It was an odd-looking goal, but it counted the same as a pretty one.
It also stood up as the eventual game-winning goal in Saturday’s 5-2 win over Springfield to close the season. Albany winger Joe Whitney was skating down the left side, Mike Sislo down the right, and Sislo fired across the ice to Whitney. Whitney was tangled up with one of the Falcons, but was in the right place at the right time and the puck bounced off him and into the net.
It was the first goal in better than a month for the team’s leading point producer and second-leading goal scorer.
“I’ve been a little cold as of late, but I’ve been working hard each and every day,” he said. “Hopefully, that turns around for me and I start putting the puck in the net a little more to help the team win. You can always use a couple more goals here and there.”
It was Sislo’s first game back from a two-week stint with New Jersey. The game before he left, Albany coach Rick Kowalsky moved him and his right-handed shot to the right side of Whitney’s line, allowing Whitney to move back to his natural position at left wing.
“He’s played the right most of the year and done a good job, but sometimes, just getting on your regular side is a different look,” Kowalsky said. “You’re able to get pucks on your forehand with speed a little bit better. I did that, I liked it for one game, then Sislo was gone and I had no right wingers left, so I had to move Whit back.”
Tim Sestito centered the two wingers on Saturday, and he has been doing so in practice this week, as well. The trio forms what should be one of the top two scoring lines tonight at 7 in Game 1 of the Calder Cup playoffs first round, as No. 5 Albany hosts the No. 4 St. John’s IceCaps.
“They’re both smart hockey players, and they work like dogs,” Whitney said of his linemates. “So I’m just going to do everything I can to help them out. We seemed to have a little bit of chemistry last week, so hopefully, that continues.”
The other top line is likely to be Kelly Zajac centering Stefan Matteau and Mattias Tedenby. Scott Timmins centered Reid Boucher and Harri Pesonen Thursday morning, and Rod Pelley lined with David Wohlberg and Darcy Zajac.
Whitney has led the Devils in points in each of his three pro seasons since completing his collegiate career with Boston College. In his rookie season, he had 15 goals and 29 assists in 72 games. Last season, he posted 26 goals and 25 assists in 66 games. This season, he booked 22 goals and 31 assists in 73 games.
Still, between March 14 and April 16, he had no goals and five assists in 14 games. Kowalsky is hopeful putting him on the left side of this line opens things up for him a little more.
“There’s no question that Joe was feeling the pressure of not scoring,” Kowalsky said. “We were just looking for the right combination. Sestito was looking really good before he left, as well, and he’s a guy who can play in a checking role, but he can also play with some more talented guys, get them pucks and contribute offensively. I think putting them with Sislo makes them all skate, and putting Joe on that side, I can use them in a checking role if I have to, but if they are in that role, they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with, offensively, as well.”