News | 2/28/2012 5:16:48 PM | ROCHESTER AMERICANS

Photo: Micheline Veluvolu

WEEKLY NOTES: Six weeks is all that remains on tap for the 2011-12 regular season, and with the race for playoff contention becoming tighter by the day, the Rochester Americans have returned to their winning ways. After capturing all six points this past week to close out February, the Amerks carry a three-game winning streak into the month of March as they continue to inch their way up the Western Conference standings. With just 20 games left on the schedule to be played, and after winning four of its last six, Rochester heads into its second-busiest month of the season this weekend with three games in as many nights, all of which are against North Division opponents with another crucial six points up for grabs. This week, the Amerks visit Grand Rapids on Friday night before closing out the week in a home-and-home series with first-place Toronto.

Wednesday, Feb. 22 vs. Hershey – W, 5-2…
The oldest rivalry in the American Hockey League was renewed for the final time of the 2011-12 season Wednesday at The Blue Cross Arena, where the Rochester Americans topped the Hershey Bears 5-2 in the 444th all-time meeting between the longtime rivals. The Amerks received multiple-point efforts from five different players on their way to snapping a two-game skid, including a three-point night from second-year pro Corey Tropp, who scored two goals and assisted on another. Dennis Persson (1+1), Derek Whitmore (1+1), Nick Crawford (0+2) and Colin Stuart (0+2) each contributed a pair of points, while Marcus Foligno also chipped in a goal and netminder David Leggio turned away 32 of 34 shots.

Friday, Feb. 24 vs. Adirondack – W, 2-0… Rochester continued its winning ways on Friday night as Leggio steered aside all 27 shots he faced to earn his second shutout of the season and lead the Amerks to a 2-0 win over the Adirondack Phantoms at The Blue Cross Arena. Whitmore scored for the third straight game and Persson lit the lamp for the second consecutive outing while Luke Adam added a pair of assists for Rochester. Evan Rankin, meanwhile, returned to the lineup for the first time since December 27 after missing 23 games with an injury.

Saturday, Feb. 25 vs. Lake Erie – W, 4-3… A crowd of 5,398 were on hand to witness the second-longest shootout in American Hockey League history on Saturday as the Amerks and Lake Erie Monsters engaged in a marathon 15-round shootout battle until Rochester’s Igor Gongalsky, who signed an AHL contract with Rochester the day before, netted the game-winner for the Amerks. Facing a 2-0 deficit midway through the second period, the Amerks rallied with three straight tallies before Lake Erie’s Ryan Stoa converted on a pass from Evan Brophey to tie things up at three apiece and ultimately force overtime. Phil Varone assisted on all three Rochester goals in the contest, all of which were scored by defensemen. T.J. Brennan scored twice, while Brayden McNabb also contributed a goal and an assist. Leggio was strong in goal once again, finishing with 22 saves to give him his first three-game winning streak of the campaign. In the shootout, Leggio stopped 13 of 15 Lake Erie shooters as Varone, Marcus Foligno and Gongalsky scored in the skills competition.

THIS WEEK’S OPPONENTS: The Amerks open up the month of March on the road on Friday, March 2 when they travel to Van Andel Arena to take on the North Division rival Grand Rapids Griffins. The 7:00 p.m. contest will be the fifth of six scheduled meetings this season between the two teams and will be broadcast live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk. Rochester is 3-1-0-0 this season against Grand Rapids after splitting a two-game road set with the Griffins back in January in suburban Michigan. The Amerks overcame a 3-1 deficit with back-to-back goals en route to a 4-3 shootout win in the first leg before Grand Rapids responded with a 4-1 win in the teams’ most recent get-together on January 25. Rochester is 25-28-3 all-time against the Detroit Red Wings’ affiliate.

Rochester heads north of the border on Saturday, March 3 for the first of back-to-back tilts with the first-place Toronto Marlies at Ricoh Coliseum. Game time is slated for a 5:00 p.m. start. The home-and-home series shifts to downtown Rochester on Sunday, March 4, where the North Division rivals will face off for the second time in as many nights at The Blue Cross Arena to bring the weekend to a close. The games will mark the seventh and eighth of the season between the two teams, with all the action for both matchups carried live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk. The Marlies have won five of the first six meetings with Rochester this season, including a 4-3 win in Toronto on February 8 most recently. The Amerks show a lifetime mark of 24-30-2 against the Marlies.

**SUNDAY’S GAME TIME CHANGE**: The Amerks’ home game versus the Toronto Marlies on Sunday, March 4 at The Blue Cross Arena will now start at 6:05 p.m. The game was originally scheduled to begin at 5:05 p.m. The game will also be televised live on Time Warner Cable SportsNet Channel 26.

