Hockey is officially over for Buffalo’s teams as the Rochester Americans lost 3-0 to the Toronto Marlies on Monday. The Marlies went on to win the playoff series 3 games to none! Despite the early first round exit, fans of the Sabres have to be happy with the great season the Amerks had.
When the best of 5 playoff series started fans of the Amerks knew their team was the underdog, and would need some sort of miracle to get past their rivals from north of the boarder. After playing 10 times in the regular season the two teams knew almost everything about each other: who to shut down, who to hit, the goalies’ weaknesses, and how to throw the other team off. Right from the start of the series you could tell the Marlies were on their game and wanted to win.
They were hitting and shutting down the top Amerks players, and won the first 2 games. By the time the Amerks realized they were down 2 games it was too late, they couldn’t get anything going, and were shutout in the final game.
The Amerks didn’t get the goaltending they needed to sustain momentum and claw their way back into the series. David Leggio let in some suspect goals that really sucked the wind out of his team. Leggio was made his 26 straight starts, and was coming off a great end of the season push that saw him win the team’s MVP award, but he couldn’t maintain that momentum and was his own worst enemy. He saw 89 shots in the 3 games and stopped just 78 for a .879 save percentage. Just not good enough to get the job done!
But you can’t blame the entire series on the goaltending. It’s very difficult to win a hockey game when your top players aren’t producing or are being out produced. Jerry D’Amigo led the way for the Marlies with 5 goals and an assist for 6 points, while the Americans’ Marcus Foligno was held to just 2 goals and 1 assists for 3 points. The Marlies were able to shutdown the players the that Amerks needed to step up the most: Foligno, Alex Biega (serving suspension), Luke Adam, Phil Varone and Paul Szczechura, who all combined for just 10 points. The big players for the Amerks weren’t able to step up to the plate when it mattered most. Add to that some suspect goaltending and it equals a first round sweep at the hands of the Marlies.
*Interesting side note: The first two games ended in a 1 goal difference (4-3, 4-3) adding two more games that ended in close 1 goal games. 12 of the 13 meetings between the two teams this season have ended in a one goal differential. Pretty close match up considering that on paper the Marlies have a far better, and more proven team. Of the 32 losses this season, 25 of them were decided by 1 goal!
3 Positives From the Amerks Season
1: Emergence of Marcus Foligno: This kid turned into a total beast this season. After the Sabres traded away Zack Kassian fans were worried, and didn’t quite see what the Sabres management saw in Foligno. But right from the get go he was solid, and didn’t have a difficult time adjusting to the NHL. He fit in perfectly on a line with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford; It was like they had played together all year. He’s turned into a really solid player who doesn’t just claim that he’s got the talent and skill, but delivers on the ice!
2. From 4th Line to Team Leading Scorer: Phil Varone had a breakout season. The rookie started the season on the 4th line, but quickly showed the coaching staff he wasn’t 4th line material. As a result he was moved to the top line, and ended the season as the team’s leading scorer with 11 goals and 41 assists for 52 points! Varone went from being pegged as a kid that will stay in the AHL, to signing his first NHL contract with the Sabres. He could follow in the steps of Foligno and become a solid NHL player!
3. Watching Ron Rolston Develop: Despite having 20 years experience behind the bench (13 years of college) this was Rolston’s first coaching job in professional hockey at any level, and he managed it very well. It’s not easy having your roster change nearly every day due to players being called up to the Sabres. He was forced to scrounge up the best roster he could, and often they were outmatched on paper, but once they hit the ice it was a whole different story! He was able to get the players focused on playing from the heart, for their teammates, and for the logo on the front of their jerseys. Rolston also talked about making players start to earn their roster spots instead of them just being given out; A solid coaching philosophy, and the right way to build a winning team. The Amerks have a gem behind the bench with Ron Rolston.
The Sabres have done a great job restocking their farm team and have turned it into a team that can win instead of being just a feeder team. The best players to call up are ones from Calder Cup contenders. At the rate the Amerks players are developing, the Sabres will have lots of prospects to choose from in the future, and won’t necessarily have to build their NHL team through trades!