In Wednesday’s loss to Manchester, the Albany Devils again looked like the team that struggled to find the net in mid-March.
With the number of games remaining dwindling, the 10th-place Devils are still solid in their own zone, but need to support their goalies with a little more scoring if they are going to crack the top eight and reach the Calder Cup playoffs for the second consecutive season.
“I think we need a lot of tight support,” Albany right wing Mike Sislo said. “There’s not going to be space. No one can do it on their own. We have to have good passing, we need to be open for each other and really just do it as a team. This time of year, everyone’s playing tight, defensively, there’s not a lot of space out there. We need to do it together and get pucks to the net, and get bodies to the net.”
When Albany made its playoff push last season, the Devils were 11-6-2-3 through March and April’s regular-season games. Sislo posted 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 16 games in that stretch.
Of the top contributors in that stretch, only Sislo and Joe Whitney (3-7-10 in 21 games) remain, but Whitney (charlie horse) will not play tonight at Springfield, and he is unlikely to play in Saturday’s home game against Binghamton.
The top scorers were Kelly Zajac (4-10-14 in 21 games), Harri Pesonen (7-7-14 in 22 games) and Reid Boucher (8-4-12 in 21 games). Zajac is out for the season with a hip injury, Pesonen is in Switzerland and Boucher has been called up to New Jersey.
This year, Albany is 7-3-1-0 since March 1. Goalies Scott Wedgewood and Scott Clemmensen have a combined save percentage of .930.
“I think our defensive-zone play has been pretty solid all year, and that’s something we take a lot of pride in and work on a lot,” Sislo said. “I think, going forward into the last stretch here, we need to be able to turn good defense over into good offense and get the pucks into the offensive zone as quick as possible and stay there as long as possible.”
Defenseman Raman Hrabarenka leads the team in that time with eight points (4-4-8 in 11 games), while Sislo (1-6-7), Whitney (2-5-7) and Paul Thompson (6-1-7) follow close behind.
“It comes back to puck movement, and if you have the puck more, you’re going to play in the offensive zone more,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “The next step is getting pucks to the net and playing what we call on the inside, where guys are getting to the net, whether shots are coming off the rush or from the point. The problem [Wednesday night, when Albany managed 15 shots on goal] was we didn’t have the puck as much.”
Albany is seven standings points behind eighth-place Portland with eight games left, and the Pirates have a game in hand.
Nine points separate fifth-place Worcester (82 with nine to play) and 10th-place Albany (73), realistically leaving six teams playing for four spots.
Four of Albany’s eight remaining games are against teams in that group. Each team, except Portland, has at least half its remaining games against teams in this group.
Albany is 12-12-2-4 against its remaining opponents. Portland is the only team with a losing record in regulation against its remaining opponents (14-16-1-0), and has been outscored by them, 86-69. Despite a winning record against remaining opponents (19-13-3-4), sixth-place Hartford has been outscored by them, 116-109.
If Albany goes on a run in these last 16 days of its season, it’s possible the Devils could jump up and into a playoff berth.
“There’s a lot of teams log-jammed in that five-to-nine spot that have to play each other, as well,” Kowalsky said. “Three-point games are tough, but you never know. Three teams or two teams hit a bump in the road, and we continue to win games — all we can do is continue to focus on our next game.”
MAN OF THE YEAR
Albany defenseman Dan Kelly was named the Devils’ Man of the Year for the second consecutive season. He is the team’s nominee for the AHL’s Yanick Dupré Memorial Award, given for outstanding contributions to the local community and charitable organizations.
Clifton Park native Nick Petrecki, a defenseman with Rochester, was named the Man of the Year for the Amerks. It is his fourth time receiving this recognition. He win the Dupré Award for the 2011-12 season.