Though Rochester might already be eliminated from playoff contention, they could have finally found a winning formula. Their dismantling of Sound Tigers on Saturday night was by far one of the most physical games they have played all year. I expect this type of effort was exactly what coach Lambert was looking for when saying, “The team needs to play the way they are supposed to play.” As a result, they outshot the visitors 44 to 16. However, not everyone bought into the physical style of dump and chase hockey. Nick Baptiste continued to struggle; He seemed more interested in trying to stickhandle past the entire Bridgeport team rather than dumping the puck. Consequentially, the most talented player on the roster was rendered completely ineffective.
On the other hand, Justin Vaive flourished. I am going to rate his performance an A-. He almost perfectly performed the role of a 4th line winger. If he had dropped the gloves after an enemy winger ran Ullmark knocking the net off its moorings, he would have received my first A of the year.
Offensively, Vaive put forth the effort of a man fighting to keep his career alive. When the puck was dumped, he worked hard to dig it out, and delivered a blow when he was not the first man to it. Once establishing control of the puck, he drove the net hard and almost beat Halak on a rebound chance. Vaive also used his big frame to establish a net-front presence and screen a couple shots from the point.
Like most two-way players, the majority of his impact came on defense. He set the tone with his physicality, establishing there would be a price to pay for beating him to the puck. Even though he didn’t have the speed to generate turnovers in the fore-checking game, he was able to finish his checks with power. While constantly slamming Sound Tigers into the boards, he timed his checks well enough to stay out of the penalty box. The only aspect of the game he struggled with, was the ability to effectively pressure defenseman on the point. Because he sunk in deeper to protect the net, he didn’t have the speed to get out on the point quick enough to block shots.
Vaive is the first player on the chopping block if the team wants to make a move. He doesn’t kill penalties, and has been replaced by Fasching as the most effective front man on the roster. In order for him to stick around, he needs to continue standing out in the checking game. I think his style of hockey is directly in line with coach Lambert ‘s expectations. As long as that remains the case, he will continue to stay in the lineup.
The difference Saturday was the playmaking ability of the Rochester blue liners. Unlike the night before, Bodie had a quick trigger and potted 2 goals. Fedun added two assists and a game-winning goal in overtime. And even Brady Austin continued to improve upon his offensive presence on the point, taking a few great shots into traffic.
After letting in a couple soft goals against the Ice Caps, Ullmark followed it up with one of his worst performances of the year, letting in 3 goals on 16 shots. He almost cost the Amerks the game when he was taken out by a teammate behind his net late in the third. Luckily, the empty net goal was disallowed due to a very debatable goaltender interference call.
Cole Schneider stood out as one of the hardest working players on the ice. In the fore-checking game he created multiple dangerous turnovers. He also drove the net hard constantly trying to bang home rebound chances. Even though Halak kept him out of the net, he separated himself from line mates Cal O’Reilly and Nick Baptiste, who looked like statues by comparison.