By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
A week ago, all was right with the world of the American Hockey League for the Rochester Americans.
They were riding a six-game winning streak. Two of those wins came on home ice and, more impressively, four were on the road, including a pair of victories in Toronto, home of the North Division-leading Marlies.
Ah, but my how quickly things can change.
The Amerks were thumped 5-1 on home ice by the Belleville Senators on Wednesday and on Friday night were far too casual with the game on the line and lost 3-2 to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in front of 6,755 fans at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial.
“Sometimes when you’re on a winning streak the details slip from your game,” defenseman Chase Priskie said after the Amerks fell to 17-11-1-1.
The urgency that’s necessary to shut down an opponent apparently goes astray as well.
Holding a 1-0 lead heading into the third period – Lukas Rousek scored on a breakaway at 12:35 of the second period – the Amerks played little defense in the first six minutes of the third period and it cost them dearly.
They allowed three goals in a span of just 3 minutes, 30 seconds – all of which could have been quite easily prevented – and couldn’t recover.
“You take your foot off the gas and that’s what happens,” Amerks coach Seth Appert said.
Bobby Brink, one of the top prospects for the Philadelphia Flyers, tied the score at 2:30. Given a parking lot worth of time and space in the right circle, he fired a perfect wrister past goalie Eric Comrie and into the top left corner of the net.
Brink was playing his first game of the season after recovering from off-season hip surgery.
While the shot was impressive, the failure to defend by the Amerks was not.
Just 1:18 later, Tyson Foerster gave the Phantoms a 2-1 lead. Priskie went back to retrieve a center-ice dump-in behind the Amerks net but lost the puck as Olle Lycksell raced in on the forecheck.
Lycksell quickly centered and Foerster swatted home his own rebound.
“The second goal was inexcusable (in terms of) urgency by a defenseman to get back for the puck,” Appert said. “He had a 15-foot lead on the forechecker; there’s zero reason for that to be a turnover.”
The Amerks tied the score at 5:11 when Andres Bjork, moving through the right circle, one-timed a Linus Weissbach pass home for his fifth goal.
But the Phantoms regained the lead on the next shift. They were able to keep a rebound alive for several seconds before Jackson Cates plucked it out of traffic and fired it home from the middle of the slot.
“I thought all five games were a little too casual on the rebound opportunities,” Appert said. “Instead of putting guys on their rear ends, they were just standing around.”
Missed early opportunities
The Amerks created several great scoring chances in the first period but goalie Felix Sandstrom was terrific. He was sent to Lehigh Valley the day before on a conditioning assignment.
“There were five saves in the first that were pretty elite,” Appert said. “Offensively we couldn’t finish. We scored a breakaway goal and a back-side one-timer. He didn’t give us anything other than that.”
Comrie also is in the AHL on a conditioning assignment from the Buffalo Sabres. He has played the past three games, stopping 79 of 88 shots (.898 save percentage).
Amerks captain Michael Mersch returned to the lineup after missing Wednesday’s game on a paternity leave.
His wife, Nancy, gave birth to their second son on Tuesday, a boy, Mason.
Movin’ on up
Former Amerks center Cal O’Reilly, in his fourth season with the Phantoms, recently passed Amerks legend Jody Gage for seventh place in AHL history in assists.
In 857 career games over 17 pro seasons, O’Reilly has assisted on 545 goals (he has scored 151 and has 686 points). In 94 games over the 2015-16 and ’16-18 seasons with Rochester, he produced 15-56-71 in 94 games. He didn’t have a point on Friday.
Gage still ranks third all-time in the AHL in goals (504) and points (1,048).
O’Reilly should pass Art Stratton (555 assists) before the season ends.
Bailey signs NHL deal
Former Amerk Justin Bailey has signed a two-way contract with the Edmonton Oilers.
The eighth-year veteran was playing with the Oilers affiliate in Bakersfield, where he had produced 4-6-10 in 16 games. For his career, Bailey has 115-93-208 in 312 games, including 62-54-116 over three seasons as an Amerk.