Notes: Portland 5, Albany 2
It was hard enough to beat Portland goalie Mark Visentin on Saturday, but the Albany Devils also had to beat five other Pirates each time they wound up for a shot.
Visentin stopped 34 of 36 shots in a 5-2 win over Albany, and his teammates stopped dozens more by filling the lanes and blocking shots.
“We had some real quality chances,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “Part of it was that we weren’t able to finish it, and part of it was Visentin was really good tonight.
“We addressed that [blocked shots] after the first period and then again after the second. We had a lot of sustained pressure in the second; we outshot them, 14-7. We don’t have the numbers now, but I’m sure they blocked another 14 or 15. Those two big defensemen there get in the lanes and they’re almost playing net at times. And when it did get through, Visentin was able to make some big saves for them. I thought we got a little better, a little more patient in the third. They really collapsed, and there were a couple shifts right before we scored when we had sustained pressure and were able to get pucks through or find someone low, so I think we made a good adjustment in that regard.”
“There’s a lot of players that take pride in their secondary game,” Portland coach Ray Edwards said. “We ask them to do uncommon things, and that’s part of it. If you noticed them, about half our team wears those shot-blockers. That’s why.”
After some adjustment, the Devils started working to open up lanes to the net, but that extra effort didn’t create enough good looks to beat Visentin.
“We were just trying to get motion up top, spread the puck around an take the shot when we had the lane, with our forwards going,” assistant captain Dan Kelly said. “But they played desperate hockey, they got pucks out, they were blocking and it worked out for them.”
“They definitely did a good job of blocking point shots and a lot of our forwards’ shots,” rookie defenseman Seth Helgeson said. “Coach came in between the second and third and said, ‘You’ve got to drop your shoulder and make a move around these guys, because they’re going down and blocking shots.’ I think, toward the end, we did a better job, but at the same time, they’re great at blocking those shots. We’ll talk about that in the next couple days and work through that.”
Portland got on the board first when, on a penalty kill, Connor Murphy got to the puck behind his own net and sent it around the boards, where it cleared the zone. Jordan Martinook sped to the puck as it entered the Albany zone and flung the puck past goalie Scott Wedgewood for a 1-0 lead on a shorthanded goal at 6:55.
At 16:58, the game was interrupted by a SHATTERED PANE OF GLASS when Helgeson hit Jordan Szwarz as he entered the Albany zone. The game went to intermission and the remaining 3:02 was played afterward, before the beginning of the second period.
Albany answered at 8:06 in the second period when Scott Timmins fired from the slot, just as Visentin had scrambled back into the crease from the corner.
Timmins has five goals and five assists, tied with Joe Whitney for the team lead in goals, assists and points. Jon Merrill and Reid Boucher also have five assists.
Timmins has a point in all eight games this season. It is the second-longest point streak in club history, tied with Niclas Bergfors, who had an eight-game streak from Feb. 14-27 in 2009 when the team was in Lowell, Mass.
Portland got regained the lead before the second intermission when Gilbert Brule scored on a power play, jamming home a rebound at 9:55.
Albany drew even one more time at 5:01 in the third. The Devils controlled the Portland zone for better than a minute, and Kelly slipped a pass to Boucher in the slot, where the rookie beat Visentin to bring the score to 2-2.
Boucher had just come on for his shift.
“I thought the guys did a great job. The funny thing about that, we said when he came back, Boucher was the only fresh guy out there,” Kowalsky said. “So they got the puck to the right guy. I think the guys did a good job in that regard, of identifying. This team senses situations like that maybe a little bit more than we have in the past. I don’t know if it’s a composure thing, but I really got a sense from us after the second period, even though the first wasn’t a great period and you’ve got a team that didn’t play last night . . . not that we want to win every game, but there was a real sense that these guys were going to go out and tie the game up, if not even win it.”
