Devils set AHL record for SO losses
The Albany Devils played well enough to win, and far better and more consistent than they had played the two previous nights, but it came down to a shootout.
Albany and shootouts don't usually mix well.
The Rochester Americans scored in the first three rounds, and goalie Matt Hackett stopped the first three Albany shooters to win the shootout, 3-0, and the game, 3-2.
“I think it's definitely in our heads,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “We've used different guys. We've won a couple here in the last maybe five or so. I think it's in guys' heads, I think it's in the goalies' heads. Unfortunately, after giving up the lead in those situations, guys are pretty deflated on the bench. It's unfortunate, because we definitely deserved a better fate. We deserved two points tonight.”
“Right from the get-go, we were losing games and didn't get off on the right foot. It's definitely a mental thing, it's confidence,” Albany winger Matt Anderson said. “It's the same thing about tonight, the puck's not going in for us. When you're not consistently banging these pucks in, then you're there for the first time in a little while, you just don't have that extra confidence. We've got to build off tonight, and hopefully, we won't get to another shootout.”
It was the 12th shootout loss of the season for Albany, an AHL record. Four teams have lost 11 shootouts in a season – the New Haven Knights (5-11, 1986-87), the Edmonton Road Runners (4-11, 2004-05), the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights (4-11, 2005-06) and the Houston Aeros (5-11, 2011-12).
The Devils have won three shootouts. Anderson is 4-for-12 in the tiebreaker, and Mike Sislo is 6-for-10 after his shot was saved by Hackett in the first round Sunday.
Making it to the shootout, the Devils still managed one standings point and moved to within four of Hershey and Norfolk, which are tied for the eighth and final playoff berth with 75 points. All three teams have six games left, and one of those will pit Norfolk against Albany in the Times Union Center on April 20.
Albany lost to Providence on Friday, 4-1, and to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday, 4-0. In both those games, the Devils allowed a goal in the first minute of play. Sunday, they started well and maintained their energy and focus throughout, with just two unfortunate plays forcing the game past regulation.
"It was a good start and we never let up," Kowalsky said. "It was a heck of a hockey game. We played exactly the way we wanted to, and we haven't seen that consistent effort and execution of a game plan in a while. We saw a few spurts of it Tuesday night in a pretty good game against Springfield. But tonight, we did exactly what we wanted to do. We had a ton of chances. That's arguably the most quality chances we've had in a long, long time. It would have been nice to get a couple more to get us a bit of insurance, for sure."
Albany outshot Rochester, 41-23, after only managing 11 shots on goal in Saturday's loss.
The Devils took a 1-0 lead on Reid Boucher's strike from above the right circle at 17:02 in the second period. He received a cross-ice pass from Steve Zalewski, who was low in the left circle, and fired it past Hackett for his third goal and fifth point in his five games since signing an amateur tryout agreement. It also was his first even-strength goal, as his first two came on the power play.
Less than a minute before setting up Boucher's goal, Zalewski was on the other end of the ice preventing one.
The initial shot came from the right side, and the rebound was loose to the top-left of the crease with an open net waiting. Rochester's Zemgus Girgensons was there trying to get a stick on it, but Zalewski kept it away from him for a tense moment before clearing it away.
The Devils went up, 2-0, when Jean-Sebastien Berube scored his first goal of the season from low in the right circle at 2:54 of the third. Berube was playing in just his seventh game with Albany this season.
With the Devils down a man for a too-many-men penalty, though, Rochester got on the board when Girgensons got the puck to Nick Crawford, who scored from the left point at 8:02 in the third. Then at 15:35, Girgensons got out on a two-on-one with Johan Larsson, Girgensons skating through the left circle and Larsson down the slot. Albany rookie defenseman Jon Merrill was back, and he slid over to try to take away the pass option to Larsson. Girgensons instead shot the puck and beat goalie Keith Kinkaid to tie the game.
"I've got to take a little responsibility for that, maybe put two D out there," Kowalsky said of the shorty. "I've got confidence in the group out there, and I thought we'd moved the puck around tonight. They're a team that really pressures up ice, and they didn't have anything because we controlled the puck and were smart with the puck. Their goalie rims it, it hops on [Joe] Whitney, the guy chips it past him, then Merrill probably could have kept it in, but I understand in that situation he wants to be safe. They come down, two-on-one. Looking back on it, I've got to take responsibility for it, because if there's two D out there, they're maybe playing a little safer. It's unfortunate. Then the too many men, the goal, that's a tough one to swallow, too. Really, with the exception of those two things – and that's the way it's going for us right now – with the exception of those two situations, it was a heck of a hockey game."
The Devils didn't let up, though, and put nine shots on goal in the five-minute overtime period. In addition to those nine, David Wohlberg hit the left post at 2:30 in overtime on a rebound of a Mike Sislo shot.
In the second period, Albany defenseman Dan Kelly hit the crossbar. There were other chances that just took the wrong bounce or a wrong turn somewhere and kept the Devils from securing a larger lead.
"I definitely think we deserved two points," Anderson said. "We struggled to get the puck in the net. Kudos to their goalie, he played really well. But, it's just got to start going in. On the other side of that, when you play two games on Friday and Saturday night and you're only getting 10, 15 shots on goal, offensively, you don't have that confidence, that little extra that you know it's going in when it comes off your tape."
Defenseman Nick Bailen, a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute product, was playing in his third game with Rochester since signing an amateur tryout agreement. He lauded the Amerks' relentlessness in coming back to tie the game.
“They definitely took a toll on us, especially in the first period,” Bailen said. “I think we only had two or three shots. They played real physical, real fast. We were a little bit tired and weren't connecting on a lot of our passes, but I think we did a really good job in the third period of getting back into it, especially on that short-handed goal, which was huge by Z.”
The Amerks shot first in the shootout, getting goals at the right post by Larsson and Corey Tropp in the first two rounds, then Colin Jacobs somehow got a shot through Kinkaid though the goalie looked to have position.
The Devils went with Sislo in the first round, and he's been solid there for them, but his shot was stopped by Hackett's pad. So was Anderson's in the third round. Boucher skated the second round and had his shot gloved.
Still, the Devils looked good enough to win, far better than they had in their two previous losses. This is the kind of game they will need to play in each of the next six games if they are to have a chance of making the playoffs.
"I wish I could sit here and tell you we did something different, and I wish we could bottle this up and do it every night," Anderson said. "It's something we're struggling to do. We've got two weeks left, we've got six games, and we've just got to keep putting our best foot forward. I think if we can maintain this mentality, anything can happen. We'll just keep working."
"They were hungry today," Kowalsky said of his players. "I wish I could put a finger on why this wasn't available Friday or Saturday. There was energy, we talked about taking the puck to the net, not even thinking about it, shooting the puck. We had over 40 shots, and overtime was a prime example. I don't know how that puck stayed out."
Anderson is skating with a full cage since taking stitches to close a cut beside his left eye during Friday's loss to Providence.
"It's not bad. You get used to it," he said. "Once you get going out there, you're just playing hockey. There's not much to it. My head slid down the glass and hit the dasher, and I knew right away it was split open. I said I feel like a hockey player now."
Mattias Tedenby, who also has been skating with a full cage, left Friday's game and remained out the rest of the weekend with the flu. Zalewski took a high-stick Sunday and took some stitches, but should be fine.