Albany starts the season strong on specialty teams
The Albany Devils were horrible on special teams last season. They were 25th in the league in penalty killing with an 81.1 percent success rate and 29th of the 30 teams in the league in power play with a 11.3 percent conversion rate.
But that was last season.
It's still early, and far too early to tell if the trend will continue, but the Devils have started the season strong on specialty teams. After their 4-1 win over the Adirondack Phantoms on Monday, they are fifth in the league in power play (25 percent, 3-for-12) and fourth on the PK (91.7 percent, 11-for-12).
They're just three games into the season, so for the moment, those numbers are far less important than the fact they have found immediate chemistry on both sides of specialty teams. Part of that success is thanks to the trade on Sept. 28 that brought Scott Timmins to Albany.
Timmins was a penalty killer in San Antonio, so it's no surprise he's a reliable two-way forward. Albany coach Rick Kowalsky, though, has also asked him to help the Devils on the power play.
"We know he killed penalties before, but I really like his reads, his angles, he's got a good stick," Kowalsky said. "He played a lot of important minutes for us tonight, he's good on faceoffs. So I think, you don't want to look at his numbers and say he might not have been an offensive guy where he was before. We talked about it earlier, he may have been put in a role with that team, and with this team, he's got an opportunity to do something. He's got a history of scoring in junior, and he's got some chemistry with those guys right now."
"In San Antonio, I was more of a third- or fourth-line guy, so I was more of a penalty killer to be relied on," Timmins said. "Here, it's a lot more power play time for me, so I'm just running with the opportunity. It's a little unknown territory for me, but I'm glad to have the chance."
As unknown as it is, he's handling it just fine. He had a pair of power-play points Monday, a goal and an assist. He now has two goals and three assists in Albany's three games, starting the season on a three-game point streak.
Skating with talented rookie Reid Boucher and Joe Whitney, Albany's leader in points the last two seasons, Timmins has found an easy fit.
"They're really offensive-minded guys," he said. "They work really hard and they're not strictly offense. We always come up [the ice] together and have good speed. It seems like whenever we have the puck in the zone, one guy's open and we find the holes really well. They're really good players, so I just try to get them the puck and go to the net."
Timmins said he was caught off guard by the trade.
"I had no idea it was coming," he said. "I actually just got a place down there, so it kind of caught me off guard. I had no idea, but I'm glad it happened. I'm in a lot better opportunity to get some more ice time here, so I'm glad it happened."
The Devils killed eight penalties in their win over Adirondack and were 2-for-5 on the power play. They added a shorthanded goal when assistant captain Tim Sestito was awarded a penalty shot and beat Phantoms goalie Yann Danis.
"Feast or famine, right?" Kowalsky said. "Definitely a dangerous team, you're playing with fire, but I thought from [rookie goalie Scott] Wedgewood out, our penalty killers were ... we'll have lots of positive film to go over in the last couple days.
"Knock on wood, bite your tongue. It's something we, myself, this summer really spent some time on. Sometimes it's personnel. It goes in waves. We've spent a lot of time reiterating things. We found, with that one unit, even though the other unit had some chances tonight, they seemed to really have some chemistry – Timmins, Boucher, Whitney – and hopefully, that continues. [Jon] Merrill and [Eric] Gelinas are good up top, as well. It's a work in progress, and I think it's important that we're creating chances even when we're not scoring, just from a confidence standpoint."
Wedgewood made 24 saves on 25 shots and takes some pride in the eight perfect penalty kills he and the Devils put up.
"That's one thing, everyone's got to work hard, put your body on the line," Wedgewood said. "They're going to get shots, it's one of those parts of the game that's going to happen, and tonight it happened a lot for us. We cleared pucks, we blocked shots, we got clears when we needed them and got them all the way down the ice. We got good changes in, which was huge; we didn't get guys stuck out there for too long. The clusters in front of the net, they got rid of them, which was huge for me."
The one shot that beat Wedgewood came at 8:47 of the third period when the Phantoms won a draw in the Devils zone, the puck coming back to Oliver Lauridsen. His high-flying point shot was deflected past Wedgewood by Rob Bordson.
"We lost the draw, they got a lane and threw it high," Wedgewood said. "The way I played it, if I was going down, I was going to have to reach over my head to catch it, so I decided to stand up, try to take away as much [as possible] and it would have hit me in the chest. A guy got a piece of it and it went down, five hole. It was a tough read. I thought I played it decently, it's just one of those bounces you can't get."
Sestito was the only one to score on an Adirondack power play. He skated into the zone, drawing a penalty on Bruno Gervais, but he was denied a shot on goal when Brandon Manning hustled in and broke up his rush.
