The Rochester Americans sure do follow in their parent’s footsteps.
Like the Buffalo Sabres in recent years, the Amerks have spent nearly as much time filling out injury reports as score sheets. They recently had five key forwards out of the lineup, including center Cody Hodgson, and were playing defensemen upfront.
The lineup departures have cost them on the ice and in the standings. Rochester started 6-2-1 but has fallen to 11-9-2 heading into tonight’s road game against Lake Erie. The Amerks are 10th in the American Hockey League’s Western Conference.
“We’ve been up and down,” coach Ron Rolston said by phone Wednesday. “We had the injury bug hit and just haven’t had a lot of consistency lately. We’re still trying to get over the hump.
“Guys are playing out of their role when there’s that many injuries, and it’s hard to get the chemistry and the continuity that you want.”
Only seven Amerks have skated in all 22 games, but a few are finally regaining their health. First-round draft pick Zemgus Girgensons and bruiser Nick Tarnasky returned for Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout victory over Abbotsford. Hodgson, who’s been out since Nov. 3 with a broken hand, might play Saturday when the Amerks host Toronto.
Rochester has gone 5-7-1 without Hodgson, who will center one of the Sabres’ top two lines when the NHL lockout ends.
“Obviously, you know how good Cody is and what he can mean to a team in more ways than one with his leadership and his offensive ability,” Rolston said. “It’s been a day-to-day thing [with the hand]. I think now it’s more of the strength of it and the functionality of what he can do out there. We’re hoping on Saturday, but we’ll see how it goes.”
When Hodgson returns, he’ll join a lineup that has offensive firepower and an unstable defensive system.
The Sabres’ minor-leaguers rank seventh in goals (3.27) and shots (32.23) per game among the AHL’s 30 teams. They rank 16th in goals allowed (3.0) and 23rd in shots against (32.05).
“We were able to score last year. We’ve been able to this year,” Rolston said. “Defensively, that’s an area we want to strive to get better at. That’s again been a combination of things. We have been injured, but we also have a pretty young defensive corps right now, but I think a very talented, promising defensive corps.”
T.J. Brennan, who played 11 games for the Sabres last season, remains the go-to defenseman. He ranks fourth among AHL blue-liners with 18 points and is tied for the team lead with nine goals.
“Offensively, he’s always had that ability,” Rolston said of Brennan, who totaled 32 goals the previous two seasons. “That’s a gift of his, his shot, his vision, his ability to make plays and make things happen offensively with his instincts and tools. He’s becoming a better defender.”
Forward Marcus Foligno, another player who will be in Buffalo should the NHL return, leads the Amerks with 21 points. He’s recorded six goals and 15 assists.
“He plays a major role on the team in terms of asking him every night to produce offensively but also be a physical presence for us,” Rolston said. “In this league, that takes a lot of energy in the way he plays, the physical nature that he plays with. Whether he’s got the puck or he doesn’t have the puck, we want him to be an attacking player.”
The numbers for goaltender David Leggio, who earned AHL victory No. 99 on Tuesday, have slipped from last season while the Amerks struggle to keep pucks away from him. His goals-against average is 2.85, up from 2.63, and ranks 29th. The Williamsville native is 25th with a .910 save percentage, down from .917 last season.
“Our defensive corps has gotten better, but it is young and we’re still learning,” Rolston said. “I just think that’s going to get better as the season goes on, our ability to defend and be tougher to play against.”
Jochen Hecht, who had been skating in Buffalo while waiting for the NHL to start, has returned to his homeland and hometown team. Hecht has rejoined Adler Mannheim, which recently signed former Sabres teammate Jason Pominville.
Hecht, an unrestricted free agent, has an out clause that would allow him to play in the NHL if the lockout ends. The Sabres opted not to re-sign the oft-concussed Hecht, but have a hole at center should play resume. The 35-year-old said he’s healthy.
Hecht played for Mannheim from 1994 to 1998 and helped the team win two German titles.
11-9-2, 10th Western Conference
3.27 goals per game (7th in AHL)
3.00 goals against (16th)
32.05 shots per game (7th)
32.23 shots against (23rd)
• Marcus Foligno: 22 games, 6 goals, 15 assists, 21 points
• T.J. Brennan: 22 games, 9 goals, 9 assists, 18 points
• David Leggio: 10-8, 2.85 goals-against average, .910 save percentage