On an eight-day road trip, December was looking like another possible momentum killer for the Albany Devils.
Four straight regulation losses after seven straight wins. If December spiraled out of their control, it could turn into what February was for last season’s team.
Or November for the 2010-11 team. Or three straight Aprils (2011, 2012, 2013).
The Devils have had a few bad months — yeah, bad months — since returning to the Capital Region. Probably none was as bad as last February, when they went 2-8-0-0 with a six-game losing streak. They’ve managed to avoid such months so far this season, following that four-game slide with six straight wins and points in their last eight games. Captain Rod Pelley said part of that might be because the young players on the roster are caught up in the day-to-day preparation, unable to see the forest for the trees.
“Sometimes with a younger group, they may not know any better,” Pelley said. “The coaching staff and the older guys in the room have made sure there’s no let-up, that we’re keeping our foot on the gas pedal.”
Looking at the “big picture,” assistant captain Chris Mc-Kelvie said, such as Albany’s position in the standings or in the playoff chase, has hurt the team in the past.
This season, the team has avoided that distraction by keeping the focus on how much fun it is to win, and what it will take to keep that rolling with one more victory in the next game.
Albany is 23-8-4-0 entering tonight’s game at Providence. The Devils have the third-best points percentage (.714) in the conference — and in the AHL — behind Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (.770) and Toronto (.795).
“The taste of winning certainly helps,” McKelvie said. “You get a little bit of that taste, you get some confidence, the ball gets rolling. You look at our locker room and how fun it is in our locker room right now, and everyone wants to keep it that way. We’re kind of getting to the dog days of winter here, and it can be a grind, but we need to make sure even when we don’t want to come to the rink or battle in practice, we have to do it, and those things will pay dividends at the end of the year.”
The Devils also had a poor November last season, winning four of 14 games and going through a 1-6-1-2 stretch.
They lost six in a row in November of 2010, finishing the month 4-8-0-0. They also lost six straight in March of 2013, though they went 6-7-0-2 that month. They followed it with a 3-6-0-1 April.
That was better than April of 2011 (1-5-0-1) and 2012 (1-5-0-0).
Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said the Devils’ success this season can be credited, at least in part, to their depth.
“I think our depth has been important, and it’s something that maybe, in the past, we’d struggle with,” Kowalsky said. We’d get a little thin, and the guys who stepped in weren’t able to fill those voids. This group has been able to do that, individually, but also the way we play as a team and defend as a group of five and have the puck more, that’s been a big part of it.”
Pelley added that while the young players are so caught up in the day-to-day work while the pro game is still fairly new to them, the veterans on this team have played through those bad months and want to do anything they can to avoid another.
“I’ve been through it, Mc-Kelvie, Dan Kelly, we’ve been through the ups and downs of having a tough month and not winning games,” Pelley said. “We get a sense of when that feeling is around the team, when you lose a couple in a row, that sense of what we need to do to get out of it, how urgency comes into play and how that can compound. Also, all the coaches have been through it. We’ve found ways, this year, to avoid that, and I think that’s a credit to everyone in the room and the coaching staff.”
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