Crunch top line won't be stopped
One scoring line does not always produce a win.
Well, it did Wednesday night in the Times Union Center. Just not for the Albany Devils.
The line of Vladislav Namestnikov, J.T. Brown and Nikita Kucherov wasn't the only line playing well for the Syracuse Crunch, but it produced all four goals in a 4-1 win over Albany, the Devils getting their lone goal from their line of Reid Boucher, Scott Timmins and Joe Whitney. That Timmins line has produced 13 of the Devils' 24 goals this season.
The Brown line has now booked 15 of Syracuse's 28 goals.
The first two Crunch goals, scored on both ends of a five-on-three power play in the first period, were scored by Kucherov. Working the penalty kill, Albany captain Rod Pelley was on the ice for both. Brown scored the last two goals in the third period, and Pelley was out there for that one, too.
"They're a pretty create, young line," he said. "It's a line you obviously focus on prior to the game. They make good plays. You just have to play a smart, detailed game against them. You can eliminate them from the game pretty quickly if you play physically on them; they won't have the puck as much. When you let them off a little bit, they're going to make plays and be creative."
He also recognizes the need for the Devils to find scoring on other lines.
"That's something, internally, we've talked about as a team," he said. "We can't rely on Joe Whitney, Scott Timmins and Bouch every night. Regardless if they're our first unit on the PP. Some nights, the PP isn't going to click, and you need other guys stepping up, including myself. It's frustrating, especially when you play a team that is detailed and doesn't give you much. You've got to find ways to get the pucks to the net, then sometimes when you start pushing a little bit too much, you try to make the extra little play, and the next thing you know, they're coming down to your end and scoring a goal."
Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said the likely return of right wing Mike Sislo this weekend from an upper-body injury could help spark something on another line.
"We thought about maybe changing some things around," he said. "The Sislo option is going to be available this weekend, but there's no question, we're going to have to find a way to produce more offense here, from other than that line."
The Devils will host the Norfolk Admirals on Friday night at 7 and travel to play the Adirondack Phantoms on Saturday night at 7.
HARD LUCK PENALTY
The Devils were a few seconds into a penalty kill after Timmins was whistled for hooking at 12:52 in the first period when a clear attempt sailed over the glass and resulted in a delay of game penalty on rookie defenseman Seth Helgeson, giving the Crunch 1:30 of a five-on-three advantage.
Just 19 seconds into that advantage, Kucherov scored from just below the right circle.
Then with a regular man-advantage, Kucherov sent a puck from the right corner through the slot looking for a teammate, but there was nobody there. The puck still found the net, though, as it caromed off the skate of Albany defenseman Corbin McPherson and past goalie Scott Wedgewood, giving Syracuse a 2-0 lead.
"We hadn't looked at it, but I kind of thought they got a stick on it," Kowalsky said of the delay of game call. "But yeah, that's the call, that's the play. We've got to, especially in that situation, keep it in the rink."
"I don't think we came out like we wanted to," Pelley said. "Regardless, that five-on-three goal, the way you get to five-on-three [the delay call], that's hockey. It happens all the time now. Of course, there always seems to be a goal on those silly penalties. It's part of the game, that's hockey. The puck-off-the-foot goal, it's frustrating. Very frustrating. As a penalty killer, when those goals go in, you're just like, [throaty sigh]. I thought Corbin had good positioning and his stick was in the right place. It's too bad his skates are size 14."
BETTER IN THE SECOND
Albany recovered to play a solid second period. Though shots on goal for that 20 minutes were even at 5-5, the Devils held a 4-1 edge in scoring chances, but just couldn't convert.
"Whitney on the power play, you can tell from the bench, he's got him beat. Boucher hits the post. Even the guys that have been scoring, Boucher even late in the game. We've got to bury those, Kowalsky said. "It's tough to win on any night, but if you look at the chances – I think in the second period, shots were 5-5, and chances were 4-1. Out of five shots, you get four quality chances, you've got to bury them. I think, in a game like this, against a team we knew was playing better and we know the way they've played over the years, they don't give you much room, so when you get that chance, you've got to bury it and that takes the frustration out of it and gives you a little bit of momentum."
Albany entered the night having outscored its opponents, 9-3, in second periods.
"They've got a phenomenal record as far as goal differential in the second period, and I thought the second period was our best. [If] Whitney scores and [Harri] Pesonen scores and [Chris] McKelvie scores – those are good chances – and it's a different game. Obviously, the third didn't go our way. We've got to find a way to bury some of those chances."
The Devils got one back at 9:23, after Whitney had gotten a takeaway in the neutