By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
Alex Nylander‘s game has always been about what he can do with his skates, with his hands, with the puck on his stick.
He has never been the guy going into the corner after the whistle or the guy dishing out the cross-checks in front of the net.
But there he was on Friday night, losing the puck and then an edge before inadvertently playing human bowling ball. His slide into the net wiped out Syracuse Crunch goalie Eddie Pasquale and enabled rookie Andrew Oglevie to score his first professional goal 7:05 into the third period, and also triggered a little old-time hockey scrum.
In overtime, Nylander was a little more himself, stealing the puck from center Ross Colton on the half wall in the Syracuse zone before setting up Zach Redmond for the winner as the Amerks (10-3-1) defeated the Crunch 3-2.
Two assists — in two very different ways.
The OT play allowed Redmond to tee up his bullet one-timer. It’s the type of pass Nylander is adept at making.
“I knew I was getting the puck,” said Redmond, whose 10 goals are tops among AHL defensemen and are third-most in the league.
As Nylander darted away from the boards and toward the right circle, he thought about taking it to the net for the shot.
“But then I saw he (Redmond) was wide open,” said Nylander, whose offensive production of 4 goals, 8 assists and 12 points in 15 games is a little more complimentary than the true quality of his overall game.
He also assisted on Oglevie’s goal, and while he made no real pass, it was his speed and willingness to take the puck wide on defenseman Cal Foote that created the scoring chance.
Nylander lost the puck and an edge and barreled on his side into the net, undercutting Pasquale about the time Oglevie was firing the loose puck into the net.
While the Amerks began to celebrate, Nylander was trying to untangled himself from the goalie and then two or three other Crunch players took a swing or punch or slash at him, and pretty soon eight skaters were involved.
“I had the goalie and some other guy on top of me,” Nylander said. “It’s like the first time I got into one of those scrums.
“I thought it was fun.”
Said Amerks coach Chris Taylor: “He doesn’t like the nicks on his nose, though.”
The Amerks as a team didn’t like the fact they ended up in overtime. Cory Conacher tied the score a split second before time expired in the third period when his shot from near the right corner caromed in against Amerks goalie Adam Wilcox.
It’s the second time the Amerks have given up an extra-attacker goal in the final 11 seconds on home ice. They won both games in overtime.
In winning their third straight, the Amerks increased their lead in the North Division to six points over the Cleveland Monsters (21-15). They have the third-best points-earned percentage in the league at .750, and players are enjoying the ride.
“I think we know what Randy (Sexton, the Amerks general manager) and the staff put together,” Redmond said. “They set us up to win.”
On Friday, they played without first-year winger Victor Olofsson (day to day with an undisclosed injury suffered Wednesday) and defenseman Brendan Guhle (illness forced him to miss his second straight game).
But just as he was on Wednesday, fourth-year winger Justin Bailey was again one of the best players on the ice. He had a game-high seven shots on goal (of the 25 taken by the Amerks) and scored his third goal of the week.
Again, it was due to his speed, as he raced in on left wing, went wide around Foote and then cut sharply to the net and tucked the puck past Pasquale’s left skate.
He had a chance to do the same thing earlier in the period but inside tried to jump inside on Foote. He ended up getting knocked down and losing the puck.
“When I came back to the bench Tails told me to take the D wide,” Bailey said. “The next time when I came back to the bench, he took credit for it.”
Bailey said it with a big smile. The type of smile prevalent with every Amerk.