2013-14 Amerks’ Midseason Report
It’s been quite a while since I last wrote anything about the Amerks. While there are many reasons for this, the biggest is that I’ve just been too lazy to provide updates outside of Twitter. A one-word summation of the Amerks’ season to this point would be disappointment. That’s not to say that the Amerks are a terrible team, of course. They simply aren’t performing at the level most fans hoped they would. After the jump you’ll find my thoughts on their season to this point.
Through 38 games the Amerks are 17-15-3-3, which is good enough for 40 points and 3rd place in the North Division. They currently sit two points out of a playoff spot in 9th place in the Western Conference. They actually have a better point percentage than the Rockford IceHogs who currently sit in 8th, but they’ve played five fewer games. They’ve also scored 104 goals while allowing 114.
As far as special teams are concerned, their penalty kill is 27th in the AHL at 77.4% (144 of 186), with 4 shorthanded goals for. This is actually an improvement over the past month or so, as they were 29th in the league at one point. The power play is 12th in the league at 18.6% (31 of 167), with two shorthanded goals against. At one point the power play was among the best in the league, but losing their top power play guys to injury and call-ups hurt the power immensely.
At home the Amerks are 10-5-1-2 with 56 goals for and 48 goals against. While this isn’t the greatest home record, it is good enough for 3rd in the division. When you look at their road record, however, their home record doesn’t seem so bad. They’ve earned 63.9% of the 36 possible home points, which is good for third in the division. The Marlies have earned 70%, while the Monsters have earned 65.8%.
Special teams at home are also not very good for the Amerks. Their home penalty kill is 22nd in the AHL at 81.2% (69 of 85). Their power play is 18th in the AHL at 15.5% (14 of 85). While passing on the power play isn’t necessarily a bad thing, they tend make a fair number of unnecessary passes. Putting someone in front of the net a bit more often would also help, if they actually shot a little more often. They’ve been using Colton Gillies on the second power play unit for this reason, but with little success.
If the Amerks record at home is only okay, then their road record can be considerable miserable. Their road record is 7-10-2-1 with 48 goals for and 66 goals against. While their overall point percentage is 52.6%, their road point percentage is 42.5%. That’s not the worst in the league, let alone the division, but it’s still awful in comparison to their home point percentage.
On the road, the Amerks’ penalty kill is 27th in the AHL at 77.4% (75 of 101). Their power play is actually better on the road than at home. It’s 7th in the AHL at 20.7% (17 of 82). I’m not sure why there is such a difference between their home and road power play, but perhaps they should try what they do on the road at home.
Most of the statistics above can be easily found on the AHL’s website. However, I like to keep a detailed record of their performance against each team, both home and away. I won’t be looking at power plays and penalty kills just yet, however. I’ll also skip looking at their divisional and conference record at home versus away, as we’ve already established that there is a significant difference between the two.
This season the Amerks will play games against teams in four of the AHL’s six divisions. The only Eastern Conference teams the Amerks will play are the Binghamton Senators, the Hershey Bears, the Syracuse Crunch, and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. They played all of those teams last season, plus 4 games each against the Albany Devils and the Adirondack Phantoms. Those games have been replaced by games against more Western Conference opponents. As such, the Amerks will play 20 games against the East as opposed to 30.
Last season the Amerks earned 35 of a possible 60 points against the East (58.3%) with a 17-12-1-0 record. If you take out the games against the Devils and Phantoms, they earned 23 of 44 points against the East last season with an 11-10-1-0 record (52.3%). Using the latter record for comparison, you can see that the Amerks are doing significantly worse against the East this season. They have a record of 0-7-1-1, which equates to a points percentage of 11.1%. The Amerks still have eleven games remaining against the East. Taking advantage of these games is a necessity.
As far as the Western Conference is concerned, the Amerks will play all but two teams in the West, the Abbsotsford Heat and the Charlotte Checkers. The Amerks will, however, play two games each against the other three teams in the West Division. As of right now, the Amerks have played three of the six games against this division. Their record is a reasonable 2-1-0-0, which is good for a point percentage of 66.7%. The Amerks had a record of 3-3-0-0 against these teams last season.
The Midwest Division is home to three teams the Amerks haven’t faced since being affiliated with the Sabres, the Chicago Wolves, the Milwaukee Admirals, and the Rockford IceHogs. Technically they have never faced the Iowa Wild, but the Wild were the Houston Aeros last season. They’ve played three of the twelve games against this division, but all three of those have been against the Grand Rapids Griffins. Their current record against this division is 0-3-0-0, which is good for a point percentage of 0.0%. Last season they went 2-2-0-0 against the teams that are in this division (1-1 from both the Aeros and the Griffins, even though the Aeros were in the South Division).
