It will likely take more than one man to fill these two skates.
With Albany Devils centerman Adam Henrique out four to six weeks recovering from Thursday’s surgery on an injured ligament in his thumb, a host of Devils will have to step up and fill the void left by a two-way forward who was a finalist last year for the Calder Trophy and helped New Jersey to the Stanley Cup finals.
“It’s not going to be one guy,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “We’ve got a couple centermen available, and we’re going to see who wants to take the bull by the horns and slide into those minutes.
“The thing with Adam is he’s power play, penalty kill and some important minutes five-on-five. There’s opportunity for, pot-entially, a couple guys to fill that.”
The names that kept coming up were rookie David Wohlberg, Steve Zalewski and Tim Sestito.
They will try to collectively fill those vacated minutes when the Devils host St. John’s tonight at 7 at the Times Union Center, then play the Adirondack Phantoms at the Glens Falls Civic Center on Saturday night at 7.
Zalewski should be the first name to come to mind, as he led the team in goals last season with 19 and had .59 points per game through the 69 contests he skated. He’s been a strong power-play guy with good hands on loose rebounds.
The year before, he had 19 goals, 29 assists and .54 points per game through 81 games. Those numbers were even better in the 31 games at the end of the season, after he came to Albany from Worcester in a trade — 11-12-23 and .74 points per game.
But this season, Zalewski took a while to get his motor running. He scored his first goal of the season Friday in Rochester, and shows 1-4-5 through 14 games. He had played well offensively, but had been searching for that first goal, which he hopes will jump start his scoring.
“Throughout all the years I’ve played hockey, I’ve had stretches where I won’t score, then all of a sudden, I’ll get a bunch of them and I’m feeling good again,” he said. “That’s how it goes with me, sometimes. I’ll get a couple, and you start feeling good and they start going in for you. I’ve had games where I was getting good shots, good chances, and they just weren’t going in. Maybe now, you get a few lucky ones, a few breaks your way and it turns for you.”
So maybe Zalewski is on the verge of breaking out, and that has to be Kowalsky’s hope as he put him between left wing Joe Whitney and right wing Bobby Butler this week, right where Henrique would be if he were skating.
Defensively, though, Zalewski has been on the ice for far too many goals, showing a minus-11. Only two other forwards in the league had ratings as bad after Wednesday’s games, and two defensemen were worse.
“I think, as a whole, and myself included, we need to be more physical down low, be harder on pucks down low,” Zalewski said. “The past few games, we’ve been giving up too many goals, and I’ve been out there for a bunch of them, so I’ll take the blame for a lot of that. [It’ll take us] being tougher down low, stronger on pucks and making stronger, safer plays instead of leaning
toward the side of offense.”
Sestito (1-5-6 in 16 games, plus-3 rating) has been reliable in his own end as a winger this season, and Kowalsky said he may move him back to center.
He also leads the team in penalty minutes with 31.
Wohlberg has played in just eight games (0-1-1, plus-1) this season and six at the end of last season (1-0-1, plus-1) after finishing up his collegiate career.
“He’s been in and out of the lineup. With him, it’s consistency from an intensity level,” Kowalsky said. “And again, realizing that guy you’re fighting for the puck with, he wants it bad. There’s no easy battles. He’s a big man. He can play center, play the wing. With his size, if he wants to skate and play, he’s got a little bit of sandpaper in his game, and when he plays that way, we like it. When he doesn’t, we don’t.”
Wohlberg was one of the last guys off the ice Thursday, making up for a lack of game time in an effort to stay sharp if he gets the call this weekend. He said he’s working on simplifying his game.
“It’s definitely consistency, it’s settling down and getting comfortable,” he said. “Sometimes, it might be nerves or worrying too much, don’t want to make a mistake here or there, then you overlook things. I think you’ve just got to keep it simple, keep it consistent, and I’ll be all right.”
Whether its the rookie or someone else, or likely a combination of Devils, Wohlberg is confident the job will get done.
“It’s tough that we lose a good player like Adam Henrique,” Wohlberg said, “but I think some other guys, no matter who you put out there, will step in the spotlight.”