The Amerks came back from holiday break wearing their road blues; it was not the only way they looked like a different team. Coach Dan Lambert did a total reboot of the forward lines. The new top line featuring Schneider, Kennedy, and Bailey combined for 6 points. Bailey earned the game’s first star for his two goals. Lambert had the magic touch tonight, as the Amerks were able to triumph over the Crunch for the first time in six contests. The night was charged with a physical energy uncommon of anything fans have witnessed at the Blue Cross Arena this year. Syracuse grew more frustrated as the game progressed, and were not able to execute the way they have in the past. The catalyst of that frustration was Justin Bailey.
Although Bailey was able to net two goals, and earn the first star of the night, the product he put on the ice was far from perfect. I am going to rate him an A--. On the opening power play of the night, 95 was able to end the Amerks prolonged goal drought. He crashed the net well, and was able to bang home a nice rebound in traffic. The second goal he scored was the result of incredibly lazy back checking. Bailey trailed the play by so much that a stray drop pass found its way to his stick, giving him a breakaway. He was able to deek the Crunch net minder with some quick stick work and score with ease. The play was a perfect representation of the game that he played.
Tonight Bailey’s talent overshadowed his lack of effort for the majority of the night. Late in the first period while trying to help dig out a loose puck he took a high stick to the face. It was a clear turning point in Justin’s defensive night. Immediately following the incident he made a decision to put forth minimal (if any) effort in the defensive zone. On four separate occasions he allowed forwards to test Ullmark from the slot, regardless of his close proximity. Even though he was within a stick length, Bailey didn’t even muster a token poke check. Instead his only motion was to turn his head and watch the shot. Lambert noticed this casual approach to defending and pulled him from the first penalty killing line in the third period.
Even though at times he looked appalling defensively, his offensive talent was the main headline of the night. His ability to quickly skate the puck length of the ice is becoming a staple of his play. On multiple occasions he was able to burn past defenders into the zone and create dangerous chances. Twice Syracuse defenders resorted to taking penalties instead of trying to keep pace with him. Off the puck he moved very well, and generated a few good shots from the slot (the first resulting in a goal). More importantly, he was able to convert on his chances.
For the first fifteen minutes of the game Bailey played the type of hockey that could take him to the NHL. He used his speed to chase the puck down in the offensive zone, created chances with his ability to skate the puck, and drove the net hard. During that time he was by far the best player on the ice. He was also able to raise the level of his game after his second tally with ten minuets left in the game (being on hat trick watch is usually a strong motivator). He is far and away a different player when he is putting forth max effort. If Bailey is ever going to capitalize on his NHL potential he needs to maintain a high work rate at all times.