DeSimone, Sislo heating up
Coincidentally, both the Albany Devils’ second-year forwards out of the University of New Hampshire picked the same time to heat up last week.
Phil DeSimone and Mike Sislo, both centermen who finished four-year careers with the Wildcats in 2011, are on three-game point streaks with five points apiece in that stretch.
DeSimone has a goal and four assists over the three games, and Sislo has four goals and an assist. They’ve done this while centering separate lines and helping Albany win its last two games.
“I’m glad to see it,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “They’re both very skilled players. Sislo brings a little more speed and the big shot. Phil really sees the ice well, he’s a playmaker and he’s good with the puck.
“We’re going to need these guys. If we’re going to get into the eighth spot or higher, the scoring can’t just rely on [Steve] Zalewski, [Matt] Anderson and [Joe] Whitney — and obviously, [Jacob] Josefson comes back into the mix. But [Harri] Pesonen, Sislo, DeSimone, [Chad] Wiseman — some of these guys that we expect to score and maybe haven’t done it on a regular basis — are going to have to step up, five-on-five and on the power play. I thought those first three, Pesonen, Sislo and DeSimone, all did a good job of that this weekend. We’re going to have to get production from them so we’re a little harder to play against and shut down as a group.”
Zalewski has a four-game point streak going with three goals and three assists. Whitney has two goals in both the last two games and an assist to give him five points last weekend. Anderson has a goal and five assists in a three-game point streak. Pesonen has an assist in both the last two games.
Sislo has been centering Pesonen and Zalewski, and that line was still together at Thursday’s practice.
“I’ve been skating with Pesonen for a few weeks, and with Z for just the last few games,” Sislo said. “I think we’ve had some good chemistry and been working hard. It’s been fun, and hopefully, we can keep it going.”
DeSimone had been centering Whitney and Anderson, but with Josefson back in Albany and playing between that tandem, DeSimone centered Wiseman and Chris McKelvie in practice on Thursday.
“Sislo’s always been a guy who, once he gets one or two, he usually catches fire. I knew he was probably going to do that,” DeSimone said. “Myself, with the players I played with last weekend — Whitney and Anderson — it’s not too hard to do. Everyone’s going, our whole team is going right now. It’s nice to contribute and get a few wins. Hopefully, we can keep doing it and work our way into the playoffs.”
“I think the coaches have talked a lot to me about using my speed and my skating ability to protect the puck and create some offense,” Sislo said. “I’ve done a good job of recognizing that in certain situations.”
Sislo played 59 games with Albany last season, recording nine goals and 18 assists. DeSimone played for the Hamilton Bulldogs, booking 14 goals and 19 assists in 76 games. The pair, along with former UNH teammate Bobby Butler, had a bit of a reunion with Albany this season.
“It was cool. I was happy,” Sislo said of the reunion. “It’s always fun to see guys you’ve played with or against in your past, and to have them on your team, you know the kind of players they are and the kind of people they are. It’s fun to be reunited with them.”
“Coming over here, I was coming to a new team with a new system, new faces and new everything,” DeSimone said. “So it was definitely nice to see a few familiar faces in training camp and a couple good friends of mine from school.”
DeSimone has played just 22 of Albany’s 51 games so far this season, in part due to the NHL lockout supplying Albany with a couple extra extraordinary centermen.
He also took some time to fall in with the Devils’ system and become more reliable in the defensive zone.
“He might have got boxed out a bit,” Kowalsky said. “I think he went through an adjustment, coming to a different system. We had a lot of centermen here, when you throw [Adam] Henrique into the mix. We used him on wing a little bit. I think it took him a little while to realize how he needs to play, how we want him to play, attention to detail, habits, compete-level — just things like that that were inconsistent in his game.
“I’ve really been talking to him a lot, and to his credit, he’s responded. Putting some numbers on the board and seeing video of yourself doing those little things definitely helps your confidence, and I think his confidence is high right now. I just told him today, don’t get complacent with this. I still think Phil can give us more and be a big part of this team at both ends of the ice. This weekend is a good start. We have three games against three gritty, hard-to-play-against teams that are going to test him.”
DeSimone has managed six goals and six assists. Sislo has six goals and eight assists in 36 games this season, having found a little more ice time during the lockout.
“It was good. I think my role has changed a bit since the lockout has ended, but it was nice to be playing,” he said. “They gave me more responsibility on penalty kill and defensive-zone stuff. I think that helped me round my game out a little bit, and it’s helped me now that I’m getting more ice time. I feel I’m responsible, defensively, and I’m helping offensively, a little more, too.”
DeSimone has played 15 of the 18 games since the end of the lockout. He played in seven of the previous 33 games.
“Since the lockout ended, I’ve got my confidence going, since I’ve been in the lineup more,” DeSimone said. “I’ve been used in more key situations like the power play and the last two minutes of periods. It was just more about, after the lockout ended, getting my timing back and getting out there and feeling the puck and getting some chemistry with guys. Since then, I’ve had some decent success.
“It was a difficult situation. We had a lot of guys. All you can do is work hard every day in practice and do the extra stuff before and after. But there comes a point where, practices, no matter how much you do, is definitely different from a game. So you just try to do as much as you can. I played three games down in Trenton just before Christmas, then they brought me back and I started to slowly work my way into the lineup. Now I feel comfortable and ready to play.”
TURNING LIABILITY TO RELIABILITY
When DeSimone came to the Devils, he sat down and had a talk with Kowalsky about his numbers at Hamilton.
Not the goals. Not the assists.
The minus-30 rating.
“It’s definitely something I put a lot of stock in. You can’t be minus-10 or minus-20 or minus-30 by accident,” Kowalsky said. “It’s funny, when we had a meeting at the beginning of the year, we talked a little bit about his offensive play and where he was last year in Hamilton and he played on the power play, top six. Of all those other stats, that one, for me, sticks out. So as a coach, you’ve got that in your head. I realized there were some defensive liabilities, and the adjustment to our system. But he’s done a pretty good job, and he’s been eager to learn. He realizes that those are some important things in this organization. Plus-minus is a big thing.
“I’m sure there were some high minuses on that team, but it’s something that definitely catches your eye.”
Hamilton was outscored last season, 226-185, a margin of 41 goals. Only Binghamton (243-201) was outscored by a larger margin. Hamilton also was the lowest-scoring team in the league.
Through his 22 games this season, DeSimone is plus-two, which might not seem like much until it’s held up against last year’s mark.
“Last year was my first year pro and it was a bit of an adjustment from college. We didn’t score a lot of goals five-on-five, out there for a lot of empty nets, but at the same time, I feel I had a lot of tightening up to do in the D zone,” DeSimone said. “As a team, we did [need to], last year, and definitely, individually, I did. Coming to the Devils, I knew the system they play from watching them while I was growing up, and I was fortunate they still took a chance on me, knowing that stat. It’s been something I’ve been trying to work on this year. I feel like I’ve gotten quite a bit better at it, and I try, every game, to take that into every game, playing D zone first, being responsible, getting the puck out and sticking to the system that we play.
“That stat can ruin a guy’s career. I’m really trying to turn that around and gain the trust of my coaches and teammates in the D zone. By working on that, I feel like, in the last few weeks, I’ve really improved in that aspect. I just want to continue to do those things so I can be trusted in all situations. Not only by the coaches, but moreso by my teammates, because that’s probably most important.”