Tonight the Rochester Americans face off against the Cleveland Monsters in Buffalo at Key Bank Center. In the North division, Rochester and Cleveland sit in 1st and 2nd place respectively.
This will be a good test for Rochester who rocketed up to 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, behind the Charlotte Checkers who handed the Amerks an 0-2-0 start to the season. Since that weekend, the Amerks have been scorching hot with an 8-1-1 record, leaving them at 8-3-1 for 17 points entering tonight.
Cleveland is nipping at the heels of the Amerks, posting a 7-4-1 record good for 15 points. Fans at the game tonight might recognize a few names on Cleveland as Zac Dalpe and Nathan Gerbe return to Buffalo.
Dalpe was around for one season in 2014-15, playing games in both Rochester and Buffalo. Gerbe, the widely known undersized speedster, had a longer tenure with Buffalo, playing in the blue and gold from 2008-2013. During his time with the Sabres, Gerbe amassed 188 games played with 29 goals and 43 assists for 72 points.
I’m excited and thankful Keith from @LetsGoAmerks took the time to sit down and answer some of my questions about his viewpoints of everything Amerks this season. Let’s get into it!
Bill: How long have you been covering the Amerks?
LGA: I started the site in 2007 at a time I thought there was a big void in Amerks coverage. Practices were open to the public and I was often taking my son, who was a toddler at the time, to watch practices as something to do in the morning and I realized I was often the only one there (still true today) so I started writing about what I saw. I was also learning about roster moves before anyone else so I started sharing away.
I was able to work my way up and get a media credential during the Florida Panthers years and was able to increase coverage. I stepped away at the start of the 2012/2013 season as my son became more involved with hockey and my work schedule was a conflict. My schedule cleared up at the start of the 2017/2018 season and picked right up where I had left off.
What are some of your favorite memories of the Americans?
I moved from Buffalo to Rochester at the end of 2003 but didn’t start following the Amerks on a regular basis until 2006. They haven’t won a playoff series since I’ve been around. Maybe I’m the curse?
Anyways, I know a lot of Amerks fans that have memories of Calder Cups but until I enjoy a moment like that my memories are about the connections that are made between players and kids. My son is now in high school and one reason he’s hooked on hockey is because of the interactions he’s had in getting to know players and it hasn’t been because I’ve been involved with the team.
It’s a different atmosphere in the American League in a way where players and fans can interact, something that just isn’t possible in the NHL. Justin Bailey once mentioned going to a Sabres game as a little kid and having Matt Barnaby toss him a puck during warm ups and that stuck with him. Every home game I see Justin Bailey hand puck to a kid and it’s an instant memory every game for someone.
What are your thoughts on the state of Blue Cross Arena this season? The beginning of the season was lackluster amenities wise, can you expand on that?
Things are somewhat back to normal after a rough opening weekend. All of that probably could’ve been avoided if Delaware North had simply said hey we won’t be ready for another week or two, be patient.
The new scoreboard is awesome and there’s flat screen TV’s in the concourses so things are in the right direction. It’d be great to have some more food options but if that means spending less money at games there really isn’t much to complain about anymore.
How dominant has Zach Redmond been and what is his ceiling for this season in terms of points?
I’ll go with 75 points and hope he blows way past that. He had some dry spells last season, like most players do at some point, but if he can avoid those he’ll be unstoppable. The Amerks record for goals in a season by a defenseman is 18 that was set in 1972/1973 by Rick Pagnutti. Redmond already has 8 goals in 12 games. The math is easy on that one.
We know about his offensive abilities, but how is Lawrence Pilut in the defensive zone? How about Olofsson? Fans want them called up for their offensive abilities, but won’t want them to be the reason for the Sabres getting scored on. Are they getting bounced off puck in battles?
Pilut is the real deal in all areas of the game. Even when he does turn the puck over he’s the first one back on the puck. Would he be able to recover the same ways in the NHL? Probably.
Olofsson has been burned a few times but you quickly forget about that seeing his offensive abilities. Neither player is getting bounced off the puck and both are always willing to chase down pucks. In the American League it’s easy to recover from mistakes and learn from them without being a liability.
Get burned in an NHL game and you’re put at the end of the bench and confidence is shot. 12 games isn’t a big enough sample size to determine long term NHL success.
Where is Nylander in terms of his overall game as compared to years prior? How is his compete level and play along the boards/in the dirty areas?
Nylander over the first nine games of the season was a vastly improved player. He was going to the front of the net, he was battling for the puck. The next three games he’s back to the Nylander of previous years coasting around the perimeter.
On November 2nd had two shifts for less than 60 seconds of ice time in the first five minutes of the third period and then sat on the bench. The next few games will be a good test to see if it was just a minor slump or it’s a real concern.
As a whole, what are the differences in this year’s team compared to last year? Are they better/worse at working as a unit, how about individual skills?
It’s a more skilled team compared to last season. Chris Taylor always says that individual success follows team success and that’s what we’ve seen since opening weekend. Last season was about building a new culture in the organization for the future and even though they lost in the first round of the playoffs it was a success.
The goal as a team is to be an elite playoff contender, not just win a playoff series. Players have bought into the idea and are playing like it. They’ve all seen other players go from playing for a Calder Cup in June to playing full time on an NHL roster in October. The depth is another difference maker. They’ve already been banged up as a team and it hasn’t really slowed them down.
What will Sean Malone bring to this roster when he’s back playing in games?
