Butler solidifed role with Albany Devils by working on defense
ALBANY Bobby Butler played hockey in December like he believed all that Doomsday talk.
The Albany Devils’ right wing was packing away goals like they were canned goods in a bomb shelter, playing like there was no tomorrow and nearly playing his way to a player of the month award.
Not that an award would have mattered to him. Not as much as wins, and his 11 goals and five assists over the 12 games of December helped the Devils to a 7-3-1-1 record in that stretch and 16 of a possible 24 points.
“I was getting open more, I shot the puck more this month, and that helped,” Butler said. “When you get chances, you feel like you’re in the game. The more shots I get, the more chance I have, obviously, and I just got some good bounces. That’s just the way it goes.”
He shot 22 percent (11-for-50) in the month and closed it on a four-game point streak (4-2-6). The Devils would welcome more of the same in January, as they kick off 2013 today at home against Northeast Division-leading Springfield at 5. They also will host Binghamton on Sunday afternoon at 4.
For the season, Butler has 14 goals and seven assists in 28 games, his goals and 21 points leading the team. He has a plus-seven rating (plus-seven in December), three game-winning goals (two in December), and on the power play, has five goals and two assists.
The AHL Player of the Month award for December went to Oklahoma City’s Jordan Eberle, who had 11 goals and nine assists in 11 games. It’s worth noting, Eberle was an NHL all-star last year.
For Butler, getting back to the NHL after spending his first full season in the league last year with Ottawa has to be a goal, though he said it isn’t his focus.
He is focused solely on being competitive wherever he is, and right now, he’s in Albany.
He came to the organization with the reputation of a point-scorer, but he had a rough start to the season. In his first 16 games, Butler had just three goals and two assists.
“We knew he came advertised as a scorer,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “He didn’t have the best camp and got off to a slow start, scoring. I really didn’t care for his play away from the puck and without the puck and defensively. He wasn’t terrible, he just needed to do some things better.”
So he started doing some things better.
“The more I have focused on D, the easier the offensive side has gone,” Butler said. “You worry about the defensive side first, and then good things happen. The offense will take care of itself. Getting opportunities, killing penalties and being out there for certain points of the game builds your confidence.”
“It’s funny how his play away from the puck, defensively, his compete level, his intensity level have gotten better,” Kowalsky said, “and continue to get better — to the point right now where he’s one of our best guys on both sides of the puck — which is a compliment to him and more of what he’s going to have to do if he’s going to become an NHL regular.”
Of course, that can only happen if there is an NHL in which to be a regular.
If there is going to be a season, it will be because a collective bargaining agreement is signed in the next week. If that happens, several players will be leaving Albany for Newark and a one-week training camp before a shortened season.
Butler has to be in consideration for that trip down the Thruway, at least he should be more seriously considered after the way he closed 2012.
“It isn’t necessarily my decision, but he certainly put himself in a good spot,” Kowalsky said. “If this thing would have ended two months ago, it’s potentially a different story.
“I think the biggest thing, and it’s a credit to him, is his complete game. Sometimes, even when you’re scoring, you have a tendency to cheat on the offensive side of things. There’s no question he’s getting puck luck right now, but he’s working for it and he’s earning it. He’s back-checking, defensively, he’s been good on the PK. All those things have really helped his game. That complete game is what he’s going to have to continue to play if he wants to play in New Jersey.”