Devils halt skid
After entering the weekend on a four-game losing streak, the last three of those in regulation, the Albany Devils scored a 2-1 win Friday night and hope they have turned things back around.
“I said to them after, it certainly was not our best game and still not to where we need to be, as a team, to where we were playing,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “But maybe a game like this is what we need to kick start us a little bit. I still think guys are getting frustrated and cheating a little bit on the wrong side of the puck, and that’s just not our game.”
Albany is 24-14-3-3, sitting in second place in the Northeast Division, seven points behind Springfield. In the Eastern Conference standings, the Devils are fifth with 54 points, just two behind Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the top spot not given to a division winner. The Devils also are only two points ahead of eighth-place Hershey (which has a game in hand on Albany) and ninth-place Providence (on which the Devils have two games in hand).
“You’ve got to stop losing streaks,” Albany assistant captain Tim Sestito said. “Three games is a lot, especially with how tight playoffs are. Having this win is a confidence booster.
“When you get on a little skid, guys squeeze their sticks a little bit more and try to do too much. It was a tough, tough win, we battled it out. When you’re on a losing streak, it feels like you’re never going to win again. Sometimes you need a game like this to hopefully get us going in the right direction.”
Albany got off to a quick start against Bridgeport on Friday, outshooting Bridgeport, 11-0, through the first 13 minutes of play. The rest of the game, the Sound Tigers outshot the Devils, 28-11.
Albany almost went ahead at 2:19 when Joe Whitney (who entered the game with four goals and four assists in six games against Bridgeport) took a shot from the slot. It caromed off the left post and then the back of goalie Anders Nilsson, then it was sliding toward the goal line behind Nilsson. Defenseman Marc Cantin was on hand, though, to stop the puck before it could slide entirely over the goal line, and he swept it under Nilsson to stop play. The play was reviewed and the refs correctly determined there was no goal.
Alan Quine put the first shot on goal for Bridgeport at 13:04. Waiting for that first touch was frustrating for Albany netminder Keith Kinkaid.
“Especially after last game when I allowed three goals on three shots,” Kinkaid said. “I was itching for a shot, but you’ve just got to worry about the first shot. I think I made a good save on the first shot of the game, and that got me into it.”
Quine skated in on a rush and fired, but Kinkaid easily gloved it for the save.
Just 33 seconds later, Reid Boucher put Albany up, 1-0, with a shot from the left circle. Coming into the zone, he fed Kelly Zajac to the right, then Zajac sent a pass back across to Boucher as he came into the left circle, and he fired it past Nilsson for his 11th goal of the season. Mattias Tedenby picked up the second assist.
Quine drew the Sound Tigers even at 15:14 on a power play. Kinkaid stopped a shot by Dallas Jackson, but he could not control the rebound, and it bounced out into the slot where Quine was skating through. He sent it back past Kinkaid to tie the game.
The second period was Bridgeport’s, in momentum, possession and shots on goal. They kept up the pressure in the third, too, but were unable to capitalize on whatever chances they saw against Kinkaid.
“They started off, they put a pretty big push on early in the game, and I think the shots were a little crazy there, but you know what? Our guys were playing our game,” said Bridgeport coach and former Albany River Rat Scott Pellerin. “We just weren’t getting shots on net. But I thought we were skating OK. We picked it up around the eight-minute mark and I thought things changed from there. In the third period, I thought we dominated, we just didn’t put the puck in the net.”
Pellerin thought the scoring hardships were more a product of not getting the right bounces on rebounds than the play of Kinkaid.
“I’ve seen him play better, so I think tonight we had an opportunity to maybe put pucks in,” Pellerin said. “We just weren’t generating a lot of second chances. Maybe it was the rebounds were there, but we weren’t able to capitalize on that second chance. But he made the first stop.”
For his part, Kinkaid didn’t think the Sound Tigers were finding all that many quality chances against the Devils’ defense.
“They were just throwing anything at the net,” Kinkaid said. “They did a good job screening, but our guys did a better job of keeping them from getting second opportunities. We just had a good game, overall.”
Kinkaid came in off a couple rough outings. He allowed five goals to East Division-leader Binghamton in his last start, Jan. 24, then two days later allowed three goals on three shots before being pulled early, again against Binghamton.
