Albany Devils gameday blog
Rookie left wing Harri Pesonen got his first North American pro goal on Saturday in a 4-0 win at Worcester. The 24-year-old played parts of five seasons – and most of three of those seasons – and two championships in Finland’s top pro league also had an assist and has been skating on the same line as Adam Henrique through the first three games of the season.
“It’s been good. It’s his first time over here, but I feel like he’s adjusting well,” Henrique said. “He’s an exciting player. His speed is a big part of his game, and he makes it tough on the other team. We’ve been skating together for a little while, and you need that little bit of time to get used to a new player. He’s so fast and shifty with the puck, he makes plays, and I think over time, the chemistry will come and we’ll keep building.”
The line of Pesonen, Henrique and right wing Bobby Butler should remain the same for tonight’s game against the Connecticut Whale (puck drops at 7). They had Matt Anderson on the right side in the season-opener, but Butler took the assignment in the two games they played last weekend.
Pesonen, it turns out, was tracking Henrique’s season with New Jersey last year, when he surprised a lot of people by having a season worth of Calder Trophy consideration. That performance, and his heroics in the postseason run to the Stanley Cup finals, left an impression on the young Finn, who agrees that their play together is improving every time they take the ice.
“I think it’s getting better all the time. Three games we have played together, and it’s getting better,” Pesonen said. “We’re getting to know each other a little bit better, and that helps on the ice. Of course, he’s a great player, and he did a great job last year in the NHL. I watched him play there, so I’m honored to play with a guy like him on the same line, and I will try my best to score some goals and win some hockey games for the team.”
The league in Finland, SM-liiga, is one of the top leagues in Europe. His team, JYP Jyraskyla Oy, won the title last year and in 2009, reaching the semifinals the two seasons between those championships. That experience had to help him when he came over to training camp with the Devils.
“I know they’re good leagues over there, but I haven’t seen many games,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “You’ve got to remember those are the top pro leagues over there — Finland, Sweden and even the Russian leagues — they would be comparable, I would think, maybe even better than this league. But I can’t say that [from experience]. These kids are playing in these leagues at 17, 18, 19 years old. It’s good for them. They’re playing against men. They’re playing in a pro league. I think the adjustment for him is he’s not used to the smaller rinks. [In Finland, he had] a little more room to make plays. But I like the way he plays.”
Pesonen admitted that point, saying less space on the ice means less space between players, so he has to always be aware of his surroundings and ready to make a play quickly before he gets hit, possibly losing possession.
He’s made the adjustment well enough, so far.
Another adjustment he’s had to make is to being on the other side of the world from Jyvaskyla, the city where he has lived his entire life.
“I was a little bit nervous coming to a new place. I didn’t know anybody here before,” Pesonen said. “But I think I’m a pretty social type, so I get along with people pretty easily. It was a good camp, a lot of working out and good practice on the ice, then we had some scrimmages and preseason games. I liked it, and I think I had a pretty good camp, and now I’m trying to improve all the time.
“It’s been, I can’t say a goal, but a dream to someday come here and see how hockey is here, in the NHL in North America. That’s a big dream, but this is one step closer to that. So far, I don’t regret coming here.”
Left wing Chad Wiseman missed last weekend’s games, but was scheduled to play. He was fighting the flu, and was questionable up until a few hours before game time Friday. He skated this week and will be ready for this week’s games.
Defenseman Alexander Urbom (upper body) is out and is day-to-day.
Right wing Scott Parse (lower body) returned to practice this week.
“I think he’s really starting to find his legs,” Kowalsky said of Parse. “He had a good week in practice. I thought camp, maybe a little slow getting into it, but I thought stronger as camp wore on. Good with the puck. Definitely has some skill and some vision. He’s smart in areas of the ice, with and without the puck. He’s pretty responsible. I used him on the penalty kill a fair amount. I liked him there. And I used him on the power play. I think the biggest thing for him is just continuing to get back into game mode, and it’s going to be a day-to-day thing for him. But for first impressions, I like what I saw.”
Kowalsky said with this big roster, part of the challenge is getting players ice time so nobody gets complacent. He said coming off a loss, there are changes that get made if players have bad games. Coming off a win, some things may stay the same, but he could still make some lineup changes.
“We’re not in a situation where we’re not going to change the lineup because of a win,” he said. “We have the option, obviously, to tweak our lineup based on who we may be playing. I think after a loss, it may be a little bit easier [to draw up a lineup]. Generally, after a loss, you may have some guys who didn’t play as well. But we’re not trying to play any head games here. We want to get everybody in, and we also don’t want guys consistently sitting, and we’ve got a lot of bodies here. We have the luxury of tweaking things game-in and game-out, but with that being said, we want to make sure everybody’s a part of this as much as possible. That’s the task we have, and it’s a little bit tough, but I think we’re going to constantly see lineup changes every night.”
COMING OFF A WIN
Speaking of coming off a win, the Devils shut out Worcester on Saturday with goalie Keith Kinkaid making 30 saves and the penalty killing unit killing all nine of the Sharks’ power plays.
“He looked in control, comfortable, not overplaying pucks, no rebounds,” Kowalsky said of Kinkaid. “He just looked calm in there and had a real strong game. Aside from the shutout, he had to make some big saves for us. But he made the saves he should make look easy, which is good from a confidence standpoint for him.
“Your goaltender has to be your penalty killer. I thought our guys in front of him did a good job, a fair amount. [Worcester’s Jon] Matsumoto walked in twice on partial little breakaways. I think he took away the bottom of the net on the one, and Matsumoto put it off the crossbar. The other one, he walked in and kind of did the Forsberg move where he left it out the other side, and Keith just stayed with him. He looked sharp, and again, I thought we did a good job in front of him, not giving up a lot of those point-blank shots. Moving forward, we’re going to want our goalies to stop the ones they’re supposed to stop and maybe a few breakdowns here and there. But for the most part, we’re trying to make their life as easy as possible.
“I think it’s like anything, it’s a little bit of confidence. We have some really good video now we can go back to them with and say, ‘Here’s what we maybe didn’t do the first two games, and here’s what we did really well in this game.’ And every power-play setup and unit is going to be a little bit different, but I thought we were smarter in our reads and our pressure, and that’s where we had a couple breakdowns in our first two games. In three games, we’ve seen how important it really is.”
In the offseason, former Albany Devils goalie Dave Caruso joined Albany’s staff as a goalie coach. Kowalsky believes this will be a real asset for Kinkaid and Jeff Frazee.
“It’s early, but I think it’s going to pay off as the season grinds on,” he said. “Moreso than anything, just talking to them, setting up some drills before and after practice about maybe something we saw. And for me, it’s another set of eyes. I have a relationship with Dave going way back to Trenton. He knows the game, he’s an energetic guy, an upbeat and positive guy. I think, for the goalies, just having someone to talk to on a daily basis, I think it’s overdue and I’m glad we have him on our staff.”