“Our forwards were doing a good job pressing them,” Kelly said. “The puck squirted out a couple times to the top, and me and Jonny were taking shots. Then the puck squirted out, I saw Bouch come around, and I figured give it to one of the hot sticks, so I slid it down to Bouch and he put it in.”
Portland’s Brett Hextall’s shot from above the right circle beat Wedgewood to the near side at 10:56 for a 3-2 lead.
“I thought it was a game of momentum, right?” Edwards said. “They answered on us, and that last one was a big one, when they tied it up to make it 2-2. [Kyle] Hagel went out there and banged around, threw the puck at the net and it went right to Hextall, and he found a way.”
The Devils were behind again. It’s a position they haven’t been in late in games very often this season. They entered the night with a point in six straight games.
“It’s a little frustrating,” Kelly said. “We had our chances all game to tie it up or take a lead. Sometimes, the puck just doesn’t go your way, but our guys kept on it. It was a little different experience, playing from behind. Usually, we get the lead a little early and play defense in the third. But I thought our guys responded well. It’s not going to be your night, every night, where pucks are going to go your way.”
LATE POWER PLAY
Still, the Devils had a chance late.
At 17:46, Portland’s Chris Summers was whistled for interference and the Devils were given a late man advantage. When they pulled Wedgewood for the extra attacker at 18:43, it was a two-man advantage.
Albany entered the night with a 20-percent conversion rate on the power play. Coming up empty-handed on this one made them 0-for-6 on the night. They allowed a short-handed empty-netter, then another empty-netter, both in the last minute. It was the second short-handed goal of the night for Portland.
“I was a little concerned because on the power play, our execution tonight, Jonny Merrill fought it a bit up top, it might have been the ice, a lot of bouncing pucks,” Kowalsky said. “We had some opportunities. Not that we mismanaged it, but we just weren’t real good. A lot of our exchanges were bad, then when we did make some plays, we had some bad shot decisions. We still had opportunities. You finish those, and it’s a different game. When you get to that point, with the way the power play has been going, you have an opportunity to win the game. A little bit of credit goes to their penalty kill and obviously their goaltender, but you know, you’ve got to find a way to score with the game on the line.”
“The PK, obviously, was big,” Edwards said. “I thought the power play, it got us a goal, but I thought our execution could have been better on the power play. We had [five] opportunities. The goal was good to get one, but the PK was the key for us tonight. A lot of shot-blockers out there, and obviously our goaltender was pretty good. He’s got to be your best penalty-killer sometimes, and tonight, he was.”
Still, the Devils are in a good place early in the season. At 5-2-0-1, they are one of the stronger-looking teams early in the season.
And it’s still very early, but it’s a far better position than they were in last season, when they were 2-5-0-1 through the first eight games.
“I think we’ve got a little more confidence,” Kelly said. “We’ve had a better start. Usually, we’re down a couple games coming in at the start of the season before we get our legs under us. But the young guys bring a lot of energy, they come off winning teams, these guys, so they know how to win and they’re pressing. Now teams know we’re a team to mess with, so they’re going to be coming for us.”
‘A’ ON A D
With Mike Sislo (upper body) injured and day-to-day, the Devils were in need of another assistant captain.
Rod Pelley is the captain, and Tim Sestito is an everyday assistant captain. The other ‘A’ is being shared by Sislo and Chris McKelvie, with Sislo wearing it at home and McKelvie on the road.
In Sislo’s absence, the coaching staff turned to one of the guys they had considered before the season, handing the ‘A’ to Kelly, a fourth-year defenseman who has been very reliable on the back end.
“It’s a big honor to be captain, especially in a professional sense,” he said. “I just try to stay positive. I’m the only guy who wears a letter on the back end, so I try to keep the young guys like [Reece] Scarlett if he’s down on himself or [Brandon] Burlon who I play with, just try to keep guys’ heads in it. When we got that lead, I let them know it’s the defense that’s going to make that stand.”