In the Syracuse Crunch, the Albany Devils may see a shadow of the team they could have been.
With 20 games left to play, the Albany Devils were fighting for one of the four road-team berths in the Calder Cup playoffs, and Syracuse was one of the last teams in the Eastern Conference standings. Then, and not without a good deal of help from each other, the two changed course for mirror-image finishes. With Syracuse’s 2-1 win in Sunday’s season finale at the Times Union Center, the swap was complete as the Crunch earned the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Devils finished 14th in the conference and 28th in the league, 4-13-1-2 in their last 20 games.
“We were in position. Even 10 days ago, two weeks, we didn’t lose any ground,” Albany general manager Chris Lamoriello said. “If you look at the end of the month in March, in the weekday, school-day game we had against Rochester, we won that game. We won the game against Providence on the Friday night. I felt we were in the position to build some momentum, and unfortunately, we just couldn’t.”
The Devils played Syracuse three times in eight days near the start of their slump, losing all three in what became an eight-game losing streak. After the win over Providence that Lamoriello spoke of, Albany lost another five straight.
Despite the poor finish, Albany was able to develop some of its young players. Rookie defenseman Eric Gelinas was easily the most improved from the start of the season to the end. Through Christmas, he had three goals, two assists and a minus-nine rating in 29 games. Since, he had 13 goals, 19 assists and a plus-nine in 46 games.
Rookie goalie Keith Kinkaid, a Union College product, got off to a hot start at 6-2-2 before experiencing the peaks and valleys of a 17-20-3 year. He finished with a goals-against average of 2.94 and save percentage of .904 in 42 appearances.
Joe Whitney, an undrafted rookie winger from Boston College on an AHL contract, led the team in assists (29) and points (44).
“I just came in trying to get into the lineup, to be honest, every night,” Whitney said. “You’ve got to do your job to earn a spot in the lineup. It’s just the way it goes. There’s a lot of good players on the team, so that makes it easier.”
Whitney’s point total is the lowest for a team leader in Albany. Aleksander Suglobov came close in the 2005-06 season when he led the Albany River Rats with 48 (25-23). The last time a rookie led the team was when Steve Sullivan did so in the 1994-95 season with the River Rats with 81 points (31-50).
The problem for the Albany Devils this season was scoring. They were outscored, 226-190, and had no player with 20 goals. Steve
Zalewski led the way with 19, followed by rookie defenseman Eric Gelinas and winger Vladimir Zharkov with 16 apiece, and then Whitney with 15.
Several of the young players had some trouble adjusting to the 76-game schedule after their college or junior seasons that lasted 30- or 40-plus games.
It can’t all be put on the rookies and sophomores, though, as no one emerged as a go-to scorer. The lack of a threat was even more apparent in the late-season swoon, when the Devils were outscored, 65-43, over the last 20 games.
“I thought some guys definitely didn’t have the years they would have thought or we would have thought,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “We, at times, looked like we could score. I think moreso as the year went on, the last month and a bit here is really when it’s been a factor and hurt us.”
There are a half-dozen unrestricted free agents that spent substantial time with Albany this year — Stephen Gionta, Peter Harrold, Tim Sestito, Brad Mills, Jay Leach and Steve Bernier. Lamoriello will take a few weeks, at least, before thinking about who he wants to try to resign. The players, too, will want some time.
“There’s a team in New Jersey still playing. I’m sure some guys might still have to practice. We haven’t been told,” Sestito said. “I love it here. I love Albany. It’s close to home, it’s a great city. I’d love to come back. But for right now, it’s time to reflect on the season a little bit and leave that stuff until the summer.”
Syracuse 0 2 0 — 2
Albany 1 0 0 — 1
First Period — 1, Albany, Tedenby 6 (Burlon, Anderson), 19:54 (pp). Penalties — Sestito, Alb (hooking), 9:16; Cumiskey, Syr (delay of game), 14:58; Palmieri, Syr (unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:38; Kelly, Alb (unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:38; Clark, Syr (interference), 19:10.
Second Period — 2, Syracuse, Mitchell 8 (Schofield, Bodie), 2:57. 3, Syracuse, Etem 1 (Jacques, McMillan), 12:13. Penalties —
D. Zajac, Alb (hooking), 5:23.
Third Period — No scoring. Penalties — Sestito, Alb (cross-checking), 6:16; O’Marra, Syr (hooking), 13:13; Anderson, Alb (tripping), 13:40; Gelinas, Alb (tripping), 18:05.
Shots on goal — Syracuse 11-10-2 — 23. Albany 11-11-13 — 35.
Power-play opportunities — Syracuse 0 of 5; Albany 1 of 2.
Goalies — Syracuse, Tarkki 24-17-4 (35 shots-34 saves). Albany, Clermont 1-1-0 (23-21).
A — 2,524. T — 2:14.
Referee — Terry Koharski. Linesmen — Robert St. Lawrence, Marty Demers.