The month of January was a nice rebound for the Rochester Americans after and up-and-down month of December that saw the team falling out of the top spot in the North Division.
In 10 games in January, the Amerks went 6-2-2 to improve their overall record to 26-13-3-1 and 56 points. That helped the Amerks back to the top of the division with a three-point lead over the Syracuse Crunch, a five-point lead over the Utica Comets and a six-point lead over the Toronto Marlies.
The only downside to their recent play has been the inability to string together more than three consecutive wins in the schedule. Rochester has not put together a three-game winning streak since early December, but the team did end the month riding a six-game point streak.
The Amerks followed that win up with another shootout win, this time on the road in Laval, Quebec against the Rocket. In this one, Nylander scored the game-winning goal in the fifth round of the shootout to give Rochester the extra point in a 3-2 win. That was on top of the goal he had scored in the second period to tie the game at 1-1. Judd Peterson scored his first goal in the American Hockey League to tie the game at 2-2 with just 49-seconds remaining in the second period as he tried a pass across the ice to O'Regan that went off a defenseman and into the net.
Rochester wrapped up the two-game series in Laval with a 2-1 loss, despite getting out to a 1-0 first period lead thanks to Zach Redmond's 16th goal of the season. It was Rocket forward Alexandre Grenier who beat goalie Adam Wilcox through a screen with 13:10 remaining to put Laval up for good.
Nearly one week later, the Amerks returned home to Blue Cross Arena to host the Toronto for the first game of a home-and-home set with the Marlies. However, they laid an egg in front of the home crowd with a 5-1 loss. After O'Regan scored in the second period to tie the game at 1-1, the Marlies went on to score four unanswered goals and did not allow too many high-danger chances to the Amerks.
The next day at the Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto, Ontario, C.J. Smith made his return to the lineup after being recently re-assigned to the Amerks by the Buffalo Sabres. In his return, Smith was dominant from start to finish by scoring a hat-trick and registering a four-point night in a 5-1 win on the road. The 24-year-old scored both of Rochester's first two goals, and capped off the night with an empty-netter to put the game on ice. It was Smith's second career hat-trick with the Amerks, and his first since March 18, 2018 against the Hartford Wolf Pack.
Then on Thursday, January 17, the Sabres pulled off a trade that saw long-time Amerks forward Justin Bailey get traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for forward Taylor Leier. Bailey finished his career with the Amerks playing in 196 games, scoring 62 goals and registering 116 points.
As for Leier, he came to the Amerks with 226 games under his belt with the Flyers' AHL affiliate. In parts of four seasons with the Phantoms, Leier scored a total of 56 goals and put up 136 points.
The following night saw the Amerks dropping a 3-2 shootout decision to Bailey and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in Allentown, Pa. Rochester got goals from Kevin Porter and Matt Tennyson in regulation, but failed to score in three rounds of the shootout to grab a third straight win.
In his debut with the Amerks, Leier only registered one shot on goal and was a plus-1 in the loss. On the other side of things, Bailey registered two shots on goal in the winning effort.
Rochester returned home on that next Wednesday to host the Binghamton Devils in another thrilling rollercoaster of a game. The Amerks ended up getting seven goals in regulation to down the Devils 7-5 at Blue Cross Arena, and got goals from six different players on the roster. Although the Amerks gave up a three-goal lead in the second period, they were able to get two goals in a 56-second span to re-take the lead at 6-4 before the end of the middle stanza.
Two nights later, the Amerks grabbed another shootout win at home with a 3-2 victory over the Comets on Defend the Ice Night. Heading into the third period tied at 1-1, Utica's Reid Boucher broke the tie with 8:46 to go as he turned and fired a high-rising shot over the short-side shoulder of goalie Jonas Johansson. However, the Amerks never quit, and their determination got them back in the hockey game with 1:44 to go in the game. After C.J. Smith's initial shot did not make it through to the net, Tennyson gathered the loose puck and fired a wrist shot through a screen and in behind Comets netminder Ivan Kulbakov.
