Devils lose to Whale, 5-2
Kris Newbury came into Wednesday's game with three goals and four assists for the Connecticut Whale, a point in all four of their games, all losses.
He helped them to their first win of the season, a 5-2 drubbing of the Albany Devils, largely by sitting on the bench.
The 10th-year pro entered the game with three goals and four assists in the first four games of the season, all losses, and he had at least a point in each of them. But he was whistled for cross-checking, unsportsmanlike conduct and a misconduct call just 38 seconds into the game, putting his team down a man on the ice for four minutes and down a forward for most of the first period. When he was released from the box, he spent the rest of the period on the bench. Then the rest of the game. A teaching moment for the young players on the team.
Here's where I had hoped to provide some insight from coach Ken Gernander, but after waiting nearly 20 minutes after first knocking on the coaches' room door (with one reporter at one time ducking his head into the room to verbally inform the coach there were reporters who would like to speak with him), the assembled press cut their losses, or prioritized, and went to get quotes from the Albany dressing room.
The point he made to the team, though, was apparent. Doing something stupid that hurts the team, like mouthing off for a double-minor and misconduct call less than a minute into the game, will not be tolerated. No exceptions.
Playing with just 17 skaters for all but 38 seconds of the game didn't cost the Whale much, but it could have.
The Devils went ahead, 1-0, at 17:44 in the first period on Mike Hoeffel's second goal of the season. Matt Anderson had sent the puck goalward from above the left circle, into a crowd in front of the goal. The puck bounced out to the left of the crowd, where Hoeffel was standing with his back to the goal, and he swept the puck just inside the near post before goalie Jason Missiaen could get there.
Just 18 seconds later, Albany captain Jay Leach was whistled for interference, putting the Devils on the penalty kill to end the period. Not only did they kill it, they got some big saves from goalie Keith Kinkaid in the process. None was bigger than the one that came with 30 seconds left in the period.
Matt Gilroy received a cross-ice pass in the right circle and fired. Kinkaid had slid across, then dropped onto his right side to take away the lower half of the net. Seeing the shot sail toward the top half, he kicked his left leg up, meeting the puck with the end of his pad for a spectacular save.
The Devils went into the intermission with positives enough to feel good about, but they emerged for the second period with less focus.
“I thought we were fighting the puck, even in the first. I thought we played OK, had lots of chances and were the better team, and then ... I don't know, we just turned the puck over, we stopped getting it deep, we were trying to make plays that weren't there,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “And we never identified that we had to keep it simple and that less was more, and we played into their hands. They capitalized on the turnovers and we folded after that.”
Brandon Segal collected a loose puck and skated in from the left corner on Kinkaid, Albany defenseman Matt Corrente on his hip. Segal seemed to lose possession because of Corrente's pressure, but the puck still squirmed between Kinkaid and the left post to tie the game at 8:56.
Just 61 seconds later, J.T. Miller scored his first professional goal while skating in under pressure, dragging the shot to the left side and then sending it past Kinkaid for a 2-1 Whale lead.
“That's going to happen. That's momentum,” Leach said. “That's what happens in hockey. They get a couple big goals in the matter of a minute. It's going to happen, it's something we hadn't experienced yet, and we were a little flat. We need to find a way to push back and recognize the fact that they're a desperate team. They hadn't won yet. I think after the first, we were a little too loose with a desperate team on the other side.”
Before the period was out, a more innocent turnover than some others in the game led to another Whale goal. Raman Hrabarenka was receiving the puck just below the blue line of his own zone, went to draw it in toward himself, but left it out there for Tommy Grant to steal away for a one-on-one opportunity against Kinkaid, which he buried for the eventual game-winner.
The turnovers Kowalsky took issue with most, though, were a result of players trying to skate through opponents, being reckless.
It hadn't been much of a problem before Wednesday night. Leach said the Devils have to be more aware of when they need to keep it simple.
“It's very important that we take care of that,” Leach said. “Can I explain it? Not really. We have been, so far, pretty good [at not] turning pucks over. I think what happens in a game like tonight is they press, we get frustrated and try to make plays we really shouldn't try to make, and then you'll see the turnovers. We need to recognize when things aren't bouncing our way, when teams are pressing a little bit on us, and need to just keep things simple, get it off the glass and out, and out of our zone.”
“I talked about it going into the third, 'Just focus on getting that first one,'” Kowalsky said. “But still, our support was not good, we stopped skating, it was one guy on an island by himself. We had trouble chipping pucks deep when we did have possession. We were soft, we bobbled the puck, we weren't moving our feet. You name it, it went from bad to worse, and we couldn't pull ourselves out of it.”
Kinkaid finished with 21 saves on 26 shots after looking pretty good against the 10 he faced in the first period. Much of the fault, though, lies on the guys that allowed such valuable chances against Kinkaid.
“I can't fault Keith. We hung him out to dry, big time, tonight,” Kowalsky said. “He made some huge saves when the game was still a game. You want momentum off that, and yeah, you don't get it, but then it's a 2-1 hockey game, and we just kept trying to force things that weren't there instead of trying to keep it simple.”
The Whale added a power-play goal midway through the third period when Andrew Yogan fired from the slot and the puck ran up Leach's stick before skipping over Kinkaid's shoulder.
“It was kind of a tough bounce,” Leach said. “I think it went up my stick. Keith, I think, thought, like us all, it was going one way, and it kind of changed direction and fluttered in. That was kind of the nail in the coffin. Those things do happen, but really had to get that puck down. Our penalty killing had been better up until that point. I think that just happens in hockey. We were in fairly good position, it runs up my stick and it's in the net.”
After killing all nine penalties they faced in Saturday's shutout of Worcester, the Devils killed four of five against Connecticut on Wednesday. For the first time this season, their real weakness was at even-strength.
“The goals even-strength against [us] were on turnovers,” Leach said. “That comes from them pressing and us not making plays. Offensively, other than the first and a few bursts after, we really didn't sustain much pressure on their net. And any shots that guy faced, he was seeing and they weren't great chances, that's for damn sure.”
Kyle Jean got one past Kinkaid at 12:11 in the third to make it 5-1. Albany's Jacob Josefson got on the board at 16:42 to provide the final margin, beating Missiaen between his pads from the left side on a power play. It was Josefson's third goal of the season.
The Devils are now 1-3-0-0, all three losses coming at home.
“It is very frustrating, especially with the team that we have,” Leach said. “We have enough in this room to win every game that we play. I would say it's definitely very frustrating not to come out of here, really, with all three wins.”
The Devils still weren't convincing on the power play. During the four-minute double-minor, they managed three shots on goal. During a power play in the third period when it was still 3-1 and manageable, when a power-play goal would have provided valuable momentum, they had one shot on goal.
Kowalsky said the four-minute advantage to start the game is great, but at the same time, half his team hadn't yet set foot on the ice to get into a rhythm.
“A power play at the beginning of the game like that is key, but it's sometimes tough,” he said. “I hadn't even played my bottom six yet. I'd only played two lines. Again, sloppy puck movement, trying to make some plays on the line under pressure. You've got to get it deep and do some things that way, and we just never did. I thought we responded after that fairly well, though, and came back after spending four minutes on the power play and not getting any really good looks.”
No change to the injury report for the weekend. I saw defenseman Alexander Urbom (upper body, day-to-day) on the concourse between periods, and he said he was feeling much better and hoping to get back out there soon. But Kowalsky said there were no guys on the injury report who were possibilities for the weekend.
Albany will host Adirondack on Friday night and will play at Hershey on Saturday night, both games at 7.