As for the North Division, they lost the Heat and added the Utica Comets. There’s no record for their performance against the Comets last season, as they did not play the Peoria Rivermen. Against their home division they have a record of 15-4-2-2 in the 23 games they’ve played. That record is good for a point percentage of 73.9%, as they’ve earned 34 of a possible 46 points. Last season their record against these opponents was 16-10-1-1. Their record against the Marlies this season is 3-1-0-0. An improvement from their 1-7-1-1 record against them last season. It’s also a nice change of pace after going 4-11-4-1 over the previous two seasons, not including the playoffs.
There aren’t many conclusions that you can draw considering that around 40% of their games have been played against non-division opponents. I will say, however, that they certainly need to improve their record against the Eastern Conference. Even if they have to go to overtime or a shootout against the East, getting those points is important. If they can’t capitalize on those points, the Marlies may very well run away with the division again. It’s starting to look like they might, as they have an 8 point lead on the Hamilton Bulldogs. Obviously it’s still much too early in the season to declare the race over, however.
In late November/early December the Amerks’ offense was doing fairly well for itself. This was mostly due to the scoring touch of their veteran players. Unfortunately for the Amerks, call-ups took Kevin Porter from them as well as Matt Ellis. Then the injury bug hit most of the other veterans on the roster, taking Jamie Tardif and Mike Zigomanis from them. What they were left with was a bunch of guys being asked to play at a level far above what they are capable of. This resulted in a streak where the Amerks scored 3 goals in 4 games and were shutout twice in that span. The sluggish offense seems to have improved slightly since their embarrassing trip to the Spengler Cup. The return of some key players (Tardif and Larsson) as well as the improvement of Alex Hutchings is no-doubt influencing this. The question, however, is whether or not they will be able to take the offense up to the next level.
Before the season started I said that the Amerks’ defense was bad. And despite some improvement, I still stand by that assertion. The Amerks have a few guys who do a decent job on defense, but their depth is a large problem. Rasmus Ristolainen has been decent for the Amerks, as have Brayden McNabb and Chad Ruhwedel. Drew Bagnall has been okay as well, but not exactly great. It’s the depth defensemen that worry me. Most of them have a long way to go before they even have a shot at seeing the NHL. I still think this is the Amerks’ weakest link, and will continue to be for some time. The Amerks typically get heavily out shot every night, and there defense is partly to blame for this.
I’m not saying there’s a goalie controversy, but there probably should be one. Rookie Nathan Lieuwen has been better this season than Matt Hackett. In Lieuwen’s 16 games he has a record of 7-6-1, a 2.69 GAA (25/43 (minimum of 780 minutes), a 0.919 SV% (13/43) stopping 420 of 457 shots, and one shutout. In Hackett’s 25 games he has a record of 17-18-3, a 2.90 GAA (33/43), a 0.904 SV% (32/43) stopping 672 of 743, and zero shutouts. Yes, Lieuwen has played in 9 fewer games than Hackett, but I’d say his stats warrant him earning more starts in the near future. Coach Chad Cassidy, of course, has been starting him more often as of late. He was quite good when the Amerks went through that stretch where they were shutout in two of four games. I’ve said for a while that I thought that Hackett needed someone to push him. Hopefully Lieuwen’s performance of late will do exactly that.
I’ve said in previous posts that I was perhaps was a bit too optimistic about the Amerks’ before the season began. If the Amerks want to do better in the second half of the season, they’re going to need some serious improvement from their young guys. Joel Armia is still working on transitioning to the North American game, and other rookies that people expected more of are still working on figuring out the pro game. The contributions from veteran players are most certainly a good thing, but without some of the young guys providing secondary scoring (which may be asking a bit much from some of them) the Amerks are not going to do very well. The defense needs improvement, as does the goaltending. Again, they may be asking too much from this team. As can be seen by the number of guys on the roster who started the season in the ECHL.
It’s going to take a strong second-half push by the Amerks to make it into the playoffs and avoid another ill-fated first round meeting with the Marlies. Perhaps with Tim Murray in place in Buffalo things will turn around for the better in Rochester. It’s hard to build a winning mentality in players in a losing environment, or so I’ve heard.
In Cassidy we trust.