A challenging season for the Albany Devils just got a little more so.
Their second-leading goal scorer, Adam Henrique, is going to miss the next 4-6 weeks while he recovers from thumb surgery.
Yes, that Adam Henrique. The finalist for last year’s Calder Trophy with 16 goals and 35 assists for New Jersey, the guy who sent the New York Rangers packing with an overtime goal in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals and three game-winners in the run to the Stanley Cup finals, the guy who had 25 goals and 25 assists in his AHL rookie season two years ago with Albany.
Through the first 16 games this season, he has five scores and three assists. Fellow centerman Jacob Josefson leads the team in goals and points with seven scores and four assists.
Well, Josefson will handle the first-line duties well enough, but who’s going to center the rest of the top six?
“It’s not going to be one guy,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “We’ve got a couple centermen available, and we’re going to see who wants to take the bull by the horns and slide into those minutes.
“The thing with Adam is he’s power play, penalty kill and some important minutes five-on-five. There’s opportunity for, potentially, a couple guys to fill that.
“He’s just so smart and, positionally, he’s never, never caught. He’s a good example for all guys to realize playing defense doesn’t have to be always about working hard. It has to be about working smart, and he’s a prime example of that.”
For Friday’s game against St. John’s, it’ll likely be Steve Zalewski between left wing Joe Whitney and right wing Bobby Butler.
Tim Sestito has been reliable in his own zone with a plus-3 rating, best among centermen not named Josefson, who has a plus-5. Sestito has a goal and five assists, so he’s been around some scoring chances, but like most of the Devils, not many. Or not enough, anyway. Three seasons ago, though, he had 18 goals and 17 assists in 66 games for Lowell, and that .53 points per game would be welcomed if he could find that form again.
He’s been playing on the wing so far this season, but that could change.
“Sestito is a guy who’s been solid for us all year in that regard [defensively],” Kowalsky said. “He’s reliable, he’s accountable out there, he’s always going to make the right decisions and not cheat. Now you move him to the middle, and maybe he’s involved in some of those draws. Obviously, Jake, Josefson’s another guy, but I can’t play him any more than I’m playing him.”
Darcy Zajac is a solid faceoff man, and he has three goals in 12 games with a plus-2. He has just 16 shots on goal, so he’s converting on a team-high 18.8 percent of his shots.
Phil DeSimone has a goal in six games and a minus-one. Rookie David Wohlberg has an assist in eight games and a plus-1. Kelly Zajac (abdominal) has yet to play this season, but is nearing game-readiness.
“I think he’s real close,” Kowalsky said of Kelly Zajac. “We wanted to see how he did this week. He’s been skating, but not with the team. We just wanted to see how he did this week, and he looked pretty good. This afternoon [Thursday], I’m sure we’ll have a discussion about where he’s at and whether or not we think he can help us.”
But Zalewski should be the first name that comes quickly to mind when looking to replace at least Henrique’s scoring.
Zalewski led Albany in goals last season with 19 (along with 22 assists). He’s good on the power play and, when he sets up in front of the goal, is a vulture waiting for rebounds to slip into the net.
Last season, Zalewski had .59 points per game. The previous year, through 50 games with Worcester and 31 with Albany, he had .54 points per game. Just in those 31 with Albany, he jumped up for .74 points per game (11-12-23).
This season, he has a goal and four assists in 14 games (.36 points per game) and just picked up his first goal Friday in Rochester.
“Throughout all the years I’ve played hockey, I’ve had stretches where I won’t score, then all of a sudden, I’ll get a bunch of them and I’m feeling good again,” Zalewski said. “That’s how it goes with me, sometimes. I’ll get a couple, and you start feeling good and they start going in for you. I’ve had games where I was getting good shots, good chances, and they just weren’t going in. Maybe now, you get a few lucky ones, a few breaks your way and it turns for you.
“It was nice to get one in Rochester. Getting that one kind of helps, gives you a little confidence and you’re feeling a little better. Sometimes that can be all it takes, just one goal, and then they come in bunches.”
Zalewski has been working well, offensively, just not seeing results in the back of the net. Defensively, he’s been on the ice for far too many goals.
His minus-11 rating is tied for the worst in the league among forwards through Wednesday's games. Peoria’s Jaden Schwartz and Phil McRae both also have a minus-11. Worst in the league is defenseman Taylor Chorney of Peoria (minus-14), with Hershey defenseman Tomas Kundratek (minus-13) not far behind.
Because he’s not been as reliable defensively, even if that goal in Rochester opens the floodgates for Zalewski, he’s not a one-man fill-in for Henrique.
“He’s done a lot of good things, offensively. It’s just the other side of the puck has been a problem for him, at times, this year,” Kowalsky said of Zalewski. “That’s been the issue. He should be a reliable guy on both sides of the puck. But he’s done a lot of good things. His game below the tops of the circles in the offensive zone and down deep, that’s one of his strengths. We’ve just got to make sure he’s reliable away from the puck and on the defensive side of things.”
“I think, as a whole, and myself included, we need to be more physical down low, be harder on pucks down low,” Zalewski said. “The past few games, we’ve been giving up too many goals, and I’ve been out there for a bunch of them, so I’ll take the blame for a lot of that. [It’ll take us] being tougher down low, stronger on pucks and making stronger, safer plays instead of leaning toward the side of offense.”
Of the other centermen, it’s actually the rookie, Wohlberg, that gets mentioned by Kowalsky. He sees potential in the kid, if he can just find some consistency.
“He’s been in and out of the lineup. With him, it’s consistency from an intensity level,” Kowalsky said. “And again, realizing that guy you’re fighting for the puck with, he wants it bad. There’s no easy battles. He’s a big man. He can play center, play the wing. With his size, if he wants to skate and play, he’s got a little bit of sandpaper in his game, and when he plays that way, we like it. When he doesn’t we don’t.”
“It’s definitely consistency, it’s settling down and getting comfortable,” Wohlberg said of his main obstacle to more ice time. “Sometimes, it might be nerves or worrying too much, don’t want to make a mistake here or there, then you overlook things. I think you’ve just got to keep it simple, keep it consistent, and I’ll be all right.”
One of the last few guys off the ice Thursday, Wohlberg seemed to want to avoid saying this was an opportunity for him to step in.
“I don’t know if it’s just me, but there’s a bunch of other guys on the team that deserve that ice time, too. Everyone’s working just as hard,” he said. “It’s tough that we lose a good player like Adam Henrique, but I think some other guys, no matter who you put out there, will step in the spotlight.”
Had it not been for the NHL lockout, Jacobson and Henrique would not have been playing in Albany, which would have left a more frequent lineup spot there for Wohlberg.
Of course, as Kowalsky said, you still have to earn that spot every day. Wohlberg admits he hasn’t done that yet.
“Maybe it’s that I’m not necessarily taking my opportunities,” Wohlberg said. “It’s been kind of a disappointment. I’m trying to work on it and be a solid guy in the lineup.”
Defenseman Eric Gelinas returned to game ice in Sunday’s shootout loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, finishing with four penalty minutes and a minus-1 rating.
It was his first game back after taking a puck to the chin in the preseason.
“It’s a long time to be out,” Kowalsky said. “He was OK. I think it’s just getting him his timing back, getting him in the game. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Jean-Sebastien Berube (upper body) remains out indefinitely and skating in Newark. Defenseman Dan Kelly (upper body) started skating with the team again on Wednesday and Kowalsky said “he’s feeling good.”