After taking what seemed to be a giant step forward against the Crunch, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms dominated the Amerks on Wednesday night. In the 4-2 contest Rochester was only able to muster 16 shots. Once again the play of Justin Bailey was the highlight of the night. He scored his 5th goal in four games on a well-taken wrister in the slot. Also, Jean Dupuy impressed in his return to the ice. After a long absence he provided a much-needed lift in the faceoff circle. Without Burgdoerfer, Bennett, and the new acquisition Shea, the Amerks defensive core struggled. Like most nights, Geiger was completely outclassed by the opposition. However, his partner Casey Nelson played his best game in weeks.
After what has been a shockingly rough month for Nelson he was much better than I expected. Even so, there is still plenty of room for improvement. I am going to rate him a B-. So far this year Nelson has had serious issues with turnovers and defensive positioning. Tonight he committed very few turnovers, made a few nice interceptions, and played disciplined positional hockey. His willingness to skate the puck through the neutral zone was a refreshing change from previous games. However, he made zero attempts to play physical at all.
Lack of physicality was the greatest detriment to Casey’s performance tonight. Early on Nelson allowed his mark to stand right in front of Ullmark and get a deflection on a shot. Instead of clearing him from the crease, Nelson stood nearby trying to cut down a passing angle. Late in the game he also allowed a winger easy entry into the zone. Even though Nelson had the angle cut down, he refused to play the body; this allowed his man to skate the puck all the way behind the net before he finally engaged. He was not able to win the puck and that led to the third Phantoms goal.
For the most part Nelson was able to poke the puck away from incoming wingers. Geiger’s shortcomings put him in several difficult odd man rush situations, and each time he did well to deny a pass or force tough shots for the opposition. His good instincts also allowed him to make several timely interceptions throughout the game.
Offensively, Nelson showed flashes of the player he needs to be if he wants to make it to the next level. He pinched well on the point, skated the puck more, and took a hard low shot that led to a good rebound chance. He also made a couple of nice stretch passes in open ice to create an odd man rush. He still needs to work on his passing though. On his very first shift he missed two easy passes that led to a turnover and an icing. He also needs to do a better job of making quick safe exit passes to start the breakout.
I think Casey Nelson will definitely play in the NHL some day. However he still has a lot of growing to do. His ability to skate the puck and hold the point in the offensive zone are huge potential assets. But, inconsistencies in passing and man marking mean he will need to spend a lot more time at the AHL level.