Tough Providence team keeps Devils down, 4-1
The Albany Devils found few real opportunities to score against the Providence Bruins in a 4-1 loss on Friday night, lacking in the passing game against the top team in the Eastern Conference.
"There's a reason they are where they are in the standings, but we didn't help ourselves, either. That's the frustrating part," Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. "I thought our execution ... they come out and score early, but that put us right back on our heels. We stood around and didn't skate, and we didn't get our forecheck going. When you turn the puck over or don't execute and make tape-to-tape passes, a team like that's going to jump all over it and come right back at you."
The Bruins scored on the first shift, on the first shot of the game, 17 seconds in when Justin Florek fired from above the left circle.
They added three goals in the second period, two of them the first by Alexander Khokhlachev as a pro.
"That start didn't help us," Albany centerman Tim Sestito said. "When you get behind the eight ball 17 seconds into the game, it's tough. Then we didn't really have much. Toward the end of the first, we got some, then the second period zapped us. After that, you never know. We didn't quit, which is good, but that was too big a hole to come back from."
The Devils were kept out of the net on the few good looks they saw by rookie netminder Niklas Svedberg, who recorded his 33rd win of the season. In the second period, he slid across the crease to make a big save on Joe Whitney, who received the puck on a crossing pass from Matt Anderson in the opposite corner. Svedberg also stopped Harri Pesonen's penalty shot in the third period.
"Our first two shots led to rebound chances, and we talked about doing that more," Kowalsky said. "Svedberg's had a great year, and he's a two-shot goaltender. In the second period, before they scored their third one, there, we had some good chances, but we missed the net.
"Then we make a bad pinch, bad read, and our forwards get beat up the ice. They play ... you use that term, that 200-foot game, and they play it well. They sprint goal line to goal line. We talked about being aware of that. When we're on our game plan, we need to do that. We didn't skate with them, they won a lot of the puck battles, and any time we had a little bit of momentum or signs of momentum, they took it away pretty quick."
"Going into the year, [Michael] Hutchinson was a guy in his third year that we thought would be our No. 1, then we weren't even sure if it would be Svedberg or [Adam] Morrison [in the No. 2 role]," Providence coach Bruce Cassidy said. "They were both coming in as first-year guys. Obviously, Svedberg winning a championship in Sweden, it's a terrific hockey league, but we just didn't know what we were getting. He played his way into the No. 1 role, and now he's played his way into what people are writing articles and talking about."
Svedberg made 18 saves, and Albany finally got past him at 16:00 in the third when rookie defenseman Jon Merrill walked in a couple steps from the point and fired to the top-right corner of the net. Merrill has a point in every one of his four games with Albany this season. This was his first pro goal, and he has five assists.
Much of the game, the Devils had trouble setting up scoring chances because the Bruins were so good at breaking up passes or taking the puck off their sticks.
"That was a good team," Sestito said. "It felt like we were chasing the majority of the game. They made good plays, they broke out pretty easy against us. We didn't really work them in their end at all. They put up four pretty easy on us. In the third period, we played better, but that's a team that's up 4-0 and obviously took its foot off the gas pedal. It makes the next two this weekend bigger."
With eight games remaining, the Devils are now five points out of the final playoff spot, which is currently occupied by Hershey. Albany will play Saturday night at 7:05 at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Sunday afternoon at 4 at home against Rochester.
“These games are huge,” Sestito said, “and obviously, we would have liked to have had the win, but having two more games – and one more big one against a team we're kind of chasing [Wilkes-Barre/Scranton] – we definitely need it.”
"Our first periods are good," Cassidy said. "I think if you looked it up, I think we've had probably the best goal differential in the league. We tend to be good starters, home or on the road, then we try to keep the pace up for the majority of the game. I think tonight, we don't see Albany that often, but the first 40 minutes, we were as good as we've been. We were moving the puck around, clicking and managing the puck well, getting some attacks. Scoring early always helps, let's face it. First shift of the game, especially on the road, and now you're skating downhill."
The Devils never found, or at least never sustained, enough energy to shift the momentum back in their favor. They killed off a penalty midway through the first period, and Kowalsky was hoping that might provide a spark, but it didn't.
"We're down 1-0 early, and it's a big penalty kill," he said. "They've got a good power play. But we were looking for some life, and we had none of it, especially in the first period, maybe a couple shifts. I can't think of a good forecheck until maybe the last five minutes of the second period. I think it was Jon Merrill jumping the puck and deciding to go do it himself. We need some life from somewhere, and when you've got four lines, you would think someone would step up and take charge, but it just never happened."
There were shifts when the line of Mattias Tedenby, Sestito and Pesonen looked good, provided a bit of a forecheck and had some sustained zone time. But as Sestito said, even with that line, it wasn't all good.
"We had some good shifts. We also had some bad shifts where we didn't do anything," he said. "We have to eliminate those. Those are two really skilled players. I need to just get them the puck and get to the net, and they do a lot of the fancy stuff. We did have some chances, but we also gave up some."
The Devils lost Tedenby near the end of the second period, but after the game, Kowalsky didn't have any informaiton regarding his injury.
The Albany Devils signed Minnesota defenseman Seth Helgeson to an amateur tryout contract on Friday night.
Helgeson played 150 games with the WCHA school, playing in the Frozen Four in 2012 and the NCAA West Regional this season. He represented the U.S. in the 2007 and 2008 World Junio A Challenge. The team took home the gold in 2008.
The 22-year-old was a fourth-round draft pick for New Jersey in 2009. He had five assists in 40 games with Minnesota this season. In his career with the Gophers, he has seven goals and 20 assists.