News | 3/13/2012 4:47:40 PM | ROCHESTER AMERICANS

Photo: Micheline Veluvolu

WEEKLY NOTES: A month is all that remains in the 2011-12 American Hockey League regular season and the race to the Calder Cup Playoffs is only getting tighter as the league’s 30 teams enter the stretch drive in the hunt of postseason contention. With wins in seven of their last eight games, the surging Rochester Americans have managed to keep pace in the all-too-close Western Conference standings, where the Amerks remain just a point out of eighth place and two points out of fourth. Rochester’s consistent and steady play as of late has made it a top contender for the postseason, and with just 15 games to go, each one being more important than the next, the Amerks continue their playoff push with a weekend set against intrastate foes. Looking ahead, Rochester takes its four-game winning streak on the road to Syracuse and Binghamton, teams the Amerks have fared well against this season. 

Friday, Mar. 9 vs. Binghamton – W, 3-1…
The Rochester Americans opened up a two-game weekend set with the defending Calder Cup champion Binghamton Senators with a 3-1 win over their intrastate rivals Friday night at The Blue Cross Arena. Paul Szczechura, Luke Adam and Derek Whitmore tallied a goal apiece for Rochester, while goaltender David Leggio finished with 35 saves in what was another stellar performance between the pipes.

Saturday, Mar. 10 vs. Binghamton – W, 6-1… The Amerks completed the two-game sweep of the B-Sens and extended their home winning streak to six games with a decisive 6-1 win in front of 6,052 fans at The Blue Cross Arena on Saturday. The victory was Rochester’s fourth straight overall and seventh in the last eight games. Rochester was led offensively by the line of Travis Turnbull (1+2), Mark Voakes (0+3) and Maxime Legault (1+1), as the trio combined for eight points on the night. Szczechura and Whitmore found the back of the net for the second straight game, while defensemen Shaone Morrisonn and Alex Biega each scored a goal as well. Leggio, making his eighth consecutive start, stopped 17 of 18 shots to again hold the Senators to one goal and earn his 22nd win of the season, matching the career-high he set last year with Portland.

THIS WEEK’S OPPONENTS: Fresh off their two-game sweep of Binghamton this past weekend, the Amerks hit the road on Friday, March 16 as they journey to Central New York to take on the Syracuse Crunch at the War Memorial at Oncenter. The 7:30 p.m. matchup will be the seventh of 10 get-togethers between the longtime rivals this season and can be heard live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk. Rochester is 4-2-0-0 this season against Syracuse, with both its losses coming on the road. The Amerks prevailed with a 5-4 win over the Crunch in the most recent meeting between the two teams back on February 4 at the War Memorial at Oncenter. Szczechura recorded his first career hat-trick en route to a four-point performance as Rochester completed a two-goal third period rally to defeat Syracuse. The veteran forward tied the game late in regulation time and capped off his impressive night with the game-winning goal with 1:07 to go in the extra session. The win represented the 100th win in franchise history for the Amerks over the cross-state rival Crunch. Rochester is 100-83-15 all-time against the Anaheim Ducks’ affiliate.

The Amerks and B-Sens will exchange pleasantries for the third time in nine nights with a St. Patrick’s Day battle in the Southern Tier on Saturday, March 17 at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena. The 7:05 p.m. contest will be the seventh of eight meetings between the intrastate foes and will be carried live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk. Rochester improved to 5-1-0-0 this season against Binghamton after posting back-to-back wins that saw the Amerks outscore the B-Sens 9-2, including a 6-1 rout on Saturday that featured six different goal-scorers for Rochester. The Amerks enter the matchup having won the last five games and have yet to fall to Binghamton since their 3-1 setback in the teams’ first encounter this season back on October 29. Rochester is 36-36-6 lifetime against the Baby Sens.

UPCOMING PROMOTIONS: The Amerks return home on Wednesday, March 21 to host Syracuse in the latest installment of the “WindDown Wednesday” promotion, Rochester’s midweek Business Persons Special that invites patrons to exchange their business cards at The Blue Cross Arena Box Office for an $11 ticket in the best available seating location anywhere in the arena. Wednesday’s game will also feature a Young Professionals Social, offering $10 discounted tickets for Party Deck seating and various drink specials. During the game, 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 a donut while one lucky fan will win a $50 Tim Horton’s gift card.

On Friday, March 23, Binghamton returns to The Blue Cross Arena for another “Ditch the Dorms” night. The Amerks are encouraging all college students to “Ditch the Dorms” on Friday nights and bring the party downtown for Amerks College Nights. Current students who show a valid school ID can get best available seating anywhere in the arena for as low as $10. In conjunction with Savor Catering at The Blue Cross Arena, fans can take part in the “Amerks Happy Hour” from 6:30-7:30 in the Upper Atrium Bar with $2 drafts, courtesy of Molson and Coors Light.

