Sloppy Devils fall to Falcons
The Springfield Falcons are firing on all cylinders despite losing their top players to the NHL. They've won six straight games, including Wednesday's 4-2 victory at Albany, and have even been without injured goalie Curtis McElhiney (17-6-2, 2.25 GAA, .928 Sv%) for all six of these wins.
The Albany Devils, meanwhile, came out of a good weekend in which they took four of a possible six points, and took a step backward Wednesday.
The sloppy play and mental breakdowns were no more apparent than on the third Springfield goal, the game-winner, scored by Scott Howes at 14:27 in the second period.
During a stretch of four-on-four play, Howes had the puck in the corner, calmly carried it behind the net and around, in front and scored.
While he walked it from behind the goal line to the front, he had Devils' goalie Jeff Frazee and three Albany skaters within a stick's length. None stopped him.
But the play was bad from front to back. Actually, it was especially bad in back. Captain Jay Leach was about the only bright spot on the blue line, turning in a plus-two and avoiding glaring mistakes most of the night. Other Albany defensemen couldn't handle the puck, were caught flat-footed after shooting from the point into a Springfield forward as that forward then raced the blocked puck out into a breakaway, or allowed themselves to be skated through or around on the boards as the Falcons flew through transition.
"It was the worst game by our defense all year, as a group," Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. "We've had guys who have had tough nights, but with the exception of Jay Leach, basically because he just kept it simple – other than the turnover fest at the end, I think he mixed one in there, trying to give them an empty net – yeah. That was the worst, as a group, that we've played all year."
The Howes goal came after Albany had already dodged two bullets. First, rookie defenseman Raman Hrabarenka took a shot from the point that was blocked by Ryan Russell, then when Russell got out on a breakaway, Hrabarenka tripped and hooked him before he got to the net and was called for both. Hrabarenka served two minutes for the hook and Russell got a penalty shot.
"I'd never seen that," Kowalsky said. "Usually, most of the times, the official just makes one call. But he hooked him, he did everything but lasso him, jump on him, grab his horns and pull him down. Once you do it once, dive at the puck. I don't know. I'd never seen that play happen like that. Usually, no matter what you do, it's either a penalty shot or a penalty, but they deemed it both."
Russell rang the penalty shot off the left post, shooting one of those bullets past the Devils' nose.
Then the Devils killed off Hrabarenka's penalty. Bullet No. 2 dodged.
From all that, they gained no momentum, instead handing it back to the Falcons.
"It's very frustrating," Kowalsky said. "The first period, I thought was OK. Then the third goal, we just got sloppier, made mistakes. They angled pucks, got in the way. But we didn't do anything to challenge them. The turnovers and decisions with the puck, that's ... without question, I think that's the worst hockey game we've played all year."
Springfield coach Brad Larsen, meanwhile, is thrilled with the hockey his boys are playing. In their first three games with Albany this season, the Devils came away with five points by taking the play to Springfield, skating well and keeping the pressure in the attacking zone. But for the last six games, the Falcons have found a way to win every night and carried that through Wednesday to best one of the biggest thorns in their sides.
"It's real impressive what this group has done," he said. "The resiliency. Guys have been very patient. With this lockout, we've had a lot of healthy bodies we couldn't get in the lineup. We were preaching patience and work ethic, and these guys worked their tails off. They paid attention to detail, they worked hard in practice, they pushed themselves in the gym. It's a credit to our leadership group that brought these guys along, kept them a part of this. They're stepping up and playing great games for us right now."