No skill is more important when it comes to winning a shootout than competitiveness – maybe that's why no goaltender in the American Hockey League is better than Rochester Americans' netminder David Leggio.
In his three seasons in the AHL, the Amerks' goalie has faced 92 shootout shots and stopped 75 or 81.5 percent.
This year, he's 3-0 and has stopped 14 of 15, including all 6-of-6 in Tuesday night's 3-2 win over the league's best team the Abbotsford Heat.
“He doesn't get rattled,” head coach Ron Rolston said. “There's a lot of pressure in the sense of it going back and forth, especially if the other goalie is making the saves.”
Leggio traces his history as a shootout ace back to 2009, when he was playing for Team USA. He had a poor showing for Team USA against Slovakia allowing goals on four of six shots. The loss cost his team the gold.
“That one really hurt,” Leggio said after Tuesday's win.
Great competitors never forget a loss like that. Say what you want about his stick handling, size or quickness, there's no doubt that Leggio is a great competitor.
“If you're taking about going up against him, he's going to work harder,” defenseman T.J. Brennan said.
Brennan scored the winner in the shootout with a wrist shot over Heat goalie Barry Brust's shoulder. Before the shot, Leggio pulled his defenseman aside to give him some advice. What did he tell him?
“It's a secret,” Brennan said with an ear-to-ear grin.
After a win, every team is going to feel good about itself, but this win was different. Abbotsford is the AHL's best team.
Brennan said this win demonstrated how good the Amerks can really be.
“The standings don't always show how good some teams really are,” he said. “I think we're one of those teams but you have to follow through with that.”
The win comes in the middle of an extremely difficult stretch against many of the AHL's best including a game against Toronto (5th in the West) on Saturday and three against both Lake Erie (8th in West) and Binghamton (4th in the East) coming up in December.
“This is a nice win for our team,” Rolston said. “It's not rewarding if you can't build on it.”
The Amerks got goals from Frederick Roy, who tapped the puck in an open net after a perfect setup by hard-working forward Max Legualt, and Luke Adam, who tipped in a Mark Pysyk point shot.
Pysyk had a tough night on the defensive side. He was beat one-on-one by Heat center Dustin Slyvester, who then sniped the top corner. In the third period, Slyvester set up former Sabre Paul Byron for the tying goal on a 2-on-1. An over-aggressive mistake by Pysyk on the offensive end created the break.
“It was a quick play,” Rolston said. “They force you to make plays quickly and unfortunately for Mark he didn't get back quick enough and they were able to chip it by him and get a 2-on-1.”
The Amerks are now 11-9-2-0.
Mark Mancari – Worked extremely hard on both ends of the ice. He didn't score, but played a very solid possession game against tough opponents
Joe Finley – Was again strong on the defensive side killing penalties and making life difficult for the competition. He and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc are becoming a reliable pair.
Gauthier-Leduc – Every game he gets a little bit better. Having Finley helps his defensive game. When he gets to a point where he's completely comfortable, the offense will come. He was the only plus-2 player.
Mark Pysyk – Made two mistakes that led to Heat goals. His tools are obviously outstanding, so it's easy to forget he's still only in his third month of pro hockey. A bad game, but it happens.
Luke Adam – Scored a goal in his second straight game and has points in the last three. Turning the corner? We'll see.
Frederick Roy – Scored his second goal. Amerks fans are starting to really love this guy.
Zemgus Girgensons – Didn't make a huge impact in his first game back. Ice time was limited. Has to work his way back into the flow after injury. Played hard as usual.
Marcus Foligno – It wasn't one of Foligno's stronger games and he still finished plus-1 with an assist. That tells you something.
Kevin Sundher – Is getting some opportunities because of injuries. He had several strong shifts in the first period. Still a long way from the top lines.