After one season back in the Capital Region, the Albany Devils packed up their bags Monday, stuffing a disappointing record, but a few good lessons, in next to their skates and gloves.
The Devils were 32-42-1-5, their 70 standings points worst in the AHL. They had to deal with not only their own injuries, but also those of the parent club New Jersey Devils, those NHL injuries resulting in recalls of Albany’s players that, at times, depleted the roster.
The result was a number of rookies and other young players seeing more ice time and playing more often on special teams, which may help in their development in the long run.
In the short term, it was a hurdle for the Devils as they struggled throughout the season on special teams, finishing next to last in the league on the power play (13.6 percent) and last on the penalty kill (77.1 percent).
The offseason was shortened for the front office, which didn’t know until it was half gone that they were moving from Lowell, Mass., to
Albany. That made it harder to target the potential fan base and get out into the community in time to draw decent crowds.
As a result, Albany also finished last in the league in attendance with an average crowd of 3,144. General manager Chris Lamoriello said
despite underachieving on the ice, he was pleased with the off-ice gains, and is looking forward to a full offseason knowing where his team is playing.
“We’re excited about the offseason,” he said. “Even though we got off to a slow start off the ice, we felt very good about coming back in. We’ve certainly seen a lot of
familiar faces with our fans, people we worked with in our previous experience. The season started with great optimism.
“Unfortunately, we got behind the eight-ball in some areas and, on the ice, didn’t have nearly the success we expected to have, and certainly want to have. Off the ice, I think we made a lot of headway, establishing our brand in the community, our foundation.”
On the ice, Albany started with a roster that looked pretty good. More than half of it ended up trading in the horned “A” on the front for an “NJ” at some point in the season.
Due mostly to injuries, 19 players suited up for both Albany and New Jersey this season, nine of them making their NHL debut.
That was great for the recalled players, but a burden for Albany to adapt after they left.
It’s part of the reason Lamoriello would like to say Albany was not as bad as a last-place team, but asked that question, he admitted he had no argument against the notion.
“We certainly don’t think so, but I certainly don’t have any evidence to the contrary,” he said. “So I’m not going to hide behind it. We, again, started the season with what we thought was a very good group. We were optimistic about the type of team we thought we would have here. But I don’t have any evidence to say yes or no. It’d difficult to sit here and say we were better than we were, because the record doesn’t dictate that. But certainly, I felt the way we have played and the successes we did have gave you an indication of what the team was capable of doing. But it wasn’t enough nights that we needed it to be that way.”
Part of the reason Albany struggled mightily was the unsuccessful penalty kill, which was put to the test far too often by the one stat in which the Devils led the league — penalty minutes (1,927).
“A bad combination? Yeah, it was. I think the specialty teams, at times, was a sign of our youth,” said Albany coach Rick Kowalsky. “Strangely enough, our last 10-15 games is probably the most consistent our power play’s been all year. The penalty kill, again, it went in spurts throughout the year. When it was bad, it was really bad. It definitely cost us games. But again, when you’re constantly killing off penalties . . . three in three nights, if you’re killing off penalties, you’re tired as it is. But you go into that third night, you’ve got to kill off six penalties on a Sunday afternoon, the odds are against you no matter what your penalty-killing is like.”
In all, 17 rookies suited up for Albany this season, playing an average of 29.2 games.
It wasn’t all bad among the youngsters, though. Rookie Adam Henrique led the team in goals with 25, setting a new rookie record for the 5-year-old franchise, previously held by Nick Palmieri, who had 21 last season. His 50 points tied the franchise rookie record set last season by Matt Taormina (10-40-50).
Henrique passed up a chance at surpassing Taormina’s mark for his first NHL recall. He played in New Jersey’s final game of the season on Sunday, alongside fellow recall Alexander Urbom, who scored his first NHL goal in a win over Boston.
Albany captain Stephen Gionta said he liked what he saw from each of his young teammates as they learned how to be a pro and what was expected of them on a daily basis, but it was hard not to single out Henrique.
“They all developed pretty well, but Henrique definitely stood out with his development,” he said. “He’s a great player, very smooth with the puck. It just seems like the puck sticks to him. It’s like it’s glued to his stick. He was tremendous for us this year.”
Despite any personal achievements, each Devil heads into the offseason with the team’s shortcomings in his mind.
“It definitely stings, not making the playoffs and not getting a good result in the season,” Gionta said. “It’s what we play for, and it didn’t happen. It’ll definitely be in the back of our minds coming into camp.”
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