"I was a little surprised [by the penalty shot]," Sestito said. "The guy knocked it off clean. Somebody said he might have had his arm up early, I don't know, I'll take it. I had a questionable penalty-shot goal a couple years ago, so I'm two-for-two on questionable penalty shots."
Asked if that means he will lobby for a spot in the team's shootout lineup, he looked directly into the video camera that was recording the interview for the team's website and said, "The results speak for themselves. I'll have Killer [Kowalsky] take a look at that."
On the penalty shot, he skated the puck in to the right of the slot and beat Danis to the left side of the goal, under the netminder's arm.
"I've been working with [goaltender coach Dave] Caruso a lot before practices," Sestito said. "I was just trying to get a little fake shot to see what the goalie did. He froze a little bit, I just let off a low snapper, and it found the back of the net."
Whitney scored the game's first goal from above the right circle on a first-period power play. He and Boucher assisted on Timmins' power-play goal in the second period.
"Our penalty kill was huge tonight," Sestito said. "We had a ton of penalties, it seemed like, but guys stepped up. The power play was great. Joe had at least one, maybe two. It was great, especially after last year."
The Devils led 3-0, then Bordson's goal cut the lead to two at 8:47 of the third period. When Gelinas was sent to the box at 10:28 for interference, the Phantoms had their chance to steal the late momentum and make one final push, but for the eighth and final time on the night, they failed to mount a serious threat.
"You're always looking for a critical moment in a game," said Adirondack coach Terry Murray. "When you get the one goal, you're hoping you can the second one and feed off the momentum, absolutely. Even if you've not played as well as what you feel you should or can, it is an opportunity. Give Albany [credit], they killed off the penalties here today, they blocked a lot of shots. They did a good job.
"On power play, you've got to have some movement today. Penalty killers are good. Everybody knows and sees, they study film, they're pretty structured in their penalty kill. You have to get a lot of movement now, in the power play. I thought we got stuck on the half board with the puck, we didn't find the seams and get the puck up top where we had been. And whenever we attempted to attack off the half board, they were blocking shots. Now you've got to go and regroup and it played to their momentum instead of ours."
Sestito pushed the lead back to three with his second goal of the night at 14:17, streaking down the slot to easily finish a pass from the right boards by Darcy Zajac.
"It was a good breakout," he said. "Started with our D, got it to Mac [Chris McKelvie] low. I thought Mac was just going to put it up the boards to me, but he saw Darcy, it kind of bounced off the boards a little weird, Darce made a great pass. There wasn't much skill to it, I just stuck my stick out and got a little lucky."
ODDS AND ENDS
Defenseman Corbin McPherson skated warmups, as did all seven defensemen on the roster, but he was the odd man out and sat as a healthy scratch. The Devils will keep moving that one D scratch around unless six of the seven distinguish themselves as the easy choices to start every night. And then, only until they don't.
The two scratched forwards were Kelly Zajac, who is still working back into game shape. He missed training camp and Kowalsky said he's had a couple setbacks. Mike Hoeffel was ill last week, and he was kept out of Saturday's lineup just to give him an extra day to recouperate. He was kept out of Monday's lineup just in case he was not 100 percent, as Kowalsky wanted everyone to be 100 percent against a tough team, especially if things got physical.
This was Wedgewood's first game of the season. He's played in five games with Albany last season, going 2-2-0 with a 3.47 GAA and .886 save percentage. He didn't get much game time during training camp and waited more than a week into the regular season to get his first start.
"The preseason game I had in Hartford was kind of slow," he said. "I didn't get a shot in the second period. I just kind of stood there. My time in Jersey for camp, we had the third period and the scrimmages in-house, so I didn't get a full game. I felt really good, though. I lost a lot of weight over the summer, and it was one of those games where you're going to get a lot of work. Back-to-back power plays against you. My recovery time and everything like that, I was really happy with. I walked out of there breathing normally, which last year, I didn't really have the luxury of. So the offseason was really big for me, and I'm happy with where I'm at right now."
The Devils will get on a bus Wednesday morning for a trip to Norfolk, where they'll play the Admirals on Friday and Saturday. They've gotten off on the right foot at home, now they just have to find a way to carry that momentum through a 10-hour bus ride and into the weekend.
"We want to extend win streaks," Sestito said. "We don't want to be win one, lose one, that kind of team. We want to have long winning streaks and cut off losing streaks. You can't do that without winning at home. This will be good for our team to get away. We don't have many road trips, so guys can get together. We've got a great group, so I think we're looking forward to going in there and continuing this.
"It's a tough place to play. We're getting there a little earlier. We'll have a full day of practice, hopefully get those bus legs out. They always seem to play well there, no matter what organization is there, whether it's Tampa or Anaheim. We need to be ready, and I think we will be."