While the Buffalo Sabres are the talk of the National Hockey League with their perfect start, their AHL affiliate is making headlines of its own 75 miles down the Thruway. The Rochester Americans (affiliated with both Buffalo and the Florida Panthers) are 6-0-0-0 out of the gate, making it 15 wins in 15 games for the Sabres organization.
Allowing 106 shots in two games might not seem like a recipe for success, but Rochester made it work last week, as Craig Anderson made 50 stops in a 3-1 win over Peoria on Friday night and rookie Adam Dennis followed up with 54 saves in a 3-1 win at Toronto on Saturday afternoon. Before it was done twice in less than 24 hours over the weekend, no Amerks goaltender had made at least 50 saves in a game since Nov. 12, 1991 (David Littman).
Anderson (1.23, .959) and Dennis (1.50, .969) have been nearly unbeatable on the season, stopping 212 of 220 shots overall and combining for a .973 save percentage over the last three games in which the Amerks have been outshot by a 148-69 margin.
Anderson is a veteran in his sixth professional season and defenseman Brandon Smith has played more than 700 AHL games, but the rest of the Rochester defensive unit is relatively inexperienced. Goaltender Dennis and blueliners Mike Card, Michael Funk, Franklin MacDonald, Andrej Sekera
and Patrick Kaleta
had never played a professional game before opening night, Martin Lojek owned 15 games of previous AHL experience, and Ari Vallin was making his North American debut after several years in his native Finland. But the result – eight goals against in six games – has Rochester off to its best start since going 9-0-0-0 to open the 1999-2000 campaign.
Up front, Clarke MacArthur leads the Amerks with seven points after finishing second in team scoring as a rookie in 2005-06, and first-year pro Drew Stafford
is tops on the club with four goals.
The road to the NHL in the Buffalo organization has gone through Rochester for 28 years, and the early-season success of the Sabres in 2006-07 can be traced directly to the Blue Cross Arena. Thirteen of the 20 players to suit up for every Buffalo game this year are Amerks alumni, including team scoring leader Maxim Afinogenov, NHL plus/minus leader Thomas Vanek
and league wins leader Ryan Miller