Picking up the pace has paid off for Albany Devils forward

Albany Devils right wing Mike Sislo has found a consistency this season born of increased confidence
Mike Sislo (19) has gotten off to a hot start this season for the Albany Devils, scoring 10 goals in his first 16 games and leading the AHL with seven power-play goals.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Mike Sislo (19) has gotten off to a hot start this season for the Albany Devils, scoring 10 goals in his first 16 games and leading the AHL with seven power-play goals.

The evolution of a hockey player can be fun to watch.

Albany Devils right wing Mike Sislo has found a consistency this season born of increased confidence and aggressive play, leading to 10 goals in just the first 16 games.

“The coaches have emphasized playing with pace and competing, and I think a lot of guys have benefitted from some of the changes we’ve made and playing aggressively,” Sislo said. “I’ve tried to put an emphasis on skating, competing and battling, and when you do those things, you’re going to get rewarded with opportunities to score.”

The fifth-year pro will look for more rewards tonight when Albany hosts Bridgeport at 7. The Devils also host Binghamton on Friday at 7 p.m., then play at Springfield on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Sislo has eclipsed the 20-goal mark each of the past two seasons, finishing both campaigns strong, but this fall he wanted to focus on getting off to a good start. His 10 goals have come faster than they have for any other Albany Devil.

Paul Thompson scored 10 in his first 16 games last season, but the 10th came in the team’s 18th, as Thompson missed a pair of games in late November. Going back through the previous four seasons in Albany, Reid Boucher hit the 10-goal mark in 21 games (2013-14), Bobby Butler did it in 22 (2012-13), both Joe Whitney and Stephane Veilleux hit it in 39 games (2011-12) and Michael Swift reached it in 31 (2010-11).

After Thompson’s hot start last year, he finished with 33 goals and 22 assists in 73 games, his goal total the second-highest in the AHL.

Sislo has five assists to go with his 10 goals. He has points in 12 of the Devils’ 16 games this season and leads the AHL in power-play goals with seven (11 of his 15 points have come on the power play).

Many of Sislo’s power-play goals have come on one-timers from the top of the left circle. Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said Sislo’s adjustment on those one-timers has paid off in a big way.

“A lot of guys, when they take those one-timers, want to be fading away, but he stands and holds his ground,” Kowalsky said. “He’s really condensed it into a half- or maybe a quarter-backswing, and it jumps off his stick.”

Kowalsky said some of Sislo’s success can be traced to his willingness to bring a certain grit to the ice every night.

“I’ve talked about him about playing inside a little more and getting to those hard areas,” Kowalsky said. “That was part of his game that was maybe lacking consistently, and it’s there now. He’s just got command of his game, and he’s assertive when he gets the puck.”

Going to those hard areas is something Kowalsky has demanded not only of Sislo, but also his linemates — rookies Matt Lorito and Joe Blandisi. He’s shown them how getting their noses dirty opens up opportunities for their linemates.

“I’ve spent time with them, as a line and as individuals,” Kowalsky said, “and shown them how, ‘You’re a skilled guy, but because you went to the net, you allowed Lorito to isolate a guy 1-on-1,’ or you allowed Blandisi to isolate a guy, or Sislo. They really work off each other well. They can all make plays, and they can all score.”

Lorito has four goals and 12 assists in 15 games, and Blandisi has six and eight, respectively, in 15 games.

Sislo developed a rapport with the two quickly, and Kowalsky has kept them together most of the season.

“I got to see Matty at the end of the year last year [on an amateur tryout contract], so we knew what he was capable of,” Sislo said. “Blander’s been great from the start of training camp and has been working hard. I think us three have really started to click.”

Part of the credit for the rookie duo’s success has to go to the threat Sislo presents to teams, and vice versa. Each of the three forwards has shown the ability to make plays for another and to finish on his own.

That advantage is even more apparent with one fewer defender on the ice. The 13 power-play goals produced by the trio is more than some teams have so far. The 20 put up by the Devils leads the AHL, and the team’s success rate of 26.7 percent (20-for-75) is second best in the league.

“For Sis to establish that shot over there is huge for the whole unit,”

Lorito said. “Having him over there is huge for the power play, because if you can establish that one threat and it forces the PK to take something away, when they do that, they have to give you something else.”

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