UPCOMING PROMOTIONS: Sunday’s game falls on the final installment of the Zweigle’s Red Hot Sunday Fun Day promotion. In conjunction with Savor Catering at The Blue Cross Arena, fans can purchase four hot dogs, four sodas and four tickets to the game for the low price of just $44.00. During the second intermission there will be a Tim Horton’s Cup Drop, where fans who catch a cup falling from the rafters can win prizes from Tim Horton’s.  Every cup is a winner, with prizes including free coffee or donuts while one lucky fan will win a $50 Tim Horton’s gift card. Immediately following Sunday’s game, fans can head down to The Distillery’s Winton Road location (3010 Winton Road South) for the official postgame party to meet your favorite Amerks players.

SABRES RECALL TROPP FROM ROCHESTER: Re-joining the Buffalo Sabres for their annual Western road trip this week is forward Corey Tropp, who returns to the big club on his fifth NHL recall this season. Tropp, 22, has appeared in 15 games for the Sabres this season, collecting two points (1+1). In 22 American Hockey League games with Rochester, the 6-foot-0, 195-pound Tropp has recorded 17 points (7+10) and 35 penalty minutes. Overall, he has appeared in 98 AHL games, collecting 57 points (17+40) with Rochester and the Portland Pirates (2010-11). The Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. native was selected by the Sabres in the third round (89th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

AMERKS NOTES: Rochester (26-21-6-3, 61 points) enters the week on the heels of three straight wins after capturing all six points this past weekend, marking its first three-game winning streak since a four-game run from December 18 to December 28. The successful run for the Amerks, which featured three games in a stretch of four nights, moved the club within two points of the eighth and final playoff spot. Rochester is currently in the thick of what is shaping up to be a very tight race to the finish among its fellow Western Conference opponents, with the sixth, seventh and eighth seeded teams all showing 63 points apiece heading into the month of March. Closing in on the ninth-seeded Amerks are the Milwaukee Admirals and Lake Erie Monsters, who trail the Amerks by one and two points, respectively, with the Admirals having at least two games in hand of both Lake Erie and Rochester.

THE STREAK CONTINUES: With a pair of goals against Lake Erie on February 17, Whitmore became the first player this season to net 20 goals on his way to posting back-to-back 20-goal campaigns for the first time in his professional career. In doing so, Whitmore also preserved Rochester’s 56-year tradition of having at least one player from each season since the team’s inception in 1956 to score 20 or more goals, a streak that was sparked by Bronco Horvath’s team-leading 37 tallies during the Amerks’ inaugural 1956-57 season.

WHO’S HOT: Coming off his second three-point outing in six games, Varone has resumed the team lead in scoring with 37 points (8+29) by notching nine points (1+8) in the last six games. After starting the season with just six points in the first 23 games, Varone has recorded an impressive 31 points in the last 33 games. During the month of February alone, Varone has registered 13 points (3+10) in 12 games and has been held scoreless just four times over the last 15 contests.

Foligno, another first-year pro who currently ranks third on the team in scoring, has also recorded 11 points (2+9) in 12 games this month and has been held off the scoresheet just three times in the last 13 games. Foligno has also amassed 22 points (5+17) over his last 27 games, a stretch that includes five multi-point performances. McNabb, yet another rookie, has also recorded 11 points (2+9) over his last 12 games since his return from the Sabres, including three consecutive appearances with multiple points from February 4-10.

With points in five of the last eight games, veteran forward Paul Szczechura has recorded 14 points (7+7) in his last 18 games and has already moved into fourth on the team in scoring with 29 points (11+18) in just 37 games this season. Fresh off his three-point outing on Wednesday against Hershey, Tropp has nine points (3+6) in his first seven games back in the lineup following a 10-game injury absence, while Brennan, coming off a two-goal game against Lake Erie on Saturday, shows 16 points (7+9) in his last 18 games and has only been held scoreless six times during that stretch.

Whitmore, despite seeing his three-game point streak halted on Saturday, has five goals over his last six games and has eight points (6+2) in as many outings. Persson has three points (2+1) in his last three games, which includes goals in back-to-back outings, while Adam has five points (0+5) in his first seven games in an Amerks uniform.

