Albany shows up, plays better, but loses to Rochester, 3-2
Well, it wasn't good enough for a win, but the effort the Albany Devils put forth was an improvement over their previous two games -- and coming less than 24 hours after they were eliminated from playoff contention, it served as a sign the Devils have no intention of mailing in their final games.
Albany fell, 3-2, to the Rochester Americans for their sixth straight loss. The Devils are 2-11-0-2 in their last 15 games, and they have three games left, all at home, next weekend.
Instead of hanging their heads after being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday night, Albany put together it's best game of the weekend for the second straight Sunday.
"I thought we played hard," Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. "That was our best effort of the weekend. We could have probably found the back of the net a little more. [Rochester goalie Matt Hackett], I thought, played well. We just found a way to lose tonight, and unfortunately, that's what we're doing. We're finding ways to do that."
Part of the reason for the loss was the Devils inability to keep the Amerks from getting players set up in front of the net.
Their first two goals came with a player unmarked in front of the crease and a pass coming from the corner or below the goal line. Allowing Zemgus Girgensons to score his power-play goal in that manner in the first period and Cody McCormick to tie the game from the top of the crease early in the third, that was the way the Devils found to lose.
Otherwise, though, they were getting in on the forecheck and creating scoring opportunities. They didn't finish as often as Kowalsky would have liked, but they got a couple good ones in the second period.
Rookie centerman David Wohlberg scored to tie the game, 1-1, then Mike Sislo scored on a power play for a one-goal lead.
Sislo scored the go-ahead goal from the left circle on a pass from Joe Whitney, who sent the pass from the right corner.
Whitney's assist gave him 50 points (25 goals, 25 assists) in his second pro season. Those are exactly the numbers, by the way, that Adam Henrique put up as a rookie with Albany two seasons ago. Whitney's done it in 10 fewer games.
Wohlberg's goal was the most notable of the afternoon.
He started out by getting to the right place at the right time, then turned the play into something special with some extra effort and quick thinking.
Defenseman Eric Gelinas sent in a shot, Harri Pesonen was brought some traffic to the front of the net, and the puck slipped to Wohlberg at the left of the slot. He quickly ended up on his back, though, with the puck sliding away to the right.
Wohlberg turned to his side, still on the ice, and on his hip with his back to the goal, he got the backhand side of his blade on the puck and sent it goalward. Not only that, he managed from this unorthodox position, to get some air under the puck and send it over Hackett's pad.
"The whole shift [was good]," Kowalsky said. "Gelinas does a good job getting his head up and getting the puck through. He's got the big shot, but it wasn't about the big shot. Pesonen's in front of the net, [Mattias] Tedenby had caused a lot of problems that entire shift, then Wohly makes a heck of a play on his back. Hackett takes away the bottom of the net very well, and we talked about trying to get him moving laterally, because he challenges. He was actually there, and Wohlberg had to elevate the puck on his backhand, while kind of getting back to his knees. It was a heck of a goal, and I thought that line played really well tonight.
"We were talking about it in between periods, that's an intelligent hockey play. Most guys are going to get that and try to shovel it from their back. But he had the presence of mind, and he actually didn't even get up to his knees, he just got enough leverage to where he can get it on his backhand. It's tough to elevate the puck on a normal backhand, let alone in that situation. That was a heck of a goal."
Tedenby proved a pest for Rochester through most of the game.
"He played well tonight. He made things happen, he used his speed and he's pretty strong on the puck down low for not being a very big guy," Kowalsky said. "But he protects the puck well, and when he moves his feet, he gets fired up. He created a chance on the Wohlberg goal by going to the net and causing some traffic, and we talked about getting to the front of the net more tonight, and then he drew the penalty, as well. He was fired up."
He got fired up in the second period when setting up in front of the crease, he was knocked down by Rochester's Matt MacKenzie. MacKenzie basically knocked him into the edge of the crease, where he was momentarily tangled with Hackett. He freed himself and got behind the net to play the puck and was cross-checked by MacKenzie. MacKenzie was whistled for the cross-check, and as Tedenby skated back in front of the goal, he took exception to something said or done by Hackett (who apparently took exception to the contact with Tedenby a moment earlier, which was initiated by his own player). Tedenby swung around and got in Hackett's face and Girgensons came in to protect his goalie. Both Girgensons and Tedenby were sent to the box for roughing.
