Home ice should be a special place to play, and the Albany Devils have gotten off on the right foot on theirs this year.
With only 13 wins in 34 games last season at the Times Union Center, being tough at home was a priority coming into this fall. So was specialty teams, which had let the Devils down so often in the recent past.
The Devils won their first two home games of the season, the second in no small part due to eight successful penalty kills and three special teams goals in Monday’s 4-1 victory over the Adirondack Phantoms.
“Feast or famine, right?” said Albany coach Rick Kowalsky. “Definitely a dangerous team, you’re playing with fire [committing so many penalties], but I thought from [goalie Scott] Wedgewood out, our penalty killers were … we’ll have lots of positive film to go over from the last couple days.”
Adirondack wasn’t scoring on its power plays, but during one of them, a puck did end up in a net.
With a 1-0 lead and defenseman Dan Kelly sitting in the box for closing his hand on the puck, penalty killer and assistant captain Tim Sestito broke into the zone short-handed, but was kept from getting a good shot off by a hustling Brandon Manning. The officials determined, though, Sestito had been fouled by Bruno Gervais earlier in his break and awarded him a penalty shot, to the surprise of both coaches and Sestito.
Sestito skated up the right side of the slot for the penalty shot and fired it to the left side of the net, under the arm of goalie Yann Danis, for a 2-0 lead with 9.2 seconds left in the first period.
“I was a little surprised,” Sestito said. “The guy [Manning] knocked it off clean. Somebody said he might have had his arm up early, I don’t know, I’ll take it. I had a questionable penalty-shot goal a couple years ago, so I’m 2-for-2 on questionable penalty shots.
“I’ve been working with [goaltender coach Dave] Caruso a lot before practices. I was just trying to get a little fake shot to see what the goalie did. He froze a little bit, I just let off a low snapper and it found the back of the net.”
It was the first successful penalty shot for Albany since March 8, when Harri Pesonen beat Bridgeport’s Rick DiPietro.
The power play was clicking, too, for the Devils. Joe Whitney netted his third goal of the season to open the scoring at 16:50 in the first period, assisted by Scott Timmins and Eric Gelinas. Whitney also had the second assist on Timmins’ power-play goal at 16:43 in the second. Albany was 2-for-5 on the power play.
It was Timmins’ second goal of the season, and both he and Whitney have a point in every game — Whitney with a goal in every game.
Whitney gave the Phantoms fits last season with seven goals and five assists in 10 games. This season, of his three goals and two assists, two of the goals and one assist have come on the power play, where he skates with Timmins and Reid Boucher.
Timmins, who came to the Devils in a trade on Sept. 28, had three assists to go with his two goals, and has fallen into a good rhythm with Whitney and Boucher.
“They’re really offensive-minded guys,” he said. “They work really hard and they’re not strictly offense. We always come up [the ice] together and have good speed. It seems like whenever we have the puck in the zone, one guy’s open and we find the holes really well. They’re really good players, so I just try to get them the puck and go to the net.”
Adirondack’s Rob Bordson scored on a deflection at 8:47 in the third to break up Wedgewood’s shutout bid. Sestito added a second goal at 14:17 on a nice feed from Darcy Zajac.
Wedgewood made 24 saves on 25 shots for Albany (2-1-0-0). Danis stopped 17 of the 21 shots he faced for the Phantoms (1-2-0-1).
The Devils will hit the road Wednesday for a long bus trip to Norfolk, Va., where they will play the Admirals on Friday and Saturday.
Adirondack 0 0 1 — 1
Albany 2 1 1 — 4
First Period — 1, Albany, Whitney 3 (Timmins, Gelinas), 16:50. 2, Albany, Sestito 1 (penalty shot), 19:50 (sh). Penalties — Whitney, Alb (interference), 3:04; Konan, Adk (tripping), 4:48; Burlon, Alb (hooking), 13:59; Lauridsen, Adk (interference), 16:19; Kelly, Alb (closing hand on puck), 19:36; Holmstrom, Adk (misconduct), 19:10.
Second Period — 3, Albany, Timmins 2 (Boucher, Whitney), 16:43 (pp). Penalties — Wohlberg, Alb (holding the stick), 6:09; Helgeson, Alb (tripping), 10:04; Lauridsen, Adk (unsportsmanlike conduct), 13:46; Kelly, Alb (slashing), 13:46; Janssen, Alb (unsportsmanlike conduct), 13:46; VandeVelde, Adk (hooking), 15:59.
Third Period — 4, Adirondack, Bordson 2 (Lauridsen, Brown), 8:47. 5, Albany, Sestito 2 (D. Zajac, McKelvie), 14:17. Penalties — Konan, Adk (interference), 2:30; Gelinas, Alb (interference), 10:28; Straka, Adk (tripping), 19:42.
Shots on goal — Adirondack 10-8-7 — 25. Albany 10-5-6 — 21.
Power-play opportunities — Adirondack 0 of 8; Albany 2 of 5.
Goalies — Adirondack, Danis 1-1-1 (21 shots-17 saves). Albany, Wedgewood 1-0-0 (25-24).
A — 2,222. T – 2:23.
Referee — Nic Leduc, T.J. Luxmore. Linesmen —Mike Emanatian, Francis Trempe.