Location: Rochester, Blue Cross Arena
Broadcast: abbotsfordheat.com, teamradio.ca
The red hot Abbotsford Heat are in Rochester this afternoon to take on the Americans. Rochester is the Buffalo Sabres minor league affiliate and are fifth in the Western Conference with 17 points (despite suffering through some fairly mediocre goaltending).
The Heat’s hot streak right now is uncanny – the club has that "can’t be beaten" feel to it that randomly grips teams now and then. It is somewhat reminiscent of that run the Flames went on right after Darryl Sutter was deposed in 2010-11. Calgary was the hottest team in the league through about six weeks in January and February – one wonders if Darryl would have been spared had the organization simply waited a few weeks before firing him. Probably not.
While the Heat have seen a number of heroes pop up in the early going, Baary Brust was almost the sole architect of their recent B2B wins over Lake Erie. His two shut-outs means he has three (out of four) starts on the season and an unconcious .991 SV%. It is a streak even Brian Boucher would be proud of.
Despite the recent success, the Heat’s big guns have been more or less silenced the last few games. Roman Horak hasn’t figured into the scoring in any of the last 4 games, while Sven Baertschi only marked the scoresheet thanks to an empty net goal on Tuesday night. Which isn’t to say they are necessarily playing poorly – apparently Baertschi in particular has been knee deep in chances the last few outings – just that pucks aren’t going in.
Sometimes that’s enough for a coach to change things up. We’ll see if Ward decides his scorers need a new look today or not. For now, we’ll assume similar lines.
- Baertschi – Walter – Horak
- Kolanos – Byron – Sylvester
- Olson – Street – Bancks
- Ferland – Reinhart – Ruesegger
- Brodie – Piskula
- Breen – McCarthy
- McKelvie – Lamb
While the stars have mostly been blanked recently, Ben Street continues to collect points. He now has twelve on the season after garnering an assist on Olson’s goal last game and 44 shots to boot. I don’t know if he’ll ever crack the big league, but he’s been a quality signing for the Heat so far.
I’ve put Taylor down as the starter out of habit, but this could be the night Leland Irving finally gets another start.
Rochester has a umber of interesting characters on their roster, including former Canuck first rounder Cody Hodgson as well as recent first round pick Zemgus Girgensons (a player some thought the Flames might target). Girgensons is very young (18 years old) and played in the USHL last year, so this is big step up for him in terms of quality if competition. He is understandably struggling so far with four points in 13 games.
- Flynn – Foligno – Rankin
- Mancari – Adam – Sundher
- Legault – Porter – Girgensons
- Schofield – Tarnasky – Roy
- Brennan – Biega
- Pysyk – McNabb
- Finlay – McKenzie
Luke Adam spent 52 games in the NHL last year, but has been snakebitten in the AHL thus far with just 5 points through 13 games. Marcus Foligno, on the other hand, is leading the team in points with 13. The former 4th round pick has rocketed up the Sabres prospect chart recently, despite some altogether underwhelming numbers in his junior career (his best point total was 59 point in 47 games) and a just okay pro rookie season with Rochester last year (16 goals, 39 points in 60 games).
Part of the reason for the excitement is likely his size (6’3", 220 pounds) and the fact he scored 6 goals and 13 points in a 14 game call-up with Buffalo last year. I looked up his underlying numbers out of curiosity since it’s odd to see a guy score at a better rate in the NHL than he has anywhere else…and found he had a PDO of 107 during those games, including an on-ice SH% of over 17% (!!). Sometimes you just get the bounces.
Looks like his hot streak has extended to this season. That or the guy has taken a legitimate step forward.
On the back-end, the Sabres have to high-end prospects in Brrayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk playing together. McNabb was taken in the third round in 2009 and then proceeded to kill it in the WHL after that, culminating in a 72 point season for the Kottenay Ice. Pysyk was a first round pick out of Edmonton whose numbers a little more sedate, but who is expected to develop into more of a two-way defender than high-end offensive guy.
David Leggio will likely be in net. His .910 SV% is completely underwhelming but still leagues better than back-up Connor Knapp (0.882).
Sum It Up
The Heat are simply in the zone right now. The Americans certainly aren’t an easy win given some of their weapons up front and on the back-end, but Abottsford is immortal right now. That can end at any time, because the hockey gods are fickle, but let’s hoe it’s not this evening.