Third and fourth lines come up big for Devils
Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said the Springfield Falcons, and the respect their play demands of their opponents, bring the best out of the Albany Devils.
Saturday's 4-1 Albany win showed, for certain, the Falcons bring out the best in the Devils' third and fourth lines.
"You have to be responsible, defensively, against them," Kowalsky said. "They're a very dangerous team off the rush, and that forces us to get pucks deep and put pressure on their D. Then you don't have to worry about them coming up ice. I thought we did that well again tonight, and I thought our third and fourth lines had really good games tonight. Not that we haven't played well as a group. We got some scoring from them. I thought [Stephen] Gionta, [Mattias] Tedenby, [Tim] Sestito, [Mike] Hoeffel, [Darcy] Zajac, [Chris] McKelvie were all really good tonight. I like to play four lines. When those guys have a solid game and contribute offensively, it takes a little pressure off the top six."
Here's the lines from Saturday's game: Harri Pesonen-Jacob Josefson-Bobby Butler, Chad Wiseman-Steve Zalewski-Matt Anderson, Hoeffel-Sestito-Zajac, Tedenby-Gionta-McKelvie. The third line got the start, but make no mistake, that's the third line.
Not that any of that matters.
The Tedenby-Gionta-McKelvie line scored the first two goals, and the Hoeffel-Sestito-Zajac line got the third. Butler scored the fourth from beyond the blue line into an empty net in the last minute of play.
Those first three goals were all scored by guys ith high energy going into the corners, setting up in front of the crease, crashing the net and just finding a way to get the puck on frame.
“They play pretty tight in front of the net,” Tedenby said, “so you've got to be hungry for rebounds."
That's how he scored the game-winner.
First, though, he raced to the left boards for a loose puck on an errant Falcons' pass and touched it into the corner for McKelvie. Then he got his feet moving the other direction in a split second, crossing the circle just in time for a McKelvie pass from down low. Tedenby's shot was saved, but the rebound came right back to him as he continued on toward the net, and he finished it on the second chance.
Tedenby set up Gionta for the first goal, slipping him a pass from the left side as Gionta waited at the top of the crease to quickly redirect the puck goalward with a backhand.
“We have been struggling for a couple games, lately, but today, we played good,” Tedenby said. “We worked hard and won battles and kept possession. It was pretty easy to play.”
"I feel pretty lucky to be able to play with those guys the last couple games," McKelvie said. "They have a lot of experience and a lot of ability to do things on the ice. It was nice playing with those guys, and I think we're effective against a skating team like this."
McKelvie had three assists on the night, including the primary assist on Tedenby's and Butler's goals.
"It's always nice to contribute," he said. "It's not necessarily my role to put up points, but I think when I can help out, it's a good thing. So it was nice to chip in tonight get on the score sheet for the team."
"Gio's responsible and smart, defensively. McKelvie, he can skate," Kowalsky said. "It's something I maybe didn't pick up on in training camp, but it's something over the course of practice and getting to know him better – I didn't have a history with him – but he has no problem keeping up with those guys. Teddy's always been fast, but he's just smarter in his decisions, with and without the puck. He made a lot of plays on the back-check where he picked off passes, where that, for him, has been maybe a bit of a problem. This is a skating team, and when we're playing our game and we're going, we've got some speed, and those three are a big part of that."
The third goal came from Tim Sestito when he set up at the top corner of the crease and stood his ground until Hoeffel sent him a pass from low on the right side. Sestito quickly deflected it sideways and into the net.
“They call them the two-footers,” Kowalsky said. “I said that after, 'We'll take another two-footer.' I think Sestito was actually in the crease. You've got to score and there's not a lot of room. We did have chances off the rush with [Matt] Anderson and Butler, but it's hard to beat goaltenders any given night from the top of the circles. You've got to get traffic, you've got to create confusion in front. All three goals were right at the top of the paint, which I'm a big fan of.”
“We're playing well right now,” Tedenby said. “We play very good defense, and that's the key for our game. Play aggressive and simple hockey, good defense in the neutral zone.”
“They're a skating team, and we're a really good skating team, too,” McKelvie said. “I think other teams might have issues matching up against their guys up front, just because they can wheel. I think we just match up well against them, our whole team.”
"They outplayed us way worse in our building than tonight," said Springfield coach Brad Larsen. "We're just not finding ways to get underneath their D. They're playing hard. Structurally, they're playing really well. They're playing quick. They're forcing us into tough areas, and we're making turnoves."
CRACKING THE LINEUP
For McKelvie, chipping in with points is icing on the cake.
McKelvie was playing in just his 10th game of the season. He said it's been tough, but the coaches have done a good job keeping everyone in the room game-ready.
"It's definitely been difficult, but it's not something you can control," he said. "It's something I've been trying not to focus on. Every day, I just work and prepare like I'm going to play, and then when I do get in, I want to make sure it's seamless and I fit right in. The coaching staff has been great, working with the guys who haven't been playing that much and making sure we're getting ready to play."
However, as he showed Saturday and as Kowalsky said he's noticed more and more this season, McKelvie can skate. If he keeps playing like this -- and maybe being on this line will help that along -- he could start seeing more time.
The United States beat Sweden on Saturday in Ufa, Russia, to claim the gold medal in the World Junior championships. There were several fun little wagers floating around the Albany dressing room between the few Swedes and their American counterparts.
Friday, Butler mentioned a group dinner was on the line. Also, Josefson had to wear an American jersey on the ice early Saturday as a consequence of the U.S. win.
"We watched, and all the Swedes were pretty upset about it," Tedenby said. "Jake wore a USA jersey on the warm-ups here, before. We had a bet. But I'm happy for USA, too. They're a good hockey team."
Gracious in defeat.
Meanwhile, joking in good fun after Tedenby walked away, a smiling Kinkaid was asked if he was involved in any wagers.
"I wasn't part of the bet, but I like to give it to the Swedes after a US win," he said.
Disappointment in the outcome aside, Tedenby wasn't too down to reflect on the achievement of the Swedish team, on which he played in two of these tournaments (2010 and 2011, finishing third and fourth). He knows what it takes to get to the medal rounds of this tournament.
"No one expected them to play that well, like they did," Tedenby said. "I'm proud."
I also just wanted to point out the play of defenseman Alexander Urbom on Saturday. It's rare we talk about the defensemen, just because the stats are really mostly geared toward the guys who are scoring. But Urbom had a good game on Saturday, was reliable in his own end, had at least one takeaway below his own goal line, and showed savvy at the end of a power play as he cycled back through the neutral zone to protect against a potential jailbreak with a Springfield player exiting the box.
It's a smart play, and even though it proved unnecessary this time, it's something he's thinking about and that bodes well for the team. There have been games with several of these breakaways against the Devils which may have been prevented if someone on the blue line had an eye on the clock.