A 2017 playoff run is looking more and more like a pipe dream every day. The Amerks dropped two out of three this week, including both home games against the Wolf Pack and Penguins. The two points they gained in Toronto were crucial, but Rochester still sits three points behind Utica for the last playoff spot.
Even though Tyler Ennis has returned to game action, organizational depth is still a huge obstacle the Amerks must navigate going forward. The amount of roster moves within the organization has massively effected the on ice product lately.
A battle for playing time among fourth line players has brought the best out of Daniel Muzito-Bagenda. He rebounded from a healthy scratch on Wednesday with a fantastic performance against the leagues best team. Not only did he score a goal, but he is showing real growth in his ability to skate the puck. On two rushes he looked like a first liner stickhandling through traffic in the neutral zone to gain entry. When you couple his new offensive moves with his hard working physical style of play, I think he has earned his spot in the lineup.
However, at the top of the pecking order a real problem is starting to develop. Elite prospect Nick Baptiste has not reacted well to the call up of Justin Bailey. He went into a serious funk this week and did not register a single point in three games. He constantly turned the puck over in all areas of the ice trying to stick handle through defenders. He took so many checks trying to skate through players that they appeared to get in his head. His frustrations were made clear based on how much talking he did after the whistle. His attitude problems came to a head against the Penguins. While defending an odd man rush, instead of attempting to play defense he intentionally chopped down the forward slashing his legs out from underneath him. The lethargic display of defending resulted in the largest chorus of boos directed towards an Amerk at the Blue Cross Arena this year. The Penguins scored almost immediately after and he slowly sulked back to the bench with his head directed towards the rafters. When considering the amount of unsportsmanlike penalties he has already received this year, I am seriously worried about his immaturity affecting his value as a prospect.
On the other hand, the player called up in place of him has never looked better. After losing two games without Bailey in the lineup, he was the main catalyst for the Amerks victory in Toronto. He made two great plays in the fore-checking game to set up a go ahead goal and the eventual game winner. On the first, after a key interception, he beat his man and elevated a quick wrist shot over the shoulder of the Marlie net-minder. Later in the frame, after another steal he drove the net hard pulling the last defender to him; Bailey then crossed it to Dupuy for an easy tap-in goal. When Bailey is putting forth max effort he is an amazing player, but has had sulking issues similar to Baptiste in the past. In many ways Baptiste is only repeating the actions of Bailey that eventually led to a call up. The two prospects seem to have no desire to win games at the AHL level. I think that is a mantra that has trickled down from the top of the organization.