he has four points in four games.
Zemgus Girgensons – Still playing on the third line and seeing sheltered minutes, Girgensons did little to stand out Friday night. But make no mistake, he's keeping up with much, much more experienced players – some with NHL experience – and that says a lot.
Phil Varone – The second-year Amerk scored his first goal of the season. He's seeing minutes in many different situations from last season and is still performing at a high level.
Brayden McNabb – McNabb set up Brennan's goal with a beautiful pass on the power play. On the defensive end, he's playing a next-level game. Nearly mistake free.
Marcus Foligno – Foligno scored, but he was not as dominant on Friday night as we've seen him be at times in the NHL. The expectations are crazy high for him, but remember he's still learning to play with that intensity every night.
Evan Rankin – Rankin makes a few subtle plays each game that show why the Sabres' organization likes him so much. He dug a puck out from in front of the net to swing it to McNabb on Brennan's goal to register an assist. He's constantly creating chances by getting in front of the net and beating opponents to the puck.
Brian Flynn – Flynn sat out the opener, but showed he doesn't want to be sitting out again. He played with an extra jump, creating several opportunities and putting one in.
“He can skate. He's going to be a good hockey player for us this year. He's extremely smart, a good release around the net and he knocked that one out of the air so you can see he has good hands and good hand-eye coordination.” - Rolston
Frederick Roy - Roy played his first game after an injury to fourth-line winger Max Legault. He played just over 11 minutes, all on the fourth line. It isn't his natural position, clearly, but he showed a little grit and was used on three penalty kills.