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Kaleta's Game-Changing Abilities Show Up in Rochester









Patrick Kaleta is a special hockey player.

If you say he should learn to avoid dirty hits, you're right. If you say he doesn't score a lot of goals, you're also right. But if you say he brings nothing to a hockey team, you're very, very wrong.

There are few players who can single-handedly change the course of a game – and most of those are elite goal scorers or play-makers. Kaleta isn't a goal scorer or play-maker, but he is one of those players...

On Wednesday night at Blue Cross Arena, the Amerks' veteran forward flipped Rochester's game against the Hamilton Bulldogs on its head in one shift.

Midway through the third period, the Amerks were leading the Bulldogs 3-2. Hamilton had already put a goal on the board to cut the deficit to one and was pressuring for another. For several shifts in a row, the Amerks scrambled to get the puck out of their own zone, then didn't create much at the other end.

A tying goal was starting to feel more and more likely. And considering the Amerks had lost four in a row and two to the league's worst team last weekend, they couldn't give up a tying goal.

Then, Kaleta saw the door open a crack.

Young defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen laid a big check along the boards and several Bulldogs players took exception. There was a minor scrum. Kaleta's line went out for the next shift.

What happened next was nothing short of virtuoso. It was like seeing Steve Kerr get hot from the three-point like or Dennis Rodman grabbing 30 rebounds.

Kaleta hacked at the stick of fighter Nick Tarnasky and – presumably – had some kind words to get Tarnasky heated. The gigantic winger, who has fought 'em all during his NHL days with Tampa Bay and Florida, tried to coax the Amerks' winger into a fight. Kaleta skated away, whipping toward the boards at full steam, where he slammed the Hamilton puck carrier into the boards.

As he bounced away from the hit, Tarnasky, who runs 6-foor-3, 225-plus, was there to meet him. He checked Tarnasky, then, seconds later, threw his body at another puck handler.

After about 30 seconds on the ice, it happened. Hamilton's prospect defenseman Nathan Beaulieu had enough of Kaleta's act. He came behind Rochester's recently-demoted forward and cross checked him to the ground. Up came the referee's arm. The Amerks went to the power play.

Kevin Porter scored seconds later, essentially putting the game on ice.

“That was the turning point in the game,” head coach Chadd Cassidy following the Amerks' 5-3 win. “They were right on the doorstep and he goes out there and takes the game by the horns so to speak. His line goes out there and buzzes around and starts getting people riled up and they were never the same after that shift.”

Nobody in the NHL was better at drawing penalties than Kaleta. He had the best penalties drawn per 60 minutes rate in the league since the lockout. The stats show that, like Wednesday night, he doesn't often take penalties either.

Year

Penalties Drawn/60

Penalties Taken/60

07-08

5.0

1.2

08-09

4.9

1.4

09-10

4.1

0.9

10-11

2.1

1.5

11-12

1.5

1.3

12-13

3.5

0.8

Having done it for so long in the NHL, Kaleta has a sixth sense about when another team is on edge and vulnerable to taking a costly penalty.

“It's just a feeling you get,” Kaleta said. “You know that feeling when you wake up Christmas morning and you see the presents under the tree?”

But a little too much of that feeling is what landed him several NHL suspensions. They say he's down in Rochester to learn how to balance Christmas morning with being smart about hits.

“You have to let those sort of things come to you,” he said. “You can't go out looking for it because you'll be out of position or run around a bit and it won't benefit the team.”

Rasmus Ristolainen had quite possibly his best game as a professional hockey player on Wednesday night. His physical play not only opened the door to Kaleta's penalty drawing jedi trick, it also wore down the Bulldogs throughout the night. The former eighth overall pick showed he isn't going to be intimidated at all by the AHL's veterans.

Now he has to learn to balance his want to hit and throw his body around with the rigors of an AHL season, where teams sometimes play three games in three nights.

“He actually needs to make sure that the game is a little less physical for him,” Cassidy said. “Only in terms of moving pucks quicker so he's not always having to fend guys off. We want him to be physical and remove people from the puck and be strong on it, but he doesn't have to have it all the time, he can move it a little quicker.

“He was a force out there tonight. He's a huge kid and he's got a huge shot that he showed on the power play.”

Ristolainen flashed his offensive skills on the power play, ripping a slap shot into the Bulldogs' net late in the second period then scoring the Amerks' fifth goal on a long empty net shot.

In four games, the Finnish D-man has 12 shots on goal and is getting massive minutes.

“I get more ice time like on the power play and PK and I like that,” Ristolainen said. “(In Buffalo) I played pretty good and I am just trying to get back there.”

There's a handful of NHL teams that missed a good opportunity to upgrade their depth when they passed on Kevin Porter.

The Amerks' center scored two goals and notched an assist in the win. He showed that when he gets a chance to log big minutes, he can find the net, much like he did at the NHL level when he scored 14 goals for the Avalanche in 2010-11.

Maybe it doesn't matter at this point for the Sabres, but signing another forward instead of moving Porter up doesn't make a lot of sense.
But he's been through this time and time again during his career with Phoenix, Colorado and Buffalo.

“I'm sure those thoughts go through his mind,” Cassidy said. “You can't worry about what you can't control. What's done is done and if he's going to get back to the National League he's got to show he's a National League player. And he's got to do that by playing games like he did tonight.”


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