The Amerks continued to their skid Friday night dropping their third strait game. During that stretch they have also managed only one goal per contest. It seems that the absence of Captain Cal has had a profound impact on the scoring output of both Cole Schneider and Nick Baptiste. In what is becoming an all too familiar site, the one-man show of Justin Bailey was not enough. Even with the Ice Caps starting to slide, I fear the lack of organizational depth is an obstacle too big to overcome. In this troubling stretch one of the major bright spots has been the play of the top defensive pairing.
Brady Austin played his usual steady brand of hockey. I am going to rate him a B+. Unfortunately, he was on the ice for both Albany goals or he might have earned my first outright A of the year. In the final two periods he was able to bring a physical aspect that his game has lacked at times.
Austin is not exactly known for his offensive prowess, but tonight was one of his better games. His passes out of the back were measured and resulted in only one turnover all night. As a team the Amerks had a very difficult time getting the puck out of the zone, but Austin was not a part of the problem. He actually made a few very nice passes to set up good odd man rush opportunities. While under pressure he made an amazing lob off the glass in his own zone; it dropped right at the feet of Dupuy, almost leading to a goal for Bailey. He was really starting to feel himself late in the game when he attempted a Rodriguez like pirouette on his own blue line. It resulted in an astonishing lead pass through two defenders and onto the stick of Cattenaci in the offensive zone. However, there were several occasions Brady struggled offensively. His shooting was awful; almost all of his shots tonight were blocked before they made it to the net. The one he was lucky enough to get through rang off the pipe. Because Brady is a much better player without the puck he is a much more efficient player when he has talented forwards on the ice with him. He fits in very nicely with a player like Bailey who excels when skating the puck.
Defensively, Austin excelled both in front of, and behind his own net. He was very watchful of Albany forwards and was a constant protector of Ullmark. Even after the whistle he was quick to protect his net-minder and shepherd players out of his crease. When the puck went behind the net Brady was able to stick with his man and separate him from the puck. However, Austin’s lack of speed was a huge detriment defending on the rush tonight. His inability to keep up with players means one of two things. Either he has to cut down the angle and separate his man from the puck by taking the body early, or gamble on a poke check. In most cases Austin chose the latter, and it almost cost him on a few occasions. When considering the uptick in speed at the NHL level, it makes sense that Brady has not received a call up.
Even though Austin is a better all around defenseman than Nelson or Fedun he is limited to an AHL career based on his speed. This year he has earned his place on in the first defensive pairing, and is a tremendously important piece in Rochester. Unfortunately, I don’t expect him to play in Buffalo. It seems that management has the same opinion if they would rather bring up Casey Nelson.