With just four points separating seventh from 14th place in the Eastern Conference of the AHL, the eighth-place Albany Devils still have their work cut out for them.
The first order of business is to snap a five-game losing streak, in which Syracuse beat the Devils three times in eight days.
“It’s such a long season. Games are so important, now, that you can’t dwell on one team beating you three times in a week,” Albany rookie Joe Whitney said. “You can’t think about that. That stuff is behind us now, and we’re fresh.”
The Devils will travel today for their final game against Binghamton tonight at 7:05, then will play at Hershey on Saturday at 7 p.m. before hosting the Bears on Sunday at 4 p.m.
Whitney stressed the importance of getting off to a good start at the beginning of a three-in-three, and he knows a little something about good performances against Binghamton.
The rookie right wing leads the team in assists (22) and points (35), and is tied for second with rookie defenseman Eric Gelinas for the lead in goals (13) behind Steve Zalewski’s 16.
Against Binghamton this season, Whitney has three goals and seven assists in seven games.
“I didn’t know that. That’s crazy,” he said. “Every game, you try to approach it the same way. Maybe against some teams, their personnel, you have more success than others. I approach each game the same as any other game and just try to do the best I can to help the team win. So far against Binghamton, I’ve been hot, so hopefully I can continue that, and we can get a big win to get the weekend started.”
Whitney said the Devils had a good week of practice, and he detected no loss of swagger from the five-game losing streak.
In that stretch, Albany has scored just eight goals. They recorded a single goal in three of the losses.
Albany coach Rick Kowalsky joked about the simple answer to their recent problems.
“Well, score some goals,” he said, then found a deeper issue. “I just think it’s our overall game. Maybe lack of scoring has led to frustration. We took maybe the most retaliatory penalties we’ve taken in a long time. Part of it is, teams are tightening up, defensively. There’s not a lot of room and there’s not a lot of mistakes made. It seems we’ve gone the other way, a little bit, and got frustrated, started to cheat and got away from our system.”
In the last five games, the Devils have been whistled for 25 penalties and allowed six power-play goals. Most recently, Adirondack was 2-for-6 with the advantage in a 4-3 win Saturday and Syracuse was 2-for-9 in a 5-1 rout Sunday.
If the Devils are to get back on track, they must start against a Binghamton team that has beaten them four times in seven meetings this season.
The Senators, 12 points out of the eighth and final playoff spot with 14 games to play, are the longest shot on the board, so odds are they will be playing like a team with nothing to lose.
Hershey split its early two games with Albany, the Devils winning in a shootout in the most recent tilt in November. The Bears, though, are in a bit of a slump themselves, winners of just three in their last 10 games.
Albany has 15 games remaining, nine at home, and can still improve its playoff position or lose it entirely. Four of its six remaining road games come in the next eight days and may be the key to that playoff berth.
“If we can take care of business on the road this month, we’ll set ourselves up good to come home and get some wins at home,” Whitney said. “It’s been said that it’s a 15-game season now. It’s one of those cliche lines, but you know, we’ve got some winners in the room. Guys who have won in the past, some guys who have been to the playoffs in the past and know what it’s like. We’re just trying to get there, right now, and we’ll go from there.”
“We can control our own destiny, and we’ve put ourselves in that position by getting two out of three each weekend [before the losing streak],” Kowalsky said. “We need to do that again this weekend.”