Albany Devils hope potent line survives NHL callups
ALBANY This line is like sand in the opponent’s chowder.
It’s Tim Sestito, Darcy Zajac and Mike Hoeffel, and their play last weekend had a lot to do with the Albany Devils’ two wins.
With NHL training camps likely starting up on Sunday and sapping the AHL of many top-line players, the Devils need more of the same —and from everyone — in the coming weeks if they want to continue the success they’ve had since Dec. 1, going 9-3-1-1 in that time.
“They were the stars of the video the last two days,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said of the line. “You know what? I may eventually have to break them up, but I’m going to avoid it at all cost. They’ve been great. Hoeffel’s probably the biggest guy on the line, but Darcy and Tito play with some grit, they protect the puck, they’re all over the net. They were a huge part of our success this weekend. With the exception of needing two centermen in Darcy and Tim, I’m going to keep them together as long as I can if they keep playing like this.”
Albany will play at Manchester tonight at 7, play at home against Worcester on Saturday at 5 p.m., then travel to Atlantic City for a 4 p.m. tilt with Bridgeport at Boardwalk Hall.
Depending on who Albany loses to the New Jersey Devils when the recalls are handed down, Kowalsky may be able to keep his gritty line together, and he may not. As he said, Zajac and Sestito are both centermen, and if recalls and/or injuries leave him center-poor, he’ll need to use them on separate lines.
In the meantime, he will look to them for more of their reliable play in their own zone, their strong puck possession, and their goal-crashing, rebound-hawking, puck-stuffing play on offense.
“When we have four lines going, it’s to our advantage,” Sestito said. “Killer [Kowalsky] likes to play everybody, and if we’re getting some goals out there, we’re taking some pressure off some of our top guys. We seemed to find a little bit of chemistry these last couple games. We’re looking to keep it going. I think you get a little confidence when you get a couple goals like we have.”
Kowalsky is expecting anywhere from three to seven players to be called down to Newark.
The easy guesses as to who six of them may be include: right wing Bobby Butler (15-7-22), centerman Jacob Josefson (8-12-20), centerman Adam Henrique (5-3-8 in 16 games), centerman Stephen Gionta (2-3-5 in 11 games), left wing Mattias Tedenby (7-7-14) and defenseman Adam Larsson (3-14-17).
That list includes Albany’s top three goal scorers, top two assist men and leaders in almost every statistical category.
Of those that remain, Joe Whitney and Sestito are atop the scoring list with five goals and nine assists apiece. Whitney has missed the last three games because of a lower-body injury but is ready to return tonight.
There also are a number of players who have seen limited ice time this season because of the NHL lockout, but they will begin seeing action and should benefit from Albany keeping so many guys around.
Aside from the two goalies, 29 skaters have taken the ice for the Devils this season. Add in Jean-Sebastien Berube, who is practicing with the team again after missing all games so far after a preseason shoulder injury, and Albany won’t be hurting for personnel after New Jersey picks out a handful from the 30 in the dressing room.
“I think we’ve done things a little different,” Sestito said. “We’ve had maybe 30 guys here, everybody knows the system, everybody’s been in and out of the lineup. Hopefully, that works to our advantage.
“Obviously, we’re going to be losing some top-notch players that probably would have been in the NHL all year, but that’s just giving opportunity to other guys coming in the lineup. We have other skill guys who haven’t been able to play. Now they’re going to get those opportunities with spots on the power play, the penalty kill and five-on-five. I’d like to think it should be a seamless transition, especially because of how we play. We’re a systems team, we stick to systems, we’re not overly individual.”