A shift in mentality
Skill alone is not enough.
That much has been apparent in many of the Albany Devils’ games this season. They have tons of talent, but they are somehow goal-poor.
Albany has been outscored 20-15 in its eight games this season. The 2.50 goals-against average should result in a little bit better than a 2-5-0-1 record, but the Devils have been shut out twice in the last three games, putting a big exclamation mark next to their already low goal total. They were shut out by Hershey, 3-0, and Adirondack, 4-0. Between those games, they lost a shootout to Connecticut, 2-1, in which they not only couldn’t find a second goal in regulation, but were stonewalled in the shootout.
“We ran into a good goaltender against [Hershey goalie Braden Holtby], and we had 48 shots in our next game,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “The goalies are good enough, if they can see it, they’re going to save it. We’ve stressed all week, driving the net, getting in front. Whether you’re a skilled guy or not, you’ve got to get in front of that net. It’s really going to come down to the guys who get there are going to play, and the guys who don’t, obviously it’s not working, aren’t going to play.
“If we want to talk about skill alone, it isn’t getting it done. Second chances, third chances off screens, tips, rebounds, that’s how you break down coverage. We did a pretty good job of that Friday [2-1 shootout loss to Connecticut], but then you’ve got to bear down and finish your chances. Sometimes that requires you to go to hard areas and pay the price. We just haven’t done that consistently enough to produce the goals that we want to produce.”
Kowalsky likes having so much talent on his team, but I’m sure he’d rather have goals and wins than merely the potential for them. He wants a little more grit, some gutsy play from his guys that he hasn’t seen enough of. It will take a bit of a shift in their mentality to get there, but they can start tonight in Providence against the struggling Bruins (3-5-0-0).
Albany also will play host to the Adirondack Phantoms on Saturday night at 7 and Norfolk Admirals on Monday at 2 p.m.
JUST IN TIME
If there’s one man on the Devils roster who knows about a shift in mentality, it’s got to be Alexander Urbom.
The third-year defenseman returns this weekend from an upper-body injury that sidelined him for five games, just in time, too, as the Devils will be without Matt Corrente tonight. Corrente is serving a one-game suspension for his instigator penalty in the last five minutes of Saturday’s loss to Adirondack. Urbom played the first three games of the season, recording an assist and a plus-two rating.
There was a lot of talk about Urbom when he first turned pro, but his rookie season didn’t measure up to what was expected or hoped for. Kowalsky takes some of the responsibility for that, saying he used Urbom too often and in threw him into too many situations too early. However, he also speaks of Urbom’s turnaround in his second season as a product of the young Swede accepting his situation and rededicating himself simply to improving his game on a daily basis.
It’s something I’ve written about before, but here’s what Kowalsky said after Thursday’s practice about Urbom’s development.
“Last year was a big step, maturity-wise for him,” Kowalsky said. “The first year, in his defense, we probably used him too much. Last year, he came in with a real good attitude. He wasn’t thinking about the NHL; he was just thinking about his game. He was steady for us. I think he can still improve in the areas of using his body and his reach and his size. But he’s got composure with the puck, and he showed that last year. He’s just got to be good defensively and a good first-pass defenseman. I think he made good strides last year, and now he has to make the next step. He has to be consistent, and the execution has to be there all the time. I think those are the only things he can improve on from last year to this year.
“He is a completely different young man than he was two years ago. He wants to play in the NHL, but he knows what he has to do down here, what he has to work on with his game. His approach to video with us has been completely different, and now it’s [a matter of] maintaining that and continuing to do that consistently. Then, just small stuff — getting to pucks quick, being physical in front, good gaps. All that stuff that, from year one to two has gotten better, has to be even more consistent this year. Then he will be on the right path to getting a chance to play [in the NHL].”
Sure, Kowalsky wants Urbom to be strong in his own zone, but this team needs scoring in a bad way, and Urbom has a good shot from the point. He also knows when to get out and push the pace.
“One thing I have seen from him over the two years is, he’s pretty smart with his reads when there is an opportunity to jump in the rush,” Kowalsky said. “We will encourage that out of him, and it’s something he may come into a little more as that maturity process keeps going.”
He got out on the rush in the season-opener against Manchester and picked up his assist after passing to Raman Hrabarenka, who shot from the right wall and had the rebound tucked away by Chad Wiseman for the Devils’ first goal of the season.
Urbom said he was feeling pretty good this season before his injury.
“It gets better and better,” he said of his game. “I only played two exhibition games, and they were OK. The third game [of the regular season], I thought was really good, actually. Then I got hit. I’ve just got to go right back at it again and do what I always do. Hopefully, I keep playing good.”
When he was working back into shape, skating under the direction of assistant coach Tommy Albelin got him game-ready in a hurry.
“The first days, when I was skating by myself, it felt a little bit like I was tired,” he said. “But Tommy skated pretty hard, and so when I was back to the team, I felt normal again.
“This has been a good week for me, so I feel 100 percent again.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Kowalsky had not decided whether he would play Urbom both tonight and Saturday or just one of the two. He sounded hopeful, though, that Urbom would be physically ready for both games.
“He should be a big part of our top six. We’ve got a bus ride and a night to think about it,” he said. “I’m leaning toward putting him in, and if he feels good and we feel he’s got enough gas in the tank to play the next night, then he will.”
Even if he has enough in his tank, he has to make sure he doesn’t get too revved up. Coming back from a couple weeks watching games from the stands, admittedly bored without the game flying around him, Urbom has to be careful not to try to do too much – or at least not more than he should – when he steps back on the ice. But that’s really a tip every blueliner should take to heart.
“I think all our D have to keep it simple,” Kowalsky said. “The game’s fast, teams really come at you quick. The longer you hang on to that puck ... he’s no different than anyone else. Adam Larsson or Dan Kelly — they’re different players with the puck, but if you hang onto it too long, it gets our forwards into trouble, it gets yourself into trouble. So we want to move the puck, we want to be a north-south team that gets the puck up and goes, and Alex should fit into that.”
With the return of Urbom, the injury report still includes Kelly Zajac (abdominal), Eric Gelinas (puck to the jaw) and Jean-Sebastien Berube (upper body). Mattias Tedenby (illness) is a newcomer to the list.