Devils lose opener, 2-1, to Manchester
There’s always hope in a one-goal game, but some of that hope must have fled the hearts of Albany Devils fans Saturday night when, in the first 10 minutes of the third period, they watched their team kill two of its own power plays.
The Albany Devils opened the season with a 2-1 loss to the Manchester Monarchs, thanks in no small part to the performance of their specialty teams.
“The biggest thing was our specialty teams were definitely to their advantage,” said Albany captain Jay Leach, a defenseman who also is an Altamont native. “Our first two penalty kills ended up in the back of our net, and for whatever reason, we could not figure out a way to get into their zone and really put some sustained pressure on them on the power play.”
Albany got on the board first in the opening period – all the goals were scored in the opening frame – just over eight minutes in. Rookie defenseman Raman Hrabarenka got up for a rush and ripped a shot from the right boards toward Manchester goalie Martin Jones, who stopped it but couldn’t send it into the corner. The rebound went instead to the slot, where a charging Chad Wiseman popped it into the net at 8:18.
The lead lasted just 29 seconds, though. Rookie left wing Harri Pesonen was whistled for hooking, the game’s first penalty, at 8:32 as the Monarchs threw together a little rush of their own. Albany goalie Keith Kinkaid still had to make a big stick save at the left post, reaching behind him and sliding on his side to get to the post before the puck, to keep the Monarchs off the board for the moment.
Just 15 seconds into the Manchester power play, defenseman David Kolomatis found space drifting in from the left point to rifle the puck past a screened Kinkaid and drew his team even.
Leach said the Devils were being too aggressive on the penalty kill, and that’s what opened up the space for Kolomatis. He said they want to be more aggressive, in general, this season, but they are obviously still learning when the right time is for that aggression and when they need to stay home and make the opposition work.
At 14:10 in the first period, Kolomatis found himself looking at about the same shot, just a few feet farther back. He sent it past Kinkaid and inside the right post for his second power-play strike of the night.
“It’s unfortunate, we made a couple mistakes on our penalty kill. They’ve got some skilled guys, their D do a pretty good job of creating lanes and getting the puck to the net quick,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky. “A mistake where we leave a guy wide open and don’t realize there’s a guy standing right in Keith’s face. Then another point shot that gets in. So, you’ve got to find a way not to make those mistakes.”
“We have to look at what we did right and what we did wrong. We’ll look at the video,” Leach said. “I know we’re not really happy with our penalty kill. Even in the last exhibition game, we weren’t very good with it. That’s something that we need to work on.”
That was all the scoring, but there were a couple other good opportunities for the Devils. In the second period, there was a stretch where the Devils earned some zone time and, during that stretch, a pass was slipped from the left side to defenseman Brandon Burlon coming on through the left circle. He wound up and fired, wide left of a gaping net.
There were a few whiffs throughout, too. And in the third period, with about six minutes remaining, the Devils camped in the Manchester zone for over a minute, planting a few shots on Jones in possibly his most important minute of the game. He finished with 22 saves on 23 shots.
Yeah, 23 shots. There were other chances that went by the wayside, some shots that were passed up.
“That might be a little bit of nerves, first game, some new guys,” Kowalsky said. “Pesonen had a puck in the slot, [David] Wahlberg had a puck in the slot, [Mike] Hoeffel. Maybe just hanging on to it a little too long. There’s not a lot of space out there in today’s game. When you find yourself in the slot or anywhere, whether it’s high or low, with that puck on your stick, you know someone’s coming. And I thought we fanned on shots. Hrabarenka gets two up top. Maybe a little bit of nerves, a lot of young guys. But I still thought we could have shot the puck more off the rush and that was definitely one of the differences tonight.
“Part of it was them, and part of it was us. We had a couple surges, a real good one in the second period where we got on pucks and were physical. I didn’t feel, in the first period, we had very good puck support along the walls. And when we did, we lost a lot of battles. They just wanted those pucks more than we did. When we upped our compete level, that’s when we started to have some success.
“I think we could have, overall, drove the net better and put pucks [on goal]. I thought Jones was giving up a lot of rebounds early. The first goal is a prime example, and I thought we got away from that and didn’t have the pace through the neutral zone to generate those opportunities.”
Then there were the two power plays Albany had in the first 10 minutes of the third period. Monarchs waited along their blue line for the Devils to try to carry the puck past them, then wrested possession from them and sent the Devils chasing cleared pucks back to their own zone.