TEAM AND LEAGUE LEADERS: Ever since assembling a season-long seven-game point streak heading into the New Year, Varone has been Rochester’s most consistent and dominant player as of late. With 31 points in his last 33 games, the rookie forward has quickly found himself at the top of the Amerks’ scoring leaders with a team-high 37 points (8+29), which place him 13th among league rookies in overall point production. With 19 helpers through his last 25 games, Varone has also taken over the team lead with 29 assists and is the only Amerk this season to appear in all 56 games thus far.  Foligno (14+20) and Whitmore (23+11) remain at a close second with 34 points apiece, which also puts Foligno in the top 20 among the AHL’s best first-year players. Whitmore shows a team-best 23 goals, including seven on the power-play, and is on pace to match his career-high 27 he scored last season in Portland. His 23 goals rank him eighth among the AHL’s top goal scorers, while he also ranks sixth in the AHL with 176 shots on goal. McNabb ranks 12th in the AHL with a +15 on-ice rating, while Foligno also sits tied for 17th in the league with four game-winning goals this season, which are the second-most among first-year skaters. Defenseman Joe Finley leads Rochester with 87 penalty minutes. Brennan (11+12) and McNabb (3+18) continue to lead all Rochester blueliners with 23 and 21 points, respectively.

ROOKIES STEPPING IT UP: The transition to the professional ranks for the Amerks’ freshmen this season has undoubtedly been a successful one for the young Buffalo Sabres prospects. Entering this week, three of Rochester’s top five scorers are currently in their first pro season. The Amerks have scored 164 goals through the first 56 games this season, but more impressively, 44 have been netted by a rookie, which equates to more than 25% of this year’s total offense. On a team that features seven different first-year players, three have made their NHL debuts with Buffalo and even spent significant time with the big club.

BY THE NUMBERS: The Amerks are 11-10-3-1 (26 points) this season against North Division rivals, but show a 15-11-3-2 (35 points) mark versus non-divisional foes. Rochester has outscored its opponents 95-78 at The Blue Cross Arena this season. The third period has been the Amerks’ strong suit thus far as the club has accounted for 56 goals while allowing 42. The Amerks have scored the first goal in 27 of the first 56 games of the campaign and show a 17-8-1-1 record when doing so, including a 10-4-0-0 mark at home. Rochester is also 16-0-1-0 when leading after two periods, a streak that also comes with an unblemished 12-0-0-0 mark at home.

HOME, SWEET HOME: Home-ice advantage has certainly been a factor in Rochester’s recent success as the Amerks are 13-7-2-0 in their last 22 games at home, including 7-2-1-0 in the last 10. After beginning the season with just two home wins in the first five outings, the Amerks show a 17-9-2-1 record (37 points) this season when playing in their downtown barn. Conversely, Rochester is 9-12-4-2 (24 points) away from the friendly confines of The Blue Cross Arena.

SPECIAL TEAMS BREAKDOWN: After going 4-for-15 on the man-advantage over their three home wins this past week, the Amerks currently have the league’s eighth-best home power-play unit, converting on 27 of 138 chances for a 19.6% success rate. On the penalty kill, Rochester has successfully killed off 189-of-239 (79.1%) shorthanded situations, including 104 of 128 at home for an 81.3% efficiency rate. As a team, Rochester has allowed eight shorthanded goals against, four coming at home and four on the road. They have also scored six shorthanded goals, including a team-high two from Varone.

MILESTONE WATCH: Whitmore reached a benchmark in his four-year career Saturday night when he touched the ice for his 300th professional game against Lake Erie. The Rochester native began the climb to 300 during the tail-end of the 2007-08 campaign, when he skated in eight games for his hometown Amerks upon the completion of his tenure at Bowling Green University. He also needs just another two games for 300 in his AHL career. Goaltender Drew MacIntyre recently picked up his 150th win of his AHL career thanks in part to a 24-save effort against Texas on February 10. Rankin is three points shy of 200 professional points and five assists away from 100 assists. With two points in last Wednesday’s win over Hershey, Stuart is on the verge of yet another personal milestone, needing just nine more points for 200 in his AHL career. Tropp is two games away from reaching the century mark in his AHL career, while veteran defenseman Shaone Morrisonn is a mere 11 games from making his 700th pro appearance.

DAY                                         TIME                                        LOCATION
Monday, February 27             Day Off                                    ----
                                               6-8 p.m. STH skate                  Blue Cross Arena       
Tuesday, February 28             10:30 a.m. practice                 Blue Cross Arena
Wednesday, February 29        10:30 a.m. practice                 Blue Cross Arena                   
Thursday, March 1                  9:00 a.m. practice                   Sports Centre at MCC
                                               Leave for Grand Rapids after practice
Friday, March 2                      11:15 a.m. gameday skate     Van Andel Arena
                                               7:00 p.m. @ Grand Rapids    Van Andel Arena
                                               Leave for Toronto after game
Saturday, March 3                  5:00 p.m. @ Toronto             Ricoh Coliseum
                                               Leave for Rochester after game
Sunday, March 4                     6:05 p.m. vs. Toronto            Blue Cross Arena
*schedule subject to change

VS.  Lake Erie Monsters  
TV:  | RADIO: Fox Sports 1280 Rochester
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