The Rochester Americans got a big, fat W in Abbotsford on Friday night, creeping to within two points of the Heat with a game in hand.
After a strong start to the season, the Abbotsford Heat have cooled considerably. A middling November and a woeful December have seen them slip from the top of the league standings to fourth place in the Western Conference. The Heat have just two wins in their last ten games, compared to Rochester’s six.
More after the jump.
A big factor in the Heat’s decline has been a lack of scoring. They sit near the bottom of the league in offense, with just 77 goals in 32 games so far this season. The sole reason for their appearance in the top half of the standings is a phenomenal start for the defensive crew — the Heat have surrendered only 73 goals in that span.
Despite the return of playmaker Sven Bärtschi to the lineup, the Heat generated few quality scoring chances in tight through the first forty minutes. They piled up the shots: Leggio is on the stats sheet with 48 saves on the night as the Heat were credited with 50 shots on goal. They weren’t able to score in the first 42 minutes of the game, however, including several during a full minute of 5-on-3 power play late in the second period. Leggio would win first star honours for his efforts.
The Americans scored two in the second period to lead 2-0 going into the final frame. Max Reinhart got on his horse to score a shorthanded breakaway goal to pull the Heat within one, but Cody Hodgson set up a Rochester goal just 33 seconds later to restore the two-goal lead. Even though they got a shorty, the Heat lost the special teams battle on the night, going 0-for-5 where the visitors got two in three tries with the extra man.
With the score 4-2 late in the third period, Bärtschi set up two separate teammates with back door plays but Abbotsford was unable to capitalize. While it didn’t mean points for the team this night, it is a positive sign that the Swiss left winger is ready to play. He was the team’s leading scorer when he went down with an upper body injury over a month ago. His touch with the puck in the offensive zone is sorely needed.
Speaking of leading scorers, here’s a moral victory: Rochester’s top offensive threat, defenseman TJ Brennan, was kept off the board. From the blue line, he’s got 29 points in 32 games for the Americans, just one point shy of his season total from last year. His career high in the AHL is 39 points, which he scored two years ago with the Portland Pirates.
Veteran right winger Mark Mancari — you remember him? He scored 58 points in 69 games for the Chicago Wolves last season — had three points on the night, including the empty netter that gave the visitors their 5-2 win.
Also scoring for Abbotsford was Ben Walter, who got his fifth of the season. For Rochester, Brian Flynn and Kevin Porter each scored his tenth, Zemgus Girgensons — “Zemgus”, really? — got his third, and Nick Crawford potted his second.
The teams play again Saturday night at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre. Puck drop is at 7 pm.