Time: 8:00pm MST
Location: Abbotsford entertainment and Sports Center
An ugly December is finally behind the Heat. After tearing through the league and piling up victories in October and November, Abbotsford hit a somewhat predictable speed bump in the third month. A dry spell killed their offense, the goalies were slightly more human, so the easy winning stopped.
The Heat certainly aren’t as good as they appeared initially, but they probably aren’t as bad as they have seemed the last few weeks either. They get a chance to leave December’s doldrums behind the tonight against the Rochester Americans (Buffalo’s AHL affiliate), perhaps bolstered by the return of Sven Baertschi who was injured for entirety of the month long cold snap.
Baertschi won’t necessarily be a cure-all for what ails the Heat’s anemic offense – no one player would be – but the club has nevertheless sorely missed his offensive skills and creativity, which are currently unmatched on the roster. His addition should help the first unit PP and top ES line generate a few more dangerous shots on goal per night at the very least.
The Americans are currently 10th in the Western Conference with 35 points, but only 4 points back of Abbotsford with a game in hand. Former Canucks and point-per-game player Cody Hodgson recently returned from injury and has eight points in his last seven games.
Assuming Baertschi does indeed return tonight, we might see Ward return to the Walter, Horak and Baertschi trio he seemed to prefer before Sven got hurt. If so, that will make a big jumble of the other lines.
- Baertschi – Walter – Horak
- Kolanos – Byron – Street
- Bancks – Laing – Olson
- Aliu – Reinhart – Nemisz
- Brodie – Piskula
- Breen – McCarthy
- Callahan – Lamb
Despite the team’s overall offensive struggles, Krys Kolanos has recently come alive and looked much more like the scoring leader he was last season. He has six points in his last four games.
The amount of guys not scoring is much more plentiful, however. Roman Horak has returned to Earth after his early season tear. He had just six points in 13 games in December, including one point in his last six. Max Reinhart and Greg Nemisz, on the other hand, make Horak’s output look Datsyukian in comparison – Max has just 4 points in 31 games all year (two in December) while Nemisz has yet to mark the scoresheet in 13 games. Both are more or less 4th liners for the team right now, so absent a move up the roster it’s going to be hard for either of them to break out in any meaningful way.
On the back-end, there is TJ Brodie and then everyone else three miles behind him.
Leland Irving was the back-up for the S/O loss to Peoria last game, so maybe he’ll get a shot as a starter tonight. He played just one game in December – a loss – so it has become plain the coaching staff much prefers Taylor and Brust to the former first rounder.
Although they boast a few decent NHL prospects at forward, including Luke Adam, Marcus Foligno and Kevin Porter, the Americans are actually led in scoring (in terms of both points and goals) by defender TJ Brennan.
- Foligno – Hodgson – Mancari
- Adam – Porter – Flynn
- Rankin – Tarnasky – Schofield
- Varone – Girgensons – Roy
- Brennan – McNabb
- Pysyk – Finley
- Biega – Gauthier-Leduc
I’m not sure what possessed the Sabres to rush their recent first rounder Zemgus Girgensons to the AHL, bu the move hasn’t paid off much for the youngster, at least in terms of short-term returns. He has just six points in 26 games played, including two in ten games in the month of December. The Latvian native played in the USHL last season – a step down from the NCAA – so he should probably be playing college hockey ro some equivalent this year.
Sum it Up
The December struggles have more or less eaten up the cushion Abbotsford built over the rest of the field in the first six weeks or so. They are now tied for 4th in the West with Houston, but remain a mere 4 points out of 11th. As a result, the team will have to begin winning a bit more regularly if it wants to keep its head above the playoff waters, let alone stay amongst the conference leaders.