A complete game. At locker clean out last season Malone had mentioned wanting to have more of a scoring role compared to the shut down role he had last season. Malone is able to step in on a penalty kill, the last minute of a period or game or any other situation where the other team is going to be coming at you.
It’ll probably be a challenge coming in late to the season to have more of a scoring role but he emerged as a reliable player last season and in terms of the overused phrase internal competition he’s going to be forcing someone out of the lineup.
What is the reasoning behind Rasmus Asplund’s slow start? Is it like Mittelstadt where he’s played well enough, points just aren’t coming right now? How about Justin Bailey?
I’m going to start my answer to this question with the fact that we have very few official stats to go by in this league compared to advanced stats in the NHL. I’m also going to add on that I know plus/minus is an ancient stat but in a league that’s limited it’s a starting point.
Rasmus Asplund is second on the team with a plus 6, the only player with a better rating is Pilut with a plus 11. Asplund is winning face offs, winning puck battles and creating space for everyone else to score points. If we had advanced stats we’d likely that Asplund is playing decent just like Mittelstadt even though they don’t have the points right now.
As for Justin Bailey, we’re still waiting to see something from him. He’s valuable on the penalty kill but in terms of offensive production there hasn’t been anything to write about.
Brendan Guhle surprised fans with his underwhelming preseason, how has he looked in all facets of the game? At points he looked lost in his own defensive zone.
That’s continued into the start of the season. He doesn’t seem to be that fast skating offensive defenseman taking pucks up the ice while also shutting players down in the defensive zone. That’s not to say he’s played bad but the expectations were set early last season. Pilut has set the pace this season and unless you’re playing like him you’re going to appear to be behind the curve.
How have rookie defensemen Will Borgen and Brandon Hickey fared so far this season?
Sometimes the best defensemen are the ones that you rarely notice. Will Borgen has been great on the penalty kill with Andrew MacWilliam. They both play a simple game, get the puck out of the zone and let everyone else do the rest of the work. Brandon Hickey has only played five games but so far he’s been just as steady.
He’s only played 2 games with Rochester, but is there anything to note on Jack Dougherty?
He’s been out with a lower body injury after blocking a shot in the third game of the season. He started skating again this week with the team. With such a small sample size there isn’t anything else to say about how he ranks with other defensemen on the roster. Cheap plug: one can always visit letsgoamerks.com/injuries/ for the status of players.
If the Sabres have some players go down, does Rochester have the depth to sustain a top position in the Eastern Conference/North Division?
This is one of the reasons that winning early in the season is extremely important. It’s already been tested early this season in Rochester and they’re still winning. Criscuolo has been out of the lineup, Oglevie missed games, Pilut missed two games and they’ve been playing without Sean Malone. On paper, yes, they should have the depth when call ups are needed.
In terms of what Linus Ullmark brought to the Amerks, how has Scott Wedgewood compared? His numbers aren’t the best, but that doesn’t always reflect the goaltender’s play.
Ullmark was stealing games for the Amerks, Wedgewood is winning games. It’s unfair to look at his numbers right now because his three losses have been from games he didn’t have a team in front of him.
Opening weekend saw a Charlotte team ready to play, the Amerks weren’t. The last loss the team didn’t show up for the first 20 minutes.
Those are also the types of games that Ullmark may have stolen a win out of but it’s not like Wedgewood cost the team those three losses. We’re early in the season but Wedgewood appears to be a solid investment considering he was signed on the first day of free agency.
Do you think Adam Wilcox will be an AHL starter some day? Also, how has he looked in the games he’s played?
He’s an AHL starter right now in the sense that there’s often a set goalie rotation going into a weekend and they stick with it. For example, the plan last weekend was for Wedgewood to play Friday and Wilcox on Saturday. Wedgewood ended up being pulled from the game on Friday and they stuck with the plan to play Wilcox on Saturday.
In the American League the true starter is going to be an NHL teams number three goalie and no, Wilcox isn’t going to reach that point. Players trust both goalies no matter who is playing and that’s a difference maker.
If guys start going down in Buffalo/Rochester, who are some of the players you want to see called up from Cincy? Both on forward and defense.
We should hope that things don’t reach a point where they have to call up a defenseman from Cincy. That’s not a knock on the players down there but a fact that players like Nathan Paetsch, Taylor Fedun and Matt Tennyson are skating as extras trying to get playing time.
As for a forward, a call up is often put into a fourth line role and someone else moves up in the AHL roster. Two forwards that immediately come to mind are Vasili Glotov and Myles Powell. Those are two players that work hard every shift and have shown they can play a physical game while still creating scoring chances.
Lastly, with tonight’s game against Cleveland and Friday’s game against Syracuse, what is your prediction for the two games ahead?
My prediction for the next two games is two wins. The Amerks have set the expectation that they’re a top team int he league, so winning is the only prediction.
Cleveland si the 2nd best team int he division right now and a win tonight would put the Amerks four points ahead of them in the standings. It’s only November 7th, but it’ll be spring before we know and these points matter.
Syracuse has had a slow start, but they’ve won their last two and will be looking to continue to build that. They’re always tough to play against just like Cleveland, the divisional point are important.
I could go on and on with Keith from @LetsGoAmerks. I highly recommend checking out letsgoamerks.com for the latest news, recaps, commentary and much more. I’ve found they have the best media-credentialed Amerks coverage out there even before I joined TCB.