It’s gameday in Rochester with the Amerks hosting the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The team will also be inducting Marty Biron into the Amerks Hall of Fame.
It’s a must win weekend for Rochester. They’re on a five game losing streak and only two wins in the last 12 games. Only one of those was in regulation. After tonight the Amerks are away in Binghamton on Saturday and host Binghamton at home on Sunday.
The Penguins have been on top of the Atlantic Division for the most part of the season, just like the Amerks have been near the top of the North. This is the second of only two games between the two teams this season. The first game was a 5-2 win for Rochester on December 2.
Those five goals were scored by four players, three of which won’t be in the lineup tonight. Evan Rodrigues had scored twice, he’s with Buffalo. CJ Smith scored one but is out 4-6 weeks with a lower body injury (more info here). Garret Ross scored another but is also injured. The fourth player to score was Eric Cornel.
Cornel has been one of those players that has worked hard and continued to find more ice time for himself in the lineup. He’s scored six goals this season in 40 games, already one better than the five he scored in 67 games last season. Based on the lines in practice he could find himself skating with Kevin Porter and Sahir Gill.
Sahir Gill is another player that has exceeded expectations and is tied with CJ Smith for the team lead in goal scoring at 14 goals.
Chris Taylor talked about Sahir Gill and Eric Cornel as examples of two players who’ve improved and produced but it’s not enough. Taylor said, “I think everybody’s starting to step up but we need guys at the forefront to like really step up right now. These are the tough games, the meat of the season.”
It’s easy to point out names of two players that really need to step it up: Alexander Nylander and Justin Bailey.
Justin Danforth will be in the lineup for the Amerks tonight and hopes to be a player that gets the chance to step up and produce. He’s a leading scorer in the ECHL with the Cincinnati Cyclones with 28G+31A for 59 points.
The game plan is simple, keep it simple. Both teams attempt at playing a similar style. Taylor is familiar with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins system and he said they’re committed to doing the right things and playing the right way. The same message he’s had in Rochester all season.
“We just have to play with confidence,” Taylor said. Adding, “That’s coming out in the first period and dictating the play.”
“It’s mentally and physically hard to keep coming back in the 2nd and 3rd so we have to have a good start.”
This will be the second game back for Brendan Guhle since an injury sidelined him. Talking about what they have to do Guhle said, “We have to get back to playing simple and playing like we were earlier in the season. Throwing pucks on net, fore checking hard, back checking hard. Sometimes we get away from doing things the simple way and that gets us in trouble a bit.”
“I’m excited to get out there and get back up in the rush, get some shots on goal and hopefully generate some scoring chances,” Guhle said. “We’ve been missing that so hopefully I’ll be able to do that a little bit tonight.”
Another player expected to return tonight barring any set backs is Colin Blackwell. He’s missed the last 13 games with an upper body injury. In the 37 games he’s played so far he has 5G+13A. While those may not seem like the most impressive numbers he add’s a lot more to the game.
Kevin Porter talked about what Blackwell brings and said, “He’s going to be huge for us. Good penalty killer, really good on face offs and he works hard. He’s not very big but he throws the body around and plays really hard.”
Expect the goalie match up to be Linus Ullmark for the Amerks and Casey DeSmith for the Penguins.
Casey Nelson has made an impression in Buffalo since being called up. He scored his first NHL goal and with four assists is getting some of the most ice time per game. He’ll find his way back here for the playoffs but seems unlikely it’ll be anytime before that.
“He’s doing great and he’s just doing his job,” Chris Taylor said when asked about Nelson. “That’s the best part about Casey, he’s not flashy or anything but he’s just doing his job really well. When you don’t notice him too much out there that means he’s doing an even better job.”
Since the call up he’s missed 10 games with the Amerks and is still a team lead +11 on the stat sheet.
Barry Goers returned to skating with the team for the first time today since early December. He hasn’t played in a game with the team since November 11th. He’s been out with an upper body injury with a long recovery.
Some might say, who? He’s a defenseman that played in 12 of the first 13 games of the season and had five assists in those games. A reliable defenseman that spent the last four seasons with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.