I never knew Tedenby was such a tough guy. Idly, in the dressing room, I mentioned that to him, and he said jokingly that he wanted to fight ... the goalie.
Tedenby loses the tale of the tape at 5-10 to Hackett's 6-2, but they're both listed at 175 pounds, so I'd still consider wagering on the little guy.
Wohlberg said centering the line with Tedenby and Pesonen was fun, and his goal was a product of "just guys going to the net."
"That was something that coach talked to me about before the game, just get back to the simple things," Wohlberg said. "One of the guys in front stopped it, it was at their feet, it squirted out to me, I just grabbed it, spun and just shot it toward the net and it went in."
About playing against Hackett, Wohlberg said, "He's a good goalie. He comes out and takes his ice. You have to get in front of him and make sure he can't take that ice. That's something we tried to do, and I think we did it a couple times on the power play, but yeah, he's a good goalie. He's tough."
Playing in just his 33rd game this season, Wohlberg scored his third goal of the season (all of them in his last nine games) and was as good an example as any that could be offered of what the Devils still have worth playing for.
"We talked about it before the game – just have pride in yourself, pride in the team you play for," he said. "That's something you have to do every night, but especially now when you're not playing to make the playoffs. You're still trying to make an impression on people.
"There's more guys here every day, and people are trying to show what they can do. It's not a time to quit playing. It's developing us, and every game we play can make us that much better."
Rochester coach Chadd Cassidy was counting on the Devils being a bit down after being eliminated on Saturday.
"They found out yesterday they wouldn't be playing in the postseason, and that's always a tough situation," Cassidy said. "I think if we could have gone out earlier and maybe established our will on them a little bit better, maybe gone up a couple goals, it would have put them in a position where maybe they would retreat a little bit. But I give them a lot of credit, I thought they played really hard today, especially how they kept pushing in the third period. We probably made the mistake of leaving them around long enough. They kept pushing, got some great chances, and when they did, our goaltender was really good down the stretch."
Mark Mancari added the game-winner for Rochester on a power-play point shot at 11:06 in the third period. Albany goalie Jeff Frazee got a piece of it, but it got past him. He made 34 saves in the game, and Hackett made 36 stops.
The Americans have needed a lot of come-from-behind efforts to keep their playoff hopes alive, Cassidy said. Rochester is in sixth place in the Western Conference standings.
"It was a huge win for us, especially with the playoff implications that we have right now," Cassidy said. "But to be honest with you, it feels like the last two months, every game has been like you just saw, where we're either tied or down going into the third period, and we just find ways to win. Tonight, our power-play came up big and executed for us. A lot of it's been our veteran leadership – Cody McCormick, getting that goal to tie it up for us. It's a familiar script for us. We're kind of getting used to it, and as long as the results end up the same, we'll be happy with it."
Cassidy has had defenseman and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute product Nick Bailen in the lineup for six games.
"He's been great," Cassidy said. "I think he's been doing a really nice job. It's a hard transition. You're playing against men at this level, where guys are older, they're stronger and they're more physical. He's not the biggest guy to begin with, but I think he's adjusted really well to it. He's got great mobility and he's really good with the puck. I like him as a power-play guy. He works the blue line really well. He's very competitive, he doesn't lose a lot of battles, which is going to be very important for him in his development as a player. Playing against bigger players all the time, you've got to have a competitive nature, and he certainly has that."
Defenseman Seth Helgeson played in his second consecutive game, playing in the starting D pairing with Alexander Urbom.
Matt Anderson, who left Saturday's game after getting popped by Binghamton's Matt Borowiecki, has an undisclosed upper-body injury. Wading through the vaguery, it sounds like a head injury -- one that's not serious -- but I'd be surprised to see him in the lineup next weekend.
Albany captain, defenseman Jay Leach, is three games away from playing his 500th career AHL game. Albany has three games left.
The New Jersey Devils assigned defenseman Damon Severson to Albany earlier Sunday. He was their second-round draft pick last season. This season, the 18-year-old had 10 goals, 42 assists and a plus-43 rating for Kelowna of the WHL.