Crunch pose big challenge for Devils

The streak watch will continue with every win Syracuse records this season.

The streak watch will continue with every win Syracuse records this season.

An affiliation swap brought Tampa Bay’s prospects from Norfolk to Syracuse in the offseason, so the same players who won the Calder Cup last year and finished the regular season on a 28-game winning streak — the longest in the history of North American pro hockey — now play in Central New York.

They roll into Albany tonight for a 7 p.m. game with the Devils, looking to win their second consecutive game.

“You have to respect what they do. They’re a hard-working, honest team that can play any type of game,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “I think our guys responded last year with the same type of game. It’s a different year, I think they have 15 returnees, but I expect more of the same from us. Hopefully, the group that is with us from last year will respond the same way as they did last year.”

Former Albany River Rat Mike Angelidis has scored in both Syracuse’s games so far as the Crunch come in with a 1-0-1-0 record.

Last year, the Devils won the first four of their eight games against Norfolk. They finished .500 against the juggernaut.

“They had a great year last year, and it’s going to be fun to play against them,” third-year Devils defenseman Alexander Urbom said. “We know how good they are, and it’s really going to show us where we stand. We’re looking forward to it.”

Urbom led the Devils in scoring against Norfolk last season with three goals and four assists. He also managed a plus-four rating against the Admirals.

It was just one footnote in an overall better sophomore season after a rough rookie campaign.

“I think it was better than the first year,” Urbom said. “In the first year, there were a lot of ups and downs. Then last year was maybe more on the same line all the time. So it was better.”

Urbom was more reliable and consistent last season.

Kowalsky said part of the reason the young Swede struggled was because he was thrown into tough spots early on.

“We probably put him in some situations that was a little too much pressure on him,” Kowalsky said. “Last year, he settled in nicely, accepted being here and just worked and made some good strides. Now it’s important for him to take it to the next level, improve without playing outside his role.”

That role is, obviously, defense first. But Urbom has a good shot from the point, too.

If the Devils can get some zone time against Syracuse, they could use that shot. First, though, they need to work smoother in trans-ition from their own zone into the attack.

In their only game so far this season, a 2-1 loss to Manchester on Saturday, the Devils had trouble gaining the zone for most of the night.

“We’ve been working on everything,” Urbom said. “There’s a lot of new stuff we have to learn. I think we just have to get our forecheck going and get some time in the zone.”

The Devils got up for the challenge most of last season against these players, even in their losses, most of which were close. Urbom said he and his teammates know what to expect, and what level of play they need if they expect to win.

Of course, with the NHL lockout sending players down to every AHL club, it’s a challenge the Devils have to get used to every night.

“We know they had an unbelievable season last year, so we have to really be on our toes to win the game,” Urbom said. “But I think all teams in this league are going to be tough to beat, especially this year with all the good players everywhere. I think we just have to focus like we normally do.”

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