With five days before the Allen Americans play their next game, coach Steve Martinson will have plenty of practice time to reinforce, retool and reemphasize expectations and systems. The Americans are entering a favorable period of the schedule where 10 of their next 14 games are at home with plenty of off days. The four road games are easy trips, with two games in Wichita on January 22 and 23 then two day trips to Tulsa on January 26 and 30. Two nights away from home in over a month is about as good as it gets in minor pro hockey.
With no game until Friday when the Americans take on the Colorado Eagles, it is a perfect time to try and answer the question I hear most frequently this year. As a blogger I hear from fans while walking the concourse at games, in the season ticket holder lounge, in the press box, through social media, emails, text messages and the blog. The single question that gets asked most frequently is, "What's wrong with the Allen Americans?" So I thought today would be a good day to try and answer that question.
Answer #1: What are you talking about as there is nothing wrong with the Americans. They have the second most points in the Western Conference. They are perfectly positioned for another deep run in the playoffs. In two of their three championships Allen was not the top team in the league during the regular season.
Answer #2: All the roster changes to key players with call ups, injuries, and guys quitting is what is wrong with this team. Here is a list of players currently not with the team including the last game they suited up for the Americans.
November 10 - Greger Hanson on loan to San Jose Barracuda
November 10 - Daniel Doremus recalled by San Jose Barracuda
November 22 - Justin Baker quits the team
December 4 - Casey Pierro-Zabotel gets injured
Decmeber 5 - Joel Rumpel gets injured
December 19 - Vincent Arseneau gets injured
December 21 - Ian Schultz quits the team
December 27 - Tristan King gets injured
Answer #3: What is wrong is the offense. Last year after 33 games, the Americans had scored 138 goals compared to this year where they have scored just 97 goals. The team is taking fewer shots and not scoring at the same percentage as last year. Here is what that looks like. The 2014-15 stats are based on year long averages.
2015-16: In 33 games the Americans have taken 920 shots and scored on 10.4% of their shots.
2014-15: In 33 games last year the Americans took 1083 shots and scored on 12.2% of their shots.
Chad Costello and Gary Steffes were leading scorers from last year. Here is a comparison from last year to this year.
2015-16: In 33 games Chad has 93 shots and scored on 12.9% of his shots = 12 goals
2014-15: In 33 games Chad had 107 shots and scored on 17.5% of his shots = 19 goals
2015-16: In 30 games Gary has 73 shots and scored on 13.7% of his shots = 10 goals
2014-15: In 30 games Gary had 110 shots and scored on 19.0% of his shots = 21 goals
Answer #4: The defense isn't creating the offense like they did last year. Last year Aaron Gens led all ECHL defensemen in scoring and the Americans had four players (Gens, Young, Baker, Tyler Ludwig) in the top 18 in scoring. This year, Eric Roy is second in scoring but there is no other defenseman in the top 30. This stat is misleading if you look at what percent of the team goals are scored by defensemen. Last season the defensemen accounted for 63 of the Americans 292 goals or 21.5%. So far this season the defensemen have scored 25 of 97 goals or 25.8%.
- The expectations of most Allen Americans fans is very high (maybe too high) based on the success the franchise has had from their first year. The team is having a good year even though the winning percentage is lower than in the past. Most ECHL cities would be elated to have the Allen record.
- All teams deal with roster changes throughout the season but the Americans have lost a lot of key players for long periods of time. But the injuries will heal and in the end, the affiliation with San Jose will see players assigned to Allen for the playoffs. In the meantime, some young players (Hanson, Doremus, Crane, Roy, Pinktston, Makowski, Federico, Rumpel, Stevenson) may spend time in the AHL. In addition, you can be assured coach Martinson will be trying to improve the roster through trades, free agent signings and getting AHL players assigned to Allen.
- Allen has scored 41 fewer goals this year than at the same time last year. No matter who is on the roster in second half of the season, the team needs to generate more shots on goal and convert at a higher percentage. The best players have to be the best players.
- If the team can't improve their goal scoring in the second half of the season, there needs to be more of a commitment to team defense and better goalie play. The Americans have given up 12 more goals than the same time last year.
So the bottom line is there is no single answer to what is wrong with the Americans. The team is doing fine but there needs to be incremental improvement in many areas rather than one big fix. Playing your best hockey in May is the goal and that is what coach Martinson is striving to accomplish. It should be an enjoyable ride.
DID YOU KNOW: In the last ten years the team with the most points in the regular season has won the ECHL Kelly Cup just four times. Included in the six Kelly Cups winners where the team didn't finish first in the regular season standings were teams that finished fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh in the regular season.