The Rochester Americans blasted the Abbotsford Heat on Friday night 5-0, giving new head coach Chadd Cassidy his first “winning streak.”The blowout made for the Amerks' third win in a row.
It appears the team is coming together after going through a major shakeup with Ron Rolston moving up to Buffalo and their captain Kevin Porter, top goal scorer Brian Flynn and best defenseman Adam Pardy going with him.
Here are five of the storylines from Friday night's game:
Luke Adam is improving
When Adam was sent down last season, former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff kicked a little dirt on the young center saying that Adam's defensive game was so poor he couldn't be trusted in the NHL. Over the last year or so in Rochester, his game has had major ups and downs, but since Cody Hodgson and Kevin Porter went up to the Sabres, Adam has taken over as No. 1 center and looked much more like the player he was last October.
“He's building every day to become a more complete player and more consistent player,” Cassidy said. “Listening to him on the bench tonight and the things that he was saying about playing the right way. Those are the things we need from Luke and that's the next step in his development. Taking that leadership role and understanding that our team relies on him every night, not just to produce offensively but to play a smart game at both ends of the rink.”
Adam said he's comfortable in a role that comes with pressure.
“My whole junior career and my first year in Portland, I was in all those situations,” Adam said. “I'm glad to be there again. Those little things will add up to bigger things, I hope.”
Adam, who has 27 points in 53 games this season, has passed the eye test lately making more effort to move his feet in his own zone and take more care of the zone he's responsible for in the defensive end. His effort when backchecking may be the biggest visible difference.
“I think that's come a long way,” Adam said. “I think my entire game has come a long way. The points may not be there, but at the same time I've rounded my game out a lot better. I feel like I'm a better NHL player than I was the day I got sent down regardless of me being here over the last year.”
David Leggio belongs in the NHL.
On Friday night, Leggio pitched a 44-shot shutout against a division opponent.
“He's been alright,” Cassidy joked after the win. “He's been there every time we needed him. He's been outstanding.”
He leads the AHL in wins, has a save percentage of .922 (league average is around .912) and is the clear cut leader and top competitor on the Rochester Amerks. The only thing keeping him from the NHL is his height and pedigree. Leggio was undrafted and had to fight his way to starting in the AHL. Over the last two years he's proven over and over that he belongs at the highest level. At age 27, he's far from old in goalie years. You often see netminders hit their stride in their late 20s.
In February, Leggio had a .935 save percentage and in three starts thus far in March he has faced 120 shots and allowed three goals. He credits a more defensive-minded roster.
“We're not going to score 4 or 5 goals a night like we did earlier in the season, especially in the playoffs,” Leggio said.
It appeared Leggio might get a chance in the NHL after Jhonas Enroth left Thursday nights' game in the third period.
“My phone was blowing up with phone calls and text messages,” Leggio said. “I'm just happy to see Jhonas was alright.”
And as a footnote: Word is Leggio stopped drinking coffee awhile back.
Brayden McNabb is proving himself NHL worthy.
Traditional statistics aren't always the best measure of how good an AHL defenseman will be in the NHL, but add McNabb's terrific offensive production lately with his more responsible defensive game and he's making a push for the Sabres to give him another chance in the NHL this year.
McNabb has seven points in four games and is up to 36 in 55 games.
“He and Mark Pysyk are just really calm out there,” Cassidy said. “They don't ever get out of position, they don't run around, they keep the game in front of them and make that first pass and play good defense.”
Cody McCormick and Matt Ellis are good at hockey
The former Sabres' role players have turned into top line players for the Rochester Amerks. Unsurprisingly, both have been professional and played with their best efforts in Rochester.
McCormick scored two goals on Friday night, Ellis added his first in Rochester on the road on Saturday against Binghamton.
“It felt really good,” McCormick said about getting his first Amerks goal. “A lot of the other guys did all the work on the goal. Matt Ellis was in front paying the price and I was the lucky to have the shot go through while the goalie was screened.”
“I'm not really a power play guy in the NHL, so it's just about talking to the other guys who are regular power play guys and asking questions and they help you with a lot of things.”
Hey, so... playoffs?
One Terry Pegula-owned team has a great shot to make the post-season, at least. The Amerks head into Sunday's game in 6th place in the Western Conference. They have 64 standings points in 54 games and games in hand on every team from 9th to 15th place. The only team with fewer games played than the Amerks is the Chicago Wolves, who have played 54 games.
With the team coming together (and getting healthier), their goaltender on fire and their top defensive pairing playing at their peak, there's only one thing that could blow apart their playoff hopes: A fire sale in Buffalo.
The atmosphere all season long in Rochester has been terrific. The crowds have been loud and involved, much to the contrary of First Niagara Center, and playoffs may bring even more excitement. It could also bring prospect Joel Armia to Rochester if the Sabres so choose. If the Sabres elect to sell, sell, sell, it would be understandable...but not so fun for those who have hung in with the ups and downs of this Amerks season.