FOLINGO’S FIRST PROPELS SABRES TO WIN: Nearly three months after making his NHL debut against his older brother, Nick, and the Ottawa Senators, rookie forward Marcus Foligno added another first to his hockey resume this past weekend. Foligno, in the lineup for just his second career NHL appearance, and once again playing opposite his brother, scored his first NHL goal with 5:54 remaining in the third period to make it a 3-3 game, setting the stage for Tyler Ennis’ game-winning goal in the shootout to lift the Sabres to a much-needed 4-3 win over Ottawa Saturday night at ScotiaBank Place. Foligno would notch his second point in as many games in last night’s overtime win over Montreal, assisting on Tyler Ennis’ first goal of the game to bring the Sabres back within two points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

AMERKS NOTES: Rochester (30-22-6-3, 69 points) enters the week the winners of four straight and seven of its last eight games after consecutive wins over Binghamton this past weekend. The pair of victories also extended Rochester’s current home winning streak to a season-high six games as the Amerks remain in the thick of a very tight playoff race in the American Hockey League’s Western Conference standings, where only four points separate the third place team from the 10th place team. Despite another very successful weekend for Rochester, the team currently sits in ninth place, just one point back of Lake Erie, Abbotsford and San Antonio, who are locked in a three-way tie with 70 points each for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Amerks, however, are also just two points out of fourth place heading into the new week. In hot pursuit of the Amerks are the Houston Aeros, whose 68 points have them locked as the 10th-seeded team with a game in hand of Rochester. The Amerks are 7-3-0-0 in their last 10 games and their 181 goals this season are the third-highest among their fellow Western Conference opponents.

LEGGIO LEADING THE WAY: Leggio, who has started eight straight and 16 of the last 19 games for the Amerks, boasts a 22-16-1 record with a 2.55 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage in 39 games. Coming off his 22nd win of the season Saturday night against Binghamton, he presently ranks in the top five among AHL netminders in saves (1,103) and wins (22). Leggio is also sixth in minutes played (2,326) and 15th in save percentage. The fourth-year netminder enters the week riding a season-long four-game winning streak and needs just one more win for a new AHL career-high. He’s also on pace to match his single-season career-best 27 victories he notched with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades during the 2008-09 campaign. During the current six-game home winning streak, Leggio has started each game and posted a 1.46 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage.

THE BEST OFFENSE IS A GOOD DEFENSE: Rochester’s success as of late can undoubtedly be attributed to the increase in offensive contributions from its blueliners. Since defeating Hershey by a 5-2 count on February 22, the Amerks have scored 28 goals to win seven of their last eight games, but more impressively, 10 have come off the stick of a defenseman, including markers from Biega and Morrisonn most recently. T.J. Brennan and Brayden McNabb, who provided all three regulation goals in a 4-3 shootout win over Lake Erie on February 25, show a combined 50 points (17+33) between the two of them this season. Brennan alone enters the week with four goals in his last six games for a season total of 13, which currently ties him with Albany’s Eric Gelinas and Abbotsford’s Clay Wilson for the lead among league rearguards.

WHITMORE HAVING A CAREER YEAR: Whitmore has certainly made the most of his homecoming this season and is in the process of compiling what is sure to be a career year for the local product. With a team-leading 25 goals on the season, Whitmore is on pace to set a new career-high and could become the first Amerk to reach the 30-goal mark since Jason Pominville (30) and Thomas Vanek (42) topped the 30-goal plateau during the 2004-05 campaign. The fourth-year pro also needs just 11 more points to match his career-high of 47 (27+20) he captured last season with the Portland Pirates.

ONE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS: A crowd of 5,398 were on hand to witness the second-longest shootout in American Hockey League history on February 25 at The Blue Cross Arena as the Amerks and Lake Erie Monsters engaged in a marathon 15-round shootout battle. Eric Hunter scored for the Monsters in the third round, Phil Varone answered for the Amerks in the fourth round, and Justin Mercier and Foligno traded goals in the 10th round to keep the game tied. Igor Gongalsky, on his second career shootout attempt, won it for Rochester as the 30th overall shooter. The longest shootout in AHL history was a 16-rounder between Cleveland and Utah on Dec. 3, 2004.

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:  Despite seeing his four-game point streak of seven assists cut short in Friday’s win over Binghamton, Varone shows 13 points (1+12) in the last 11 games and has at least one point in 12 of the last 17 games. After starting the season with just six points in the first 23 games, the rookie forward has recorded an impressive 35 points in the last 38 games to rank fourth in the AHL in scoring during that span and has been held scoreless just six times over the last 20 contests.

McNabb, who also had his four-game point streak halted on Friday, has recorded 15 points (3+12) over his last 17 games since returning from the Sabres, including three consecutive appearances with multiple points from February 4-10. With points in nine of the last 13 games, including goals in three of his last four, Szczechura has recorded 19 points (10+9) in his last 23 games and moved into third on the team in scoring with 34 points (14+20) despite appearing in just 42 games this season.

Team captain Colin Stuart, meanwhile, has notched three assists in the last five games and five helpers in the last eight showings. Whitmore, who enters the week with goals in back-to back games, has seven tallies over his last 11 games and has 10 points (8+2) in 13 outings. Evan Rankin, who signed an AHL contract with the team on March 5, shows three points (1+2) over his last six games, while reigning AHL Rookie of the Year Luke Adam has eight points (3+5) in his first 12 games in an Amerks uniform. Brennan, who has four goals in his last six games, shows 18 points (9+9) in his last 23 games and has only been held scoreless nine times during that stretch.

Foligno, who received his fourth NHL recall from the Sabres prior to Friday night’s game against Binghamton, has recorded 11 points (2+9) in his last 13 games has been held off the scoresheet just four times in the last 14 games. The Buffalo native has also amassed 22 points (5+17) over his last 28 games, a stretch that includes five multi-point performances. Second-year pro Corey Tropp, also on recall with Buffalo, had nine points (3+6) in his first seven games back in the lineup following a 10-game injury absence.

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 productive player. With 35 points in his last 38 games, the rookie forward has quickly found himself at the top of the Amerks’ scoring leaders with a team-high 41 points (8+33), which place him 12th among league rookies in overall point production. With 23 helpers through his last 30 games, Varone has also taken over the team lead with 33 assists and is the only Amerk this season to appear in all 61 games thus far. Varone’s 33 assists also tie him for 16th in the AHL.

Whitmore, who remains second on the team in scoring, shows a team-best 25 goals, including seven on the power-play. His 25 tallies rank him tied for seventh among the AHL’s top goal scorers, while he also ranks sixth in the AHL with 195 shots on goal. Defenseman Joe Finley leads Rochester with 98 penalty minutes, while McNabb ranks among league leaders with a +15 on-ice rating. Brennan (13+12) and McNabb (4+21) continue to lead all Rochester blueliners with 25 apiece, while Brennan’s 13 goals are tied for most amongst AHL rearguards.

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, two of Rochester’s top four scorers are currently in their first pro season. The Amerks have scored 181 goals through the first 61 games this season, but more impressively, 46 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 13-11-3-1 (30 points) this season against North Division rivals, but show a 17-11-3-2 (39 points) mark versus non-divisional foes. Rochester has outscored its opponents 107-82 at The Blue Cross Arena this season. The third period has been the Amerks’ strong suit thus far as the club has accounted for 60 goals while allowing 46. The Amerks have scored the first goal in 31 of the first 61 games of the campaign and show a 20-9-1-1 record when doing so, including a 12-4-0-0 mark at home. Rochester is also 18-1-1-0 when leading after two periods, a streak that also comes with an unblemished 14-0-0-0 mark at home.

HOME, SWEET HOME: Home-ice advantage has certainly been a factor in Rochester’s recent success as the Amerks are 16-7-2-0 in their last 25 games at home, including 10-2-1-0 in the last 13. After beginning the season with just two home wins in the first five outings, the Amerks, on the heels of their 6-1 win over Binghamton on Saturday, enter the week riding a season-long six-game home winning streak and show a 20-9-2-1 record (43 points) this season when playing in their downtown barn. Conversely, Rochester is 10-13-4-2 (26 points) away from the friendly confines of The Blue Cross Arena.

SPECIAL TEAMS BREAKDOWN: After going 5-for-24 on the man-advantage over their last six home wins, the Amerks currently have the league’s 11th-best home power-play unit, converting on 28 of 147 chances for a 19.0% success rate. On the penalty kill, Rochester has successfully killed off 200-of-250 (80.0%) shorthanded situations, including 109 of 133 at home for an 82.0% 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 seven shorthanded goals, including a team-high two from Varone.

MILESTONE WATCH: Whitmore reached a benchmark in his four-year career on February 25 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 played his 300th AHL game on March 3 in Toronto. Rankin is one point shy of 200 professional points and four assists away from 100 assists. With three more points over the last five games, including his 100th career AHL assist, Stuart is on the verge of yet another personal milestone, needing just six more points for 200 in his AHL career. Finley is two games away from reaching the century mark in his pro career, while Morrisonn is a mere six games from making his 700th pro appearance.

DAY                                         TIME                                        LOCATION
Monday, March 12                 10:30 a.m. off-ice training      Blue Cross Arena
Tuesday, March 13                10:30 a.m. practice                 Sports Centre at MCC
Wednesday, March 14            10:30 a.m. practice                 Sports Centre at MCC
Thursday, March 15                10:30 a.m. practice                 Sports Centre at MCC
Friday, March 16                    10:00 a.m. game-day skate    Sports Centre at MCC
                                               7:30 p.m. @ Syracuse            War Memorial at Oncenter
                                               Leave for Binghamton following game
Saturday, March 17                7:05 p.m. @ Binghamton      Veterans Memorial Arena
Sunday, March 18                  Day Off                                    ----                                                                                          
*schedule subject to change