Americans: Scouting the Enemy

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The last time the Rochester Americans and Milwaukee Admirals played against one-another a kid named Pekka Rinne was in net. (Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

The Rochester Americans enter tonight’s game with a record of 30-25-64 (70 points). They are second in the North Division behind the Toronto Marlies (83 points) and eighth in the Western Conference – trailing the Rockford IceHogs (71 points) and leading the Charlotte Checkers (69 points) while sitting in the last available playoff spot.

Yesterday morning, as in the opening puck drop took place at a “coffee is is in the Gatorade bottles” 10:10 am CST, the Americans battled in Toronto and came up short with the Marlies, 3-1.

In that game, Kevin Porter scored the opening goal in the first minute of the second period for the Americans. They went on to concede two second period goals and an empty netter to cap off an early morning divisional battle. You can view the video highlights of that game right here.

Granted, they have had some time to rest up and travel much earlier than if that game was played at night. Yet, it could still be an advantage to the Admirals having a team that played the day prior and traveled back to Rochester. The Admirals have been in town practically following Sunday’s game in Utica – so they are rested and ready to go.

One of the major focal points from this game comes in net for the Americans. With the Buffalo Sabres, their parent club, in a bind following the Ryan Miller trade and an injury to his would-be replacement Jhonas Enroth, it has led to the recall of both AHL goalies the team has used throughout this season: Nathan Lieuwen and Matt Hackett.

That means the Admirals will be squaring up with one of two fresh faces to the Americans roster: Connor Knapp or Andrey Makarov. The two have played in 3 games this season and have allowed a combined 10 goals between the two of them.

Knapp took part in their two-game battle with the Lake Erie Monsters, started both games, and allowed 8 goals from shots on goal (0.873 SV%). Makarov made the start in Toronto yesterday morning and allowed 2 goals from 35 shots in the loss. Who gets the net? Either way, I feel it could be advantageous to the Admirals that the Americans lost both of their top netminders in camp – and now find themselves with two goalies who are experiencing the AHL for the first time in their playing careers.

The team leader in scoring is Phil Varone with 50 points (14 goals, 36 assists). He has also played in 9 games with the Sabres this season in the NHL where he scored some career firsts: a goal and an assist. He is currently with the Americans, though. In his last six games he has failed to score a point. It is his longest drought of the season.

Their top goal scorer, Luke Adam, was a member of this year’s AHL All Star Classic and has 45 points (27 goals, 18 assists). He is tied for fifth in the AHL for goal scoring trailing: Colton Sceviour (32)… Travis Morin (31)… Mike Hoffman (30)… and Zach Boychuk (29).

The Admirals are 30-21-6-7 (73 points) entering the final contest of a four-game road trip. They are third in the Midwest Division and sixth in the Western Conference. The cushion now sits at 2 points over the Rockford IceHogs – with a game in hand for the Ads. They are also 3 points ahead of the Americans in the Conference standings – also with a game in hand.

Yesterday’s roster shuffle included two moves down. Filip Forsberg, who was recalled under emergency conditions, was returned to the Admirals. The addition of Forsberg should give the team that extra dimension that, perhaps, cost them that extra point in Sunday’s shootout defeat in Utica.

The counter move that followed was an interesting one in my opinion. Zach Budish ended up being the odd man out heading to the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL with Josh Shalla and Paul Crowder remaining on the AHL roster. It’s the second ECHL stint this season for Budish – and he should be ready to join the Cyclones tonight on the road in Orlando.

While we’re talking Cyclones, let’s mentioned the name Magnus Hellberg and see what he’s been up to in his return to game action. He has played in one game out of a possible two opportunities. He made a start on 3/21/14 against the Elmira Jackals. He was pulled from the net following 4 goals allowed from 13 shots. The following game, the next day, Rob Madore made the start. I wouldn’t take that as an injury setback. I wouldn’t take that as a knock on a bad performance the previous night. I actually take that for what it is: two-in-two scenario, two goalies per game, stick to the gameplan. Hellberg should get his second start with them tonight alongside Big Head in Orlando.

The current hottest Admiral at the moment is the new man on wing, Austin Watson. When I spoke with Mark Van Guilder regarding what he has seen from Watson in his transition from center to a wing role he said the following:

“[Austin Watson] hasn’t played much wing but he looks good there. It seems like he has a little more jump in his step – a little more free to kind of roam. I think he likes it there. Which is huge. And he’s kind of accepted that and he’s played really well there so far.” Mark Van Guilder

Watson is currently on a 7 game point streak (2 goals, 5 assists). While the switch from center to wing may point to a boost in his gameplay – I point to what happened at the NHL Trade Deadline as another major impact on him springing to life these last few games.

This point streak for Watson started one game after Calle Jarnkrok‘s Milwaukee Admirals debut in which he scored 2 goals against the Rockford IceHogs. Watson didn’t produce a point that night – but has scored at least one ever since. I feel that the thought seeped into his mind that, with young centers such as Colton Sissons and Jarnkrok leapfrogging him this season, he needs to do something big to breakout and get back on the NHL radar. This move to the wing has really emphasized that and, as Van Guilder said, I think he likes it there.

Thoughts on tonight’s game? Can the Admirals finish off this road trip on a high note? How much do you think yesterday’s game for the Rochester Americans can impact them tonight? How do you expect Filip Forsberg to play after a brief NHL stint? Can Austin Watson extend his point streak?

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