The Rochester Americans travel to Oklahoma City for the first of two straight games against the AHL’s top team, the Oklahoma City Barons. The back-to-back games are the first for Rochester since Dec. 21, when the Amerks defeated the Lake Erie Monsters 4-1 to take a two-game winning streak into their holiday break. Tonight’s 8 p.m. EST contest will be the first of four meetings between the Amerks and Barons this season and will be broadcast live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk.
AUDIO: Ron Rolston with Don Stevens
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Head-to-Head: Tonight’s game marks the first-ever meeting between the Amerks, now in their 56th American Hockey League season, and Barons, who entered the AHL in 2010-11. The Barons are the AHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers and enter tonight’s contest with a League-high 44 points and a 21-7-0-2 record through 30 games. The same two teams will face-off again Wednesday night in Oklahoma City, then will play back-to-back games against one another at Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20.
Amerks Notes: Rochester (13-12-4-1, 29 points) is coming out of its holiday break riding a two-game winning streak, including a 4-1 home victory of the Lake Erie Monsters last Wednesday, which gave the Amerks their first back-to-back wins since Nov. 25-26. Prior to Wednesday’s win, the Amerks had defeated the Houston Aeros 6-3 to close out their Texas road trip on Sunday, Dec. 18.
The Amerks jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead against Lake Erie on the strength of power play goals by Mark Voakes and Dennis Persson. The goal was Persson’s first as an Amerk. After the Monsters scored early in the third period to cut the Amerk lead to 2-1, Evan Rankin scored his seventh goal of the season and Marcus Foilgno, re-assigned to Buffalo earlier in the day after making his NHL debut the night before, added an empty netter. Rankin and Foligno each finished with a goal and an assist while Travis Turnbull collected two assists. Goaltender Drew MacIntyre stopped 33 of 34 shots to earn the victory. The Amerks have now outscored their opponents 10-4 over the last two games despite being out-shot in both contests. Wednesday’s victory also improved Rochester’s home record over the last 10 outings to 8-2-0-0.
Rankin A Point-Per-Game Player: Evan Rankin, who signed a pro tryout with the Amerks on Nov. 25, has produced at a point-per-game pace since joining the team, recording 12 points (7+5) in 12 games after beginning the season with Toledo (ECHL). With several of the Amerks’ top scorer’s shuttling back and forth between Rochester and the Buffalo Sabres, Rankin’s 12 points are tops on the team since Nov. 25. Derek Whitmore, who leads the Amerks in scoring for the season with 20 points (13+7), ranks second behind Rankin since Nov. 25 with eight goals and an assist in 11 games. During his tenure with the Amerks, Rankin has been held scoreless just four times and has contributed four multi-point games. His seven goals already rank him tied for fourth on the club.
Who’s Hot: Rankin is not the only Amerk who enters tonight’s game on a hot streak. Defenseman T.J. Brennan is currently riding a five-game point streak (2+4), which ties his career-high. Last season, he notched a point in five straight games for the Portland Pirates from Mar. 18-25. In his last eight games in an Amerks sweater, a span that includes a recall to Buffalo and an injury absence, Brennan has registered nine points on four goals and five assists. Meanwhile, Turnbull has collected three points (1+2) in the last two games and Phil Varone has chipped in six points (1+5) in the last seven games. Whitmore had a goal and an assist in his last game played with the Amerks, which was last Sunday’s 6-3 win at Houston.
Team and League Leaders: Whitmore remains Rochester’s top point-getter with a team-high 13 goals and 20 points, in addition to a team-best 99 shots on goal. His 13 goals rank him tied for 11th among the AHL’s top goal scorers as the Rochester native has now scored eight goals in his last 12 games. He also ranks eighth in the AHL in shots on goal. Voakes leads the Amerks with 13 assists and ranks third on the team in scoring with 16 points, while his team-best +13 rating ranks tied for 10th in the AHL. He is also one of just two Amerks players to appear in all 30 games thus far along with Varone. Foligno ranks tied for seventh in the AHL with three game-winning goals this season. Joe Finley leads the Amerks and ranks 20th in the AHL with 69 penalty minutes. David Leggio, who has posted an 8-7-0 record with a 2.92 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage in 15 games, ranks tied for 18th among AHL netminders in wins. MacIntyre, who’s started seven of the last nine games for Rochester, shows a 5-9-1 record with a 2.72 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in 15 games between the pipes and ranks 18th in the AHL with 436 saves.
Roster Moves: Rochester welcomes back its leading scorer as Derek Whitmore has been returned by the Buffalo Sabres. The Rochester native made his NHL debut last Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators and also saw action against the Toronto Maple Leafs. In addition, center Paul Szczechura has also been returned to the Amerks. Szczechura has recorded eight points (1+7) in 12 games with Rochester this season and four points (1+3) in nine games with the Sabres. After signing forwards Scott Campbell and Igor Gongalsky (guhn-GAHL-skee) to professional tryouts prior to last Wednesday’s game, Gongalsky remains with the Amerks while Campbell was sent back to Las Vegas of the ECHL. Both players skated in the victory over Lake Erie. Gongalsky, currently in his sixth pro campaign, comes to Rochester after recording three assists in a combined 16 games this season between the Portland Pirates (AHL) and Gwinnet Gladiators (ECHL). A native of Kiev, Ukraine, Gongalsky, who attended Amerks training camp in 2010, played in 54 games with Portland in 2010-11, recording 10 points (4+6) and 77 penalty minutes. He also dressed for six postseason appearances with the Pirates.
