On Saturday night I had the fantastic opportunity to watch the Rochester Americans and Toronto Marlies square off. Huge thanks to Jordan for the tickets. This was my first live game of the season and I must say I missed watching games live. I've been catching a lot of game on TV but there is nothing that compares to actually being at the game and in the atmosphere! So I thought I would take the opportunity of seeing a game live and not being influenced by commentators to write about things I noticed from the baby Sabres.
The first period started off slow for both teams but the Amerks in particular had some very sloppy defencive play which ultimately stems right through the whole organization. Besides the lack of a number one centre, one of the most glaring holes for the Sabres is on the back end. Ryan Miller is one of the top goalies in the league but he can't do it all alone, he needs help and he hasn't been getting the help he needs. It was evident when watching the first period on Saturday that the defence was weak, thankfully as the game went on they seemed to calm down and were able to defend against the Marlies offence. On a positive note relating to defence, their penalty kill was phenomenal as they took 4 penalties and the Marlies were only able to capitalize on 1. Unfortunately when it counted most in the last 5 minutes up by 1 goal, the defence completely fell apart and the wheels came right off the bus. The next thing Terry Pegula needs to spend money on is some defenceman, either for the Amerks to develop or who are ready to make an impact in the NHL.
On a more positive note it's easy to see that Marcus Foligno is ready to take that next step to the NHL and I wouldn't be surprised if he one day wore the "C" on his chest. His play on Saturday was fantastic and it was near impossible to take your eyes off the big 6 foot 2 forward. He contributed at both ends of the ice with assists on both Amerks goals, he then immediately got on his horse and hustled back on the back-check resulting in him being one of 2 players who were a +1 on the night. When he wasn't setting up goals or helping out on defence he was standing up for his teammates racking up 7 penalty minutes and being involved in a fight after a Amerks player was hit awkwardly into the boards.
But what really strikes me about Foligno is his personality and character something fans got to see briefly during his stint with Sabres. I had the opportunity to meet him after the game and despite the loss he was as pleasant as could be. Some of the players just walked right past the fans waiting for autographs but Marcus stopped and talked to several fans all the while with a huge smile on his face. He's one of those players who "gets" what it takes to be a pro; he works hard, battles hard and always has time for the fans, which is why I think he could wear the "C" one day. I have no doubt in my mind he is ready for a full time spot in the NHL.
Back to the actual game, I think the Amerks need to be reminded that the goal is the mesh between the two red pipes. They fired 38 shots at Ben Scrivens and at least 20 more that missed the net by a mile, not to mention 3 off the crossbar. If the Amerks can work a little more on their aim, they wouldn't have any problems scoring goals.
Another thing I noticed was their lack of ability to match their opponents intensity. During the last 7 minutes of the game when the Amerks were up by a goal they got complacent and started to let the Marlies walk all over them. The Marlies kept the puck in the Amerks zone for several minutes and ran down the defence, the Amerks simply couldn't get the puck off them. Then the Marlies took it to another gear during the last 4 minutes and the Amerks were stuck just watching the Marlies toy with them. Ultimately their lack of intensity and a poor back check effort from Luke Adam resulted in the Marlies tying the game with just over 4 minutes left. For whatever reason the Amerks got a little too comfortable with a 1 goal lead and were unable to match the Marlies intensity.
Another thing I noticed which pains me to mention is the fact Luke Adam in no where near ready a full time spot in the NHL. He was solid on offence but his defencive game needs some serious improvement. He took a penalty which resulted in the Marlies tying the game at 1 and absolutely refused to back-check. The Marlies players could skate right past him and if he couldn't stop them there he'd just skate to the bench forcing an odd man rush against his own defence. His lack of effort on the back-check is exactly why he isn't ready for the NHL. Although Adam was the most noticeable player to bail on the back-check he was not the only Amerk, several of them took their sweet time getting back to help defend. I don't know if it's a conditioning issue but the forwards seemed bagged after a brief stint in the offencive end and had nothing left in the tank to help back-check, especially in the 3rd period.
All in all it was a solid game by the Amerks and always the rivalry between the Sabres and Leafs was just as great with their junior clubs. It was clear by the hard hitting, and fights that neither team was willing to back down. Unfortunately the Amerks lost in OT on a goal by the ever annoying Nazem Kadri to drop to 3-6-1 in their last 10 and 4th in their conference. With a little extra attention to defence and more of focus on back checking they'll be able to fine tune the back end and be able to focus on hitting the net and scoring goals.