The Albany Devils have started to figure out how good defense leads to chances at the other end, and the lesson has not been lost on the rookies.
Joe Whitney, in particular, has shown what he’s learned in a four-game scoring streak with two goals and three assists in that stretch.
“In college, it was a little easier to play defense. Here, things happen a lot quicker,” the former Boston College right wing said. “Guys are bigger and stronger. I think I’ve already progressed in the first 10 games, defensively. But I’ll continue to work on it. We have great coaches here helping me out with it.”
The Devils have won three of those four games, topping Adirondack, Providence and Hamilton. The lone loss in that stretch was to the Binghamton Senators, who the Devils will host tonight at 7.
Albany also will host Norfolk and Connecticut on Friday and Saturday.
Binghamton has beaten the Devils in the teams’ two meetings this season. In their game in the Southern Tier on Friday, Whitney scored his second goal of the season when the team needed one.
“He scores a heck of a goal in Bingo. Four-on-three, [goalie Robin] Lehner’s stopping everything, then he just calms things down, walks in and puts it off the bar, short-side,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “And after Lehner’s made about four back-door saves. He’s got poise, composure, and he could develop into a real good player in this league if he continues along this path.”
Also, rookie Mike Sislo has gotten off to a good start. He had a goal and two assists in the win over Adirondack and a goal in Saturday’s win over Hamilton, his third of the season.
Both first-year forwards have shown Kowalsky they’re ready to make the adjustment to the pro game.
“Both are good kids and both have absorbed a lot of what we’ve thrown at them,” he said. “Some of it’s been a big adjustment for them, but they’ve both got a lot better defensively, just committed-wise. We’ve spent a fair amount of time with them with video. I think they’re starting to realize that once they take care of that end, they’re going to get more chances at the other end, and things are going to come a little easier. They both have skill, they both can shoot the puck and they both see the ice well. It was good to see them have big weekends for us.”
At 5-foot-6, Whitney is the shortest player on the team, but that hasn’t stopped him from diving into the corners on the forecheck and playing tough down low.
Kowalsky said the 23-year-old from Reading, Mass., caught his eye right away over the summer.
“I saw him in development camp, and he made some plays that, you have to be a special player to make those,” Kowalsky said. “I really liked him right from the get-go.
“He’s one of those guys who, whether I don’t play him much or I play him a ton, he finds a way to get on the board. It may only be two chances a game, but they’re great chances. He can make something out of nothing, he can attack off the rush. He’s short in stature, but he’s strong on the puck. On the power play, when he’s got time, he can make plays. He’s really scored goals all different ways.”
Whitney joined a team that already had a couple of Boston College alums on the roster in left-wing linemate Stephen Gionta and defenseman Peter Harrold.
“We have something in common there,” Whitney said. “We’re all Eagles, so it makes you feel a little more comfortable, knowing all those guys did the same thing I did in college. It helps a lot.”
He said he’s enjoying the point streak, but noted there were opportunities for him earlier in the season that he just didn’t finish, but he thinks he can build on what he’s doing now.
That echoes the way this early season has gone for the entire team, just recently finding a working formula on the ice.
“We feel good as a team. We struggled a little bit at the beginning, trying to find ways to win,” Whitney said. “We had a few opportunities early in the year to get some wins, but we didn’t capitalize. Now, we’ve tightened up a few things, we’re trying to work on our game a little bit, the chemistry’s coming together. We’ll give ourselves a chance to win in every game as long as we play for 60 minutes.”
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