By The Numbers: The Amerks are 6-5-2-1 (15 points) this season against North Division rivals, but show a 7-7-2-0 (16 points) mark versus non-divisional foes. The third period has been the Amerks’ strong suit thus far as the club has accounted for 27 goals while allowing 22. The Amerks have scored the first goal in just 14 of the first 30 games of the campaign and show a 7-6-1-0 record when doing so, including a 6-2-0-0 mark at home. Rochester is also 8-0-1-0 when leading after two periods, a streak that also shows an unblemished 5-0-0-0 mark at home.
Too Close For Comfort: Ten of the last 18 games for the Amerks have been decided by one goal, including six of the last 13. Of Rochester’s 30 games thus far this season, 15 of them have been determined by a one-goal difference, seven of which were settled either in overtime or via the shootout, for a 5-5-4-1 mark.
Home, Sweet Home: Home-ice advantage has certainly been a factor in Rochester’s recent success as the Amerks are 8-2-0-0 in their last nine games at home. After beginning the season with just two home wins, the Amerks show a 10-4-0-1 record (21 points) this season when playing in their downtown barn. Conversely, Rochester is 3-8-4-0 (10 points) away from the friendly confines of The Blue Cross Arena.
The Road ‘More’ Traveled: The reunion between the Buffalo Sabres and Amerks not only restored hockey’s longest NHL-AHL affiliation, but it made the commute for those fortunate enough to earn a recall to Buffalo almost effortless to get there. The Amerks have seen 10 different players over 16 total recalls make the 75-mile trek west down Interstate 90, including several on game day. In addition to the most recent call-ups, Whitmore and Foligno, the Sabres have also required the services of MacIntyre and Szczechura, defensemen Joe Finley, T.J. Brennan, Brayden McNabb and forwards Corey Tropp, Zack Kassian and Colin Stuart, who along with McNabb, remain with Buffalo.
Special Teams Breakdown: The Amerks have gone 13-for-82 (15.9%) on the power play over their last 17 games, including 2-for-7 in last Wednesday’s win over Lake Erie. On the penalty kill, Rochester has successfully killed off 103-of-125 (82.4%) shorthanded situations, including 59 of 67 at home for an 88.1% efficiency rate, good for the league’s fourth-best rating in that category. As a team, Rochester has allowed a league-most seven shorthanded goals against, four coming at home and the other three on the road.
Milestone Watch: MacIntyre is a mere three wins shy of 50 AHL victories while Rankin is four points shy of 200 professional points and six assists away from 100 assists. Back for a second stint with the Amerks, veteran forward Michael Ryan is just two games away from his 400th professional game, 214 of which have been played in Rochester. A few weeks removed from skating in his 500th professional game, Stuart is on the verge of yet another personal milestone, needing just 11 more points for 200 in his AHL career. Szczechura, though currently on NHL recall with the Sabres, needs just seven more assists to reach the century mark in his AHL career.
Oklahoma City Notes: Oklahoma City enters tonight’s game as the top team in the AHL, having gone 21-7-0-2 (44 points) through its first 30 games. The AHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers is 7-2-0-1 in its last 10 games and has picked up at least a point in 10 of its last 12 outings. The Barons also entered play on Monday leading the AHL’s Western Conference with 91 goals for and a +23 goal differential while allowing a league-low 2.27 goals against per game. Oklahoma City is also 9-4-0-1 on home ice at the Cox Convention Center. The team is coming off a 4-3 overtime win over Charlotte in its last game as Mark Arcobello scored the OT-game winner.
Team and League Leaders: Oklahoma City’s balanced scoring attack is led by Ryan Keller, who has notched 21 points on nine goals and 12 assists in 30 games. Phillippe Cornet leads the team with 15 goals, six of which have come on the power play. His six man-advantage goals rank him among the top 10 in the AHL. Arcobello, meanwhile, leads the team in assists with 14 helpers and former Amerk Tristan Grant leads the team with 72 penalty minutes. Magnus Paajarvi, the 10th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the Oilers, has appeared in the last three games for Oklahoma City after appearing in 25 games for the Oilers earlier this season and recording 34 points (15+19) in 80 games as a rookie for Edmonton last season. In net, the Barons are led by the tandem of Yann Danis and David LeNeveu. Danis has gone 13-4-0 with a 2.20 goals against average, a .927 save percentage and two shutouts in 18 games. LeNeveu has appeared in 14 games, posting a record of 8-3-2 with a 2.07 goals against average, a .927 save percentage and one shutout. Both rank among the AHL’s top five goaltenders in goals against average and save percentage while Danis ranks third in the league in wins.
Next Game: The Amerks and Barons get right back to action as the same two teams face off again in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night. Following a travel day on Thursday, the Amerks will host the Hamilton Bulldogs at 7:35 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 30 at The Blue Cross Arena. Both games will be broadcast live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk.