The Amerks were able to secure a fourth win in their last five games at home against the Crunch. Cal O’Reilly scored the lone goal in a shootout and the Amerks were able to hang on by the skin of their teeth. With Bailey and Fedun missing from the lineup fringe players were able to step up. Kyle Bonis made a very compelling case to play AHL hockey past his 25 game PTO. In this his 24th tilt he was able find the net, and was a team best 10 of 14 in the face-off circle. Muzito-Bagenda also scored on a nice wrap around attempt. For the first time since returning from injury Vaclav Karabacek was able to make a difference in the fore-checking game. He made several gritty plays in the corner that led to turnovers. He assisted both Bonis and Bagenda’s goals.
Evan Rodriguez played a very solid game on all fronts. I am going to rate him a 4 tonight, because I now think he will be good enough to play 4th line minuets in the NHL. In the past Rodrigues has struggled to make an offensive impact; relying only on his fore-checking and instigating abilities to effect the game. This year he has taken on much more offensive responsibility and is even growing into his role on the power play as a point forward.
Early in the year Rodrigues struggled to hold the point and I was shocked that Lambert continued to show faith in him. Tonight it seemed like the game had finally slowed down for him. All three times he led the breakout the Amerks were able to get clean zone entry. Rodrigues was able to skate the puck all the way into the offensive zone on his first attempt, and find a tape-to-tape pass on the other occasions. The thing that impressed me most about his point play was that it was tailored around creating chances for Baptiste. He was able to draw the defense away form 13 and feed him in the slot twice. The first time Baptiste fanned on the shot. On his second attempt, in costmary fashion Baptiste laced a slap shot into the top corner of the net.
However, Rodrigues wasn’t just creating chances with a man advantage. He did a good job of leaking out of the zone to start the breakout. With a head start he was able to use his blazing speed to create chances on the rush. After pushing the defense onto their heals he made drop passes to O’Reilly and Schneider to set up open shooting lanes in the slot. He also executed one of his trademark spinning backhands to give Tim Kennedy a shot right in front of the net. He has an element of flair to his game this year that he never had before. Instead of looking confused, he is playing with confidence. He has certainly come a long way from mindlessly pumping rubber from odd angles.
The addition of a strong offensive game is supplemented by his intense defensive effort. Night in and night out you can count on Rodrigues to pester the opposition. Tonight was not an exception. He feverishly back checked Syracuse forwards all game, and was able to keep defenseman in the zone and win the puck a few times too. He has a very rare ability to get under the skin of enemy players, and you could see frustration begin to manifest for the Crunch. He was at the center of a spirited exchange at the end of both the first and second period.
Rodrigues exhibits a style of play that is tailor made for a NHL 4th liner. The speed that he is improving at rivals only the lightning speed he pursues the puck with. If he can continue to grow and develop in Rochester, I think he will see more time in Buffalo, and eventually challenge for a permanent spot.