“The puck was hitting me tonight,” Kinkaid said. “The past few games, it hasn’t been hitting me. That’s the ups and downs of a season. I’m just glad it’s hitting me now.”
At the 8:13 point of the third period, Sestito put the Devils ahead for good. He was on a line with Harri Pesonen and captain Rod Pelley, and his linemates got out on a change before he did. They were immediately skating in transition and he got on the ice behind the play.
“It was a good change by that whole line ahead of us,” Sestito said. “We got fresh guys out there, and I came off the bench late. Pes and Pels made an exchange there, and I tried to get lost behind them. Pes made a great pass, a rocket, and I just had to angle it toward the net, and it went in.”
Pesonen had the puck along the boards on the right side, low near the goal line. His pass slid untouched to Sestito as he streaked to the backdoor.
“I saw he saw me, but I didn’t think he was going to get the pass through,” Sestito said. “Pels was coming down the slot, and he was pretty open, too. So all their guys ended up looking at them. Pes just turned his wrists over and fired one through to me, and I was lucky enough to put it in.”
Kowalsky said he thought Sestito continued to pick up his game as the period wore on. One of the best hits in the game was delivered by the veteran centerman at about the 14-minute mark as he clobbered Cantin behind the Bridgeport net.
“He blocked a shot or two, he won some battles along the boards, he had some hits,” Kowalsky said. “We need that from everybody, including him, for 60 minutes, and we didn’t get it tonight. We got away from our game a little bit in the second, and I think frustration is affecting us maybe more than it has this year, whether it’s guys not scoring or not getting chances, and we just play too loose. We’re not a team that’s going to go back and forth and trade chances with a team. But I thought Timmy was a guy who tightened things up and started playing the right way, got rewarded with the goal on a nice play by Pesonen. I thought after the goal, he did a lot of good things, defensively.”
The Devils ended the four-game winning streak Bridgeport carried into the weekend. Albany is 5-1-0-1 against the Sound Tigers this season.
“We had one error, one missed coverage where a guy snuck in on the back door and he buried it,” Pellerin said. “It’s a little frustrating for us because that’s a really good hockey team, and I thought we played hard against them. We wanted these two points.”
Kinkaid made his last couple saves in the final minute of play. He had to scramble a bit with about 28 seconds left to cover a dangerously loose puck around the crease. Just as the whistle blew, he puck was loose again, so he was a little fortunate the refs saw it as he saw it, that the play was dead.
“It was just a scramble, I think it hit a few things, hit me, then went back to the front,” Kinkaid said. “I was just trying to push myself over to get my pad over there, then luckily, it came to my front and I covered it.”
He finished with 27 saves on the night. Sestito said, with all the transition chances the Sound Tigers got, it was a good thing Kinkaid was on his game.
“We gave up a lot of odd-man breaks, and we got bailed out,” Sestito said. “We had a forward back on a three-on-one. I was talking to him on the bench. Scotty Timmins said that was the first three-on-one he’s ever taken. We got bailed out, goalie played great, we got a win and another win tomorrow will feel pretty good.”
The Devils play tonight at Hartford, a team against which they are 4-1-0-0 so far this season. They should benefit from the addition of defenseman Eric Gelinas, who was reassigned Friday but could not make it to Albany in time to play against Bridgeport.
“Coach says you can’t let your valleys be too deep, and I think we did a good job getting off the losing streak,” Kinkaid said. “Hopefully, this is a new winning streak to come.”
Kowalsky said although the Devils got the win, they still have to get back to playing their style of hockey for 60 minutes at a stretch. He is seeing too much deviation from the game plan, from the systems that had them doing so well earlier in the season.
“Whitney, Bouch, Timmins, Tedenby, Zajac, those guys have to understand they’re going to get keyed on,” Kowalsky said. “Every night’s not going to go their way. But you’ve got to continue to play the right way away from the puck. They do it at times, and at other times, they get a little loose, a little careless, and play that high-risk hockey, which is something we’ve got to get away from.”
The forward lines for Friday’s game were:
Mike Hoeffel-Chris McKelvie-Cam Janssen