After a pair of less than stellar games, the Albany Devils closed last weekend with a strong effort Sunday, showing the urgency of a team fighting for a playoff berth.
They will need to carry that urgency into this weekend's games, which could either inch the Devils closer to the eighth and final playoff spot or eliminate them from the race. With six games and a possible 12 points remaining, Albany and Manchester are four points behind Hershey and Norfolk, which are tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Devils will open the weekend with back-to-back games against the Binghamton Senators, tonight at 7:05 in Binghamton and Saturday at 5 in Albany. They also will host Rochester on Sunday at 3 p.m.
In the two losses last Friday and Saturday, the Devils allowed a goal in the first minute of play. Sunday, they found the energy and focus they lacked early in those losses.
“Sunday, we get the puck up, we get it in, and we do it all the time, right away,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “If you look at the games we've had success and some of the runs we've gone on, we've done that. We've had good first periods.”
The Devils and Senators have split their first six games, both
going 3-2-0-1. Albany has slightly outscored Binghamton, 19-18, in those games.
The Senators are fighting for the East Division championship, trailing Syracuse by three games with a game in hand on the Crunch.
“They're a team that focuses on details,” Kowalsky said. “They've got good habits, they're hard on pucks, which I thought we did a good job of Sunday. You've really got to focus on those one-on-one battles, getting pucks in, getting pucks out, those battles along the walls, in front of the net. We can't take any of those off right now. They challenge you that way. We've played well against them, but they're also a team that can hang around, protect the middle of the ice, lull you to sleep a little bit, then they have the opportunity or they have the skill to come back. They only need a couple chances to put it in the net. They're a team with a decent power play, as well.
“I think we need to play our game. That's what the focus has to be on. Yeah, we have to be aware of how they play, but we have to play our game, we have to skate, and we have to be hard on pucks. I think those three things — hard on pucks, skating and not turning it over through the neutral zone or on our breakouts — is key.”
Centerman Steve Zalewski has three of his 10 goals this season in the six games against Binghamton. He also has two assists against the Senators. For the season, he has 29 assists (tied for the lead on the team) and 39 points (third on the team). He and Matt Anderson (2-3-5) have had the most success for the Devils against Binghamton this season.
“I've always liked playing in that rink,” Zalewski said of the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena. “Some guys don't like that, but I kind of like the smaller rink. Everything happens pretty quick. I think it's almost a little easier to get on offense there, because if you come through the neutral zone, it seems like you're already in good position to score once you cross the blue line.”
Albany goalie Jeff Frazee is 2-1-0 against Binghamton with a 2.61 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. Binghamton's Nathan Lawson has started 13 of the team's last 17 games, going 7-4-2 with a .936 save percentage. He is 1-0-0 against Albany with one goal allowed and a .933 save percentage.
Among others, the Devils will have to deal with Cole Schneider, who in six games against Albany has five goals and three assists, along with a plus-six rating.
“They play pretty fast and have a lot of guys who can skate and make plays,” Zalewski said. “They're tough to play against, but I think when we play our game, it can be pretty frustrating for a team like that when we're playing simple and getting pucks behind them and getting in on the forecheck. I think we can find some success. Obviously, we've got desperation on our side. They've already clinched the playoffs.”
AWARD FOR LEACH
Albany's captain, defenseman Jay Leach, an Altamont native, has been named the IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year award for the team. Each team chooses its own recipient, and those 30 players comprise the field from which the AHL's Yanick Duprè Memorial Award is chosen.