ROCHESTER (LGS) — Boy, it sure is a good thing that the Buffalo Sabres and the Florida Panthers both felt that there wasn't a need for a few veterans to help show the youngsters in Rochester the ropes in the American Hockey League. As the month of December ended, the Rochester Americans had lost 12 of their last 13 games. The string of losses has seen the Amerks fall into last place in the North Division.
After the Amerks defeated the Manchester Monarchs on November 30, the team did not win again until beating Hamilton on December 28. Rochester was outscored 40-19 in the 10 game span.
"I think our confidence has slipped a bit," Amerks' head coach Randy Cunneyworth said after the team's game-day skate before last Wednesday night's contest against the Marlies.
"We're working inch by inch to get better. We've put ourselves in this position and it's not going to correct itself over night. We can't look for a magician to come in and wave a magic wand and have this fixed magically."
The Amerks lost games in Providence, at home against Toronto and Binghamton, on the road again in Chicago, Rockford, Peoria, and Albany, at home to Toronto, in Binghamton before starting this past weekend's set of games.
The Amerks took on the Toronto Marlies on Boxing Day at the Blue Cross Arena, and lost 2-1. The loss was their tenth in a row and tied a franchise record set in 1980-81 and matched in 1988-89. The streak in 1988 came during Rob Ray's rookie year with the Amerks.
Rochester opened the scoring with just under three minutes remaining in the first period. David Brine collected a loose puck off a Marlies turnover and drove towards the Toronto net. His first shot was blocked, but Brine was able to fire in the rebound.
Toronto answered almost instantly when John Mitchell converted a pass from David Ling to tie the game at 18:55 of the first.
Kris Newbury scored 1:08 into the second for the game-winning goal.
"One goal was the difference tonight," a dejected Mark Mancari said afterwards. "We're doing a lot of things right, but we're having bad luck."
"It's frustrating," stated Andrej Sekera. "We played a good game and created a lot of opportunities for ourselves. We played pretty well, but we didn't win. We've got to put our heads down and get to work."
The piling losses have clearly disrupted the confidence of the team.
"It's not good," said Rob Globke. "The guys are down right now, we're losing a lot of one goal games."
The losing streak would end two nights later, when the Amerks defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs, 4-1. It would be their only victory in the month of December.
Marc-Andre Gragnani scored the game-winning goal, Marek Zagrapan potted two goals, and Tyler Plante picked up his first win in an Amerks uniform as the Amerks improved to 4-0-1 against the defending Calder Cup champions.
Peter Ashton also scored for the Amerks.
The winning ways only carried on for a night, for on Saturday night the Amerks were whitewashed in Cleveland against the Lake Erie Monsters, 3-0. Rochester outshot the Monsters 36-26 during the course of the game, but was unable to slip one past Tyler Weiman. Weiman picked up his first shutout of the season for the Monsters.
An announced crowd of 7,130 came out on Sunday night to watch the Amerks lose to the Syracuse Crunch, 4-0.
Tom Sestito scored two goals for the Crunch, just 2:28 apart, and Craig Kowalski shut the door on the Amerks. It was the second consecutive shutout for the Amerks.
Rochester managed to put only 19 shots on goal, none of which had any quality, and were booed off the ice by the home crowd after the game. Lacking from the team was any sense of urgency.
"We didn't play like we needed to," defenseman Mike Funk said after the loss. "We were so high after Friday night, but two losses in a row is unacceptable."
"It's unbelievably frustrating right now," added Stefan Meyer. "It's the first time in my career I've gone through anything like this. I haven't been sleeping; it's all I can think about. Talking about what we have to fix is getting old. We need to go out and do it.
"There is no confidence in this dressing room right now."
To be fair to the Amerks, Sunday night's game and lack of effort was out of character to the team. The Amerks have been working very hard and competing in games. It is not a matter of the Amerks not knowing how to play the game. There is a lot of skill on this team and the players on the team are playing for one of the bests coaching staffs in the American Hockey League.
However, it has become apparent that the parent clubs decision to not place at least one veteran on the roster has come back to haunt the Amerks. Randy Cunneyworth does not have a Dan Frawley, a Scott Metcalfe, a Brandon Smith, a Jim Hofford, a Dane Jackson, or even a player like himself to send over the boards to settle the kids down on the ice. He does not have a player who will hit someone in the mouth in a goalmount scrum. Nor does he have a player who would then drop the gloves, even if he knew he was not the best fighter on the ice. Perhaps colleague Kevin Oklobzija said it best in his blog when he said that the team doesn't have anyone who can show the kids that it is not ok to lose.
The Amerks play on the road in the upcoming weekend. They play on Wednesday night in Toronto, then head to Manitoba for a two game set with the Moose on Friday and Saturday.
They don't play in Rochester again until the eleventh against Manchester.