After another five minutes of hockey solved nothing, the Amerks and Comets proceeded to the shootout. After Olofsson and Smith scored in the second and third round to tie the shootout at 2-2, it was Leier who gave the Amerks the advantage in the seventh round. Johansson sealed the game with a stop on Carter Bancks to give Rochester the extra point.
The next night, the Amerks closed out the month of January with a road matchup against the Syracuse Crunch at the War Memorial Arena. Scott Wilson and Kyle Criscuolo scored Rochester's early goals as both teams headed into the third period with the Amerks in front, 2-1. After Jan Rutta tied the game early in the third, Brendan Guhle scored off a quick shot from the point to give the Amerks the lead with 10:41 to go. However, Crunch forward Carter Verhaeghe had a night as he scored his second goal of the night with just 1:27 remaining to tie the game at 3-3 and force overtime.
Just nine-seconds into overtime, Verhaeghe stole a puck that got away from Tennyson in the Rochester zone and fired a shot over the blocker of Adam Wilcox in goal to complete the hat-trick and hand Syracuse the crucial extra point.
The Amerks got out to an early 3-0 lead in the first period with goals from Wilson, O'Regan and Leier in the first 15:51 of the period. For both Wilson and Leier, it was their first goals in an Amerks uniform.
Rochester's momentum took a minor hit with just 45-seconds left in the period as Devils forward Nathan Bastian danced his way around Guhle at the top of the faceoff circle to the left of Wedgewood, cut to the slot and backhanded his shot low, off the post and in.
The Amerks re-gained their three-goal lead as Olofsson came off the bench and found some wide-open space to receive a pass from Asplund behind the net. Olofsson had all the time available to him to fire a wrist shot over the glove hand of goalie Cory Schneider from the faceoff circle to increase the lead to 4-1.
That's when the Amerks coughed up the three-goal lead, and it only took the Devils a span of 1:55 to tie the hockey game at 4-4.
The Devils scored just 1:47 after Olofsson's goal when Wedgewood was knocked off his feet in the crease by Michael McLeod, forcing him out of position. After a couple of whacks away at the puck in the crease, Eric Tangradi put the puck in to make it a 4-2 game. The Amerks argued that the goal shouldn't count because of goaltender interference, but it was allowed to stand.
Another 1:46 later, the Devils cut the Amerks' lead to just one as Brandon Gignac used his speed to beat out Zach Redmond for a puck in the neutral zone and go in on a partial breakaway. Gignac then fired in a wicked wrist shot over the short-side, glove hand of Wedgewood for his eighth goal of the season.
Binghamton evened the game up just nine seconds later as the Devils quickly entered the Amerks zone off the ensuing faceoff. After a shot from McLeod was blocked by Tennyson, the rebound went to Bastian, who fired a shot over Wedgewood on the glove side to tie the game at 4-4.
However, the Devils got into some penalty trouble just moments later, giving the Amerks a 4-on-3 power play chance with 4:50 to go in the second period. Just 17-seconds into the power play for the Amerks, C.J. Smith's original shot goes off the post and bounces behind Schneider and through the crease. After Olofsson whiffs on his rebound attempt, O'Regan came in and cleaned up the loose change to re-gain the lead for Rochester.
56-seconds later, with both teams back at full strength, Porter makes a nice play at the Binghamton blue line to force a turnover and get in behind the defense. Defenseman Zach Redmond read the play very well and streaked in to make it a 2-on-0 rush to the Devils net. The Amerks captain then fed Redmond, who quickly put his snap shot over the leg of a sprawling Schneider for his 19th goal of the season.
Wayne Simpson ended up putting the game to bed with an empty net goal with just 29-seconds remaining in the game. However, just moments before the goal, Redmond ended up falling in behind the Rochester net and came up injured with a lower-body injury. He went immediately to the dressing room and did not come out for the game's three star honors.