|(Photo Credit: Micheline Veluvolu)
When it was all said and done, the Rochester Americans admitted that it was inconsistency that ultimately defined their 2015-16 season. It ended trending downward with three losses in three days.
The Amerks were blanked 5-0 by the Albany Devils in their final home game of the season on Friday and then dropped back-to-back games in Toronto on Friday and Saturday. They finished 34-38-3-1 with 72 points, sixth in the North Division and 13th in the Eastern Conference.
It was a disappointing conclusion to a season that began with high expectations.
"I think we definitely had a team that could have made the playoffs and done some damage, for sure. I think we all thought that at the start," captain Cal O'Reilly said. "We just didn’t come together as a team and play as a team enough most nights. You don’t do that, you're going to win some and then you're going to go on some losing streaks and it's going to be a roller coaster ride."
Sure enough, there were points in the Amerks' season when it appeared they were ready to turn the corner. But each time they strung together wins, it'd be matched by a string of losses. When they opened the season with two wins, three losses followed. The month of March began with four-straight wins but ended with four-straight losses.
"I think you expect and anticipate and you talk about before [the season] ups and downs and we certainly had those," Amerks coach Randy Cunneyworth said. "I think we liked our team a lot, we had times where we were really good, and yet in the same breath time where we were really bad.
"There's no rhyme or reason for it. Some nights, we couldn’t score a goal. Some nights we couldn’t defend. We had high expectations and we just didn’t quite meet the goals."
There were, however, some individual successes, perhaps most notably in the cases of rookies Justin Bailey and Evan Rodrigues. Bailey, 20, scored 45 points (20+25) to become the first rookie to reach the 40-point mark since Johan Larsson in 2011-12. He was voted by his teammates as Rochester's Rookie of the Year.
Then there was Evan Rodrigues, who entered his first professional season after singing as an undrafted free agent out of Boston University. He improved throughout the course of the season, finishing with 30 points (9+21) and recording his first NHL goal and assist in the final game of the season for the Buffalo Sabres.
You can also look at forward William Carrier, who scored 30 points (13+17) before his season was cut short due to injury after 56 games. Carrier, a second-year pro at age 21, was voted by his teammates as their Most Improved Player.
"There are more that will come into their own and do some good work and have an opportunity at the next level for sure," Cunneyworth said. "It takes time. Again, you want things right away but the reality is that it may take a few years for some of the guys to figure things out and to really go up to Buffalo or another team and make an impact. It really does take time."
FRIDAY: ALB 5 – RCH 0
Albany got a first-period goal from forward Jim O'Brien and then tacked on four more in the third period to spoil Rochester's final game of the season at Blue Cross Arena. Forward Ryan Kujawinski (1+1) and defenseman Vojtech Mozik (0+2) each tallied two points for the Devils, who outshot the Amerks 43-27.
Linus Ullmark, fresh off a win with Buffalo, earned the loss in net with 38 saves on 43 attempts. The game saw the return of forward Tim Schaller for the Amerks, who was voted by his teammates as the team's Most Valuable Player despite missing the previous 15 games due to injury. Schaller finished the season with 26 points (12+14).
SATURDAY: RCH 1 – TOR 3
Brendan Guhle scored the first goal of his professional career, but it was the only offense the Amerks were able to generate against the Marlies, who scored once in each period. Guhle became the third Amerk to score his first career goal in the past week, joining Stu Wilson and Giorgio Estephan. The 18-year-old defenseman, who was Buffalo's second-round pick in last year's draft, now has four points (1+3) in six games with Rochester.
The Amerks outshot the Marlies 34-24, but Toronto goaltender Antoine Bibeau was impressive in making 33 saves. Nathan Lieuwen allowed all three goals and took the loss in net for Rochester.
SUNDAY: RCH 2 – TOR 4
The Amerks once again outshot the Marlies, this time 47-42, but were unable to overcome a two-goal deficit against Marlies goalie Garret Sparks, who logged a career-high 45 saves. Cole Schneider scored his 21st goal of the season to put Rochester on the board with under a minute remaining in the second period, but Toronto answered with a goal of their own early in the third.
Jean Dupuy scored the only other goal for Rochester, while Rodrigues tallied two assists. Ullmark took the loss despite making 38 saves on 41 shots.
1. Cole Schneider 56 points (21+35)
2. Eric O'Dell 48 points (25+23)
3. Justin Bailey 45 points (20+25)
4. Matt Donovan 31 points (8+23)
5. William Carrier 30 points (13+17)
Evan Rodrigues 30 points (9+21)
1. Andrey Makarov 9-9-1, 2.82 GAA, .916 save percentage
2. Nathan Lieuwen 14-11-0, 2.91 GAA, .909 save percentage
3. Linus Ullmark 10-16-0, 3.41 GAA, .902 save percentage
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