In the span of one week, the Rochester Americans saw their head coach, captain and No. 1 defenseman move up to the Buffalo Sabres. They gained two veterans and got their youngest player and top prospect back from injury. Lines and roles have been jumbled.
Suffice to say, it's been a crazy seven days.
Since there are too many story lines to write a single article about, we'll take a page out of Joe Buscaglia's playbook here with 10 things about the state of the Amerks:
1- Brayden McNabb – After some rough times for McNabb early in the season, he's turned his game around significantly. Is he ready to come back up to the Sabres? Close. McNabb has taken much greater care with the puck in his own end and has been more confident on the offensive side. Cassidy said the Sabres are pushing McNabb to be an on-ice leader.
“He's been pretty darn good,” Cassidy said. “He's made some significant changes in his game over the last month and a half. I see him as a guy that's a general on the ice when he's playing at his best. He runs the game. He's gotten away from trying to make plays when they aren't there. I think you see a lot more of him making strong plays like high flips out of the zone when he's in trouble or just getting in deep in the offensive zone when there's nothing there. He's come a long way and he's continuing to get better.”
2- Luke Adam – Played a very strong game Tuesday night, driving to the net and creating chances for teammates. He hasn't put up the numbers to change the organization's opinion that he can't be an everyday player in the NHL. I asked Adam whether he thought a coaching change could better his chances at getting back to the NHL
“I've made it no secret that I want to play in the NHL and that I believe I can play in the NHL. I'm trying to get back there. If it takes six months or a year or two years to get back there, that's where I want to be. There's no secret about that.”
“I think Ron liked my game, but at the same time, it's his call, it's coach Cassidy's call here and at the end of the day it's Darcy's call, so I have to keep proving and showing that I'm an NHL player and that I want to be back there.”
3- Mark Pysyk – Was terrific on Tuesday night. His decision making, vision and puck movement in his own end has improved greatly. He's already impressed at times on the offensive side with polished skating and passing skills and a quick, hard slap shot. It seems possible he could see NHL time by the end of this year or compete for a spot next season.
“He's been outstanding,” Cassidy said. “He has the poise you need to be a top notch defenseman. He doesn't have that panic point that a lot of people get. He's very calm back there.”
4- Chadd Cassidy – He's still waiting for his first win. He inherited an incredibly difficult situation with the exit of Kevin Porter and Adam Pardy and dealing with the demotions of veteran NHL players Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick. Cassidy noted that despite the change of coach, he still has complete control of roles and ice time. He and Rolston have a similar approach to handling players.
“I think we're making strides to become a better team with all the changes that we've had. I thought we did a pretty decent job of taking care of our own end tonight. It didn't look like a Chinese Fire Drill trying to get out of our own end.”
5- Cody McCormick – Struggled to back check on a play that led to a goal against the Amerks. Cassidy was frustrated by the play after the game saying, “that can't happen.” He's adjusting to a new coach, new system and life change involved with being sent down.
“You come down and there are a lot of familiar faces that you've seen before and a lot of young faces. It keeps you young coming to the rink. We have to win some games to get some more smiles around here.”
“It kind of caught me off guard. It was more of a family thing than anything. You have 24 hours to go through waivers and you aren't sure whether you'll end up in Rochester or California. I have my family (in Buffalo) and that's what I was thinking about. Hockey takes a back seat to family and that's the hardest part for us.”
6- Zemgus Girgensons – Didn't see much ice time on Tuesday night. When he was on the ice, he was playing on the fourth line. The rookie winger is still working his way back into shape after missing over a month with a concussion. Expect him to start working his way into the top lines soon. Still, especially considering the setback, it's unlikely he'll see any NHL time this season.
7- Matt Ellis – Is adjusting to playing in a top six role. He said he's always reminding himself to go to the net and stick handle instead of getting the puck to center ice and dumping it in like he did in Buffalo for the past two years. Ellis put four shots on goal on Tuesday night.
It should come as no surprise he's handled the demotion with a good attitude and the utmost professionalism.
“Playing 13, 14, 15 minutes a night, it's been a bit of an adjustment,” Ellis said. “My role in the NHL was more grinding – be good in the D-zone and get the puck to the red line and get it in to create some zone time. At this level now, I keep having to tell myself, 'handle the puck, you've proven you can score in this league' and that's all part of the process...that and taking a leadership role. It's been adjustment but it's nice playing hockey.”
8 - David Leggio – Has been an above average goalie in the AHL over the past two seasons as the full-time starter for the Amerks. Despite tons of changes in front of him throughout the year, he's at .916 save percentage. The Sabres have dismissed the idea of bringing Leggio up, but he's playing with confidence lately. Some NHL team should give him consideration next year.
9- The Standings – The Amerks have now lost three in a row and have slipped to 9th in the Western Conference. When they had Porter, Pardy and Rolston, they looked like a team on the rise. But their slip may be hard to stop without their top scorer and top defenseman. The good news, however, is they are only three points behind 6th place Toronto.
10 - Depth and Scoring – The Amerks are lacking scoring with Evan Rankin injured and Porter in the NHL. Brian Flynn, Mark Mancari, Luke Adam and Phil Varone are the only true AHL scorers in the lineup. Mancari is in the top 25 in the AHL in scoring and Flynn leads the team with 16 goals, but Adam and Varone both only have 24 points in 48 games. They'll need the most out of all four to be a competitor.