Patrick Kaleta's first goal since being sent to the AHL was a gift.
It came short-handed – which is appropriate – on a pass to nobody that the Rochester Amerks' winger grabbed in front of the net and wristed past Lake Erie Monsters goalie Calvin Pickard.
In his first three games, the long-time Sabre has two points and has played on a top five-on-five line and on both special teams.
“He had the puck a lot tonight,” head coach Chadd Cassidy said after the Amerks' 2-1 shootout loss. “He's getting a lot of ice time. That's going to be his biggest challenge – going from not playing a lot to really playing a lot.”
While Kaleta is certainly helping a beat-up Amerks team on the ice, he's impacting the locker room and young players too. Last Friday, he mentioned helping second-year pro Frederick Roy on his penalty killing. On Monday, AHL rookie Tim Schaller – a third-line type defensive specialist who played his college hockey at Providence – talked about working with a guy who was one of the NHL's better short-handed players.
“Having him here is great,” Schaller said. “This penalty kill is nothing like I've done before, so watching him and his stick placement, body position and talking out there. He makes it easy for us.”
Against Lake Erie, the 6-foot-2, 22-year-old forward played wing for the first time since Hard Knock Life was a No.1 album. He's played center all year and was in the middle for his four years at Providence.“It's different,” he said. “I'm used to having momentum coming out of the zone. Today I had to create my own momentum off the wall. It saved my legs a little bit so I could try to beat some defenseman wide and use my strength to get pucks to the net.”
While his offensive game isn't exactly Schaller's calling card, Cassidy expects to see growth there.
“I think he could be a good power winger,” the Amerks' coach said. “He likes to drive the puck wide and drive it to the net. That creates offense for his linemates because it gets pucks to the crease. I think he's still evolving as an offensive player, I don't think the book is completely written.”
Schaller took three shots on goal in the loss and created more offensively than in his usual role.
Perhaps the strongest performance of the mid-afternoon game came from defenseman Brayden McNabb. The AHL doesn't keep a TOI statistic, but it would be reasonable to guess he pushed 30 minutes, including nearly the entire overtime period.
McNabb put five shots on net and played a strong physical game – one that became more important when defenseman Matt McKenzie left with an upper body injury.
“For what Brayden is going to be in the National League, he has to play big minutes here,” Cassidy said. “Play the offensive part, defensive part, power play and the PK because that's what I see him as at the next level. I think he's made some huge strides for us in being to handle those minutes better.”
McNabb has 11 points in 12 games so far this season. He's also improved the consistency of his physical play.
“If it's there, you want to take it without getting out of position,” he said. “I want to be aggressive.”
Matt Hackett's fate as the loser was a bit unfair. He was beat by three shots in the shootout, but during the rest of the game he was one of the top players on the ice. The Amerks' goalie finished stopping 28 of 29 shots.