Amerks open season with two losses to Charlotte

October 6, 2018
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Rochester, NY (WGR 550) - It was not the opening weekend the Rochester Americans had envisioned when they dropped the puck on the 2018-19 season on Friday.

The Amerks opened the season with two home matchups against the Charlotte Checkers at Blue Cross Arena, only to drop both decisions and be out-scored 10-4 along the way.

On Friday, the Amerks looked to have an early advantage with their speed taking control in the first few minutes of the game. However, that was short-lived as the Checkers started to take advantage of some Rochester mistakes. The first was a Kevin Porter tripping penalty which led to the game's first goal from Janne Kuokkanen on the power play. Just 30-seconds later, the Checkers went up 2-0 with a goal from Roland McKeown through a screen.

The Amerks did respond early in the second period as C.J. Smith scored his first of the season with a goal to the top-right corner of the net and past Alex Nedeljkovic in goal. Rochester tied the game later in the period as defenseman Lawrence Pilut found some space through a screen to score his first professional goal in North America.

The back-breaker came just before the end of the second period as Zach Redmond tries an ill-advised pinch and leaves Pilut to defend a 2-on-1 all by himself. As a result, the Checkers re-gained the lead as Nicolas Roy scored easily from a feed by Kuokkanen.

In the third, Charlotte opened the flood gates as they score three goals in the first 7:16 of the period to extend the lead 6-2. That was all they need as Nedeljkovic and the Checkers defense shut the door on the Amerks to take Game 1 of the season.

Amerks head coach Chris Taylor was very displeased with his team's effort in the first game of the season, feeling that his team was not ready to come out and play.

"I just didn't like how we competed at all," Taylor said on Friday. "We play these guys tomorrow night and there's nothing that showed me that we were playing them ever again. It was 6-2 and we didn't even touch anyone out there. The disappointing part is how we came out and started the game. There was only one bright spot the whole night and that was [Scott] Wedgewood.

We can use every excuse, [but] there's no excuses for the way we played tonight. I'm not going to buy that for anything. We talked about that after the game. It was unacceptable."

How did the Amerks respond? Not all that much better.

On Saturday, the team came out slow as the Checkers continued to play strong from the night before. Just three minutes into the contest, it was Charlotte that got out to the lead as Morgan Geekie skated into the slot and fired a shot past Wedgewood for the goal.

Rochester did get a bit lucky as an Eric Cornel pass attempt to the front of the net goes off a Checker and in past Nedeljkovic for the game-tying goal. Then the Amerks were able to grab their first lead of the season just nine-seconds into the second period as Wayne Simpson scored off a nice effort from Alex Nylander to keep the puck in the offensive zone at the blue line.

However, the Ameks' lead did not last long as 2:26 later, the Checkers evened things up on the power play with Williamsville native Andrew Poturalski cleaned up a loose puck around the net mouth with Wedgewood being knocked over by defenseman Brandon Hickey.

The back-breaker on Saturday night came at the 5:06 mark of the second period when Zach Redmond lost the puck in his skates on the power play and had it stripped of him by Roy. The 21-year-old then took a breakaway in on Wedgewood and beat the netminder with a shot over the glove hand.

Roy added his second of the night, and fourth goal in two nights, just 4:49 later as he scores on another power play goal in front of the net as he roofed a shot over a sprawling Wedgewood.

The Amerks responded too little, too late in the third period as they ended up with 20 shots on goal in the final stanza but Nedeljkovic shut the door, and nearly scored twice in the empty net at the other end.

This time around, Taylor did not like the efforts given from the team's special teams units, who went 1-for-8 on the man advantage and just 3-of-7 on the penalty kill over the weekend.

"We had a 5-on-3 [power play] and ended up giving up one. That hurts. Then they score two [on the power play]. That really hurts," Taylor said on Saturday. "We took some penalties that we shouldn't have taken. Our discipline has to be better. I'd rather us play harder in-between the whistles than after the whistles. Taking a penalty like that, for me, is not what we need at this time, especially after last night's game. We have to control our emotions, but be a little bit more grittier in-between the whistles. I thought we still don't bump enough, don't hit enough and get in people's ways. We'll be practicing that a lot Monday and Tuesday."

The power play struggled over the weekend with the only goal coming from Pilut on Friday night. Aside from that, the Amerks passed up on a number of shots and moved the puck too much, which led to some giveaways. In addition, Rochester did have problems trying to get set up in the offensive zone to try and get to work on the man advantage.

While the Checkers found themselves in more penalty troubles this weekend than the Amerks, Rochester could not stay out of the penalty box against a potent Checkers power play unit. The top unit that featured Roy, Poturalski, Kuokkanen, Gregg McKegg and Trevor Carrick was clicking all weekend, and ended up accounting for all of Charlotte's goals on the man advantage. They were able to move the puck with ease and get to the net and create havoc in front of Wedgewood.

The Amerks' defensive effort was lackluster the entire weekend as the defensemen failed to clear bodies in front of the net, they were caught puck watching on numerous occasions, and the forwards failed to help the defenders when they pinched to keep an offensive effort alive.

Up front, the offense could not get much established early on and did not start playing some solid hockey until the game was well out of reach. A number of shots weren't being put up until garbage time, and the quality of shots were not great through the two games. Once the play entered the offensive zone, it seemed like the Amerks were lost at times, trying to figure out their plan of attack and never generating anything of it.

However, with the negatives do come the positives from the two games.

Nylander was a bright spot for the Amerks after being sent down by the Buffalo Sabres just before the start of the regular season. The 20-year-old was engaged in the play, skating hard in all three zones of the ice, and winning puck battles along the boards. On Saturday, Nylander ended up registering a pair of assists, including his assist on the Simpson goal in which he knocked down the puck at the blue line and quickly fed his teammate for the semi-breakaway goal.

After Saturday's game, Taylor said he liked what his young forward brought to the table, but he wants to see more from him.

"I thought he picked it up a lot more in this game. I thought he had a lot more drive, getting in on pucks and being more assertive when he got to pucks. I think he can still move the puck quicker on the power play, still attack that a little bit more and get more out of him. We need more out of him. He's one of those guys who can be a game-breaker, and he had some chances in the third there. He's playing well, but he can play a lot better in my eyes."

Another player who played relatively well this weekend for Rochester was Pilut, who picked up his first two points in North America on Friday night. The 22-year-old got his first point on Friday with a nice lead pass to Smith, which led to Smith's first goal of the year. Pilut was on his game when it came to moving the puck, as he was able to start some offensive rushes this weekend with his exceptional passing abilities.

His goal was a result of him being able to get the puck to the net in any which way possible. Pilut ended up throwing three shots on goal, with one finding the back of the net.

Pilut's defensive play was so-so throughout the weekend, but he was able to use his skating well in order to carry the puck out of trouble and get back into a defensive play when he would join an offensive rush. The young Swede was also relied upon a lot by Taylor as he had him on the ice in numerous occasions on Friday and Saturday.

As for the goalie, Wedgewood did everything he could to help his team out and make a save to keep the score close. The 26-year-old played a solid game throughout the two nights, and his 5.15 goals-against average and .859 save percentage should not reflect on his performance.

The Amerks will look to respond with their first win of the season on Wednesday at Blue Cross Arena against the Syracuse Crunch. Syracuse last faced the Amerks back in April when they eliminated them from the playoffs in Game 3 of the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs.

Faceoff on Wednesday is set for 7:05 p.m.