Over and over. Killing both penalties with seeming ease as the Devils never caught on to chip the puck in and establish a forecheck.
Jacob Josefson also had a pretty good opportunity, shorthanded, in the first period. He got hold of the puck and skated in, untouched, through the left circle to the top of the crease, where he tried to tuck the puck inside the near post. Jones was up to the task, though, and shut the door.
Josefson managed four shots on goal, though for the most part the players down from the locked-out NHL were harder to spot than some may have anticipated. Calder Trophy finalist Adam Henrique, an alternate captain along with Tim Sestito, was held without a shot on goal. Defenseman Adam Larsson did well in back, but Kowalsky said the AHL can be tough for guys used to the NHL to adjust to because there’s more scrambling.
“To be honest, it’s a harder league for them to play in,” Kowalsky said. “Systematically, position-wise. You get guys mishandling pucks. So it’s tough for Henrique and Josefson and Larsson. I just talked to one of the coaches about it, too, they might get tired quicker. We don’t have the TV timeouts, you know what I mean? It’s true. It’s a different game. When it’s a little bit more of a scrambly game, it’s more exhausting on you. So I think that’ll be an adjustment. But I thought they were all fine. I thought they all had a decent game. Again, we’ve got a lot of guys here, and I’ve tried some combinations, changing things right up to the weekend. So I thought there wasn’t a lot of chemistry tonight.”
Leach has been an AHL captain a few other times, though the exact number of cities where he’s been honored with the captaincy escaped the 12th-year guy.
“Like I said to Timmy [Sestito], it was probably by default. I’m the oldest guy, been around the longest,” Leach joked. “Who else are they going to give it to? But I do [take it seriously]. It’s an honor to be captain. I’ll do my best to lead the way that I can, and hopefully the guys will follow and we can have a good year.” . . .
Stefan Legein had a mini-breakaway at 7:45 in the second when defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk broke him out, but his shot missed everything. . . .
At 12:27 in the second, Leach was whistled for tripping Richard Clune, and Clune was called for diving. I still think this is ridiculous that both can be called. Either it was a trip, or it wasn’t. But, them’s the breaks, and the rules. . . .
Clune got out of the box just in time to fight Albany defenseman Dan Kelly. It was fun, but unspectacular. There will be others, especially with Kelly, that will be knock-down drag-outs this season. . . .
In the third period, Andrei Loktionov got out on a 2-on-1 with Marc-Andre Cliche. Cliche drew off the one Devil to the right, and Loktionov took the shot, but it was saved by Kinkaid, one of his 25 saves on 27 shots. . . .
Cliche took the puck away from Hrabarenka at the Manchester blue line at the 9:00 mark and raced out for a breakaway, but Hrabarenka got back on the play and dove headlong to slide between Cliche and the goal, robbing him of a shot and possession. . . .
The Albany Devils forward lines were as follows: Harri Pesonen-Adam Henrique-Matt Anderson, Mattias Tedenby-Jacob Josefson-Bobby Butler, Chad Wiseman-David Wohlberg-Mike Sislo, Mike Hoeffel-Darcy Zajac-Tim Sestito.
The defensive pairings were Jay Leach-Adam Larsson, Alexander Urbom-Raman Hrabarenka, Dan Kelly-Brandon Burlon. Jeff Frazee backed up goalie Keith Kinkaid.
Manchester played seven D: Andrew Campbell, Jake Muzzin, Nick Deslauriers, David Kolomatis, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Thomas Hickey and Slava Voynov. Peter Mannino backed up goalie Martin Jones.
The Monarchs' 11 forwards were: LWs Richard Clune, Nickolay Prokhorkin, Marc-Andre Cliche, Cs Linden Vey, Andy Andreoff, Andrei Loktionov, Robert Czarnik, RWs Brandon Kozun, Stefan Legein, Brian O'Neill, Tyler Toffoli. . . .
There were 5,072 fans at the game. Last year's home opener drew 4,286. Two years ago, in their first game in their new city, they drew 5,235, but that was against regional rival Adirondack. Their first game against a team not based in Glens Falls, they drew 2,183. . . .
Albany will host Syracuse on Friday. The Crunch are manned by the same players who were, last year, the Calder Cup champion Norfolk Admirals. An affiliation switch brought Tampa Bay’s prospects to central New York this season. The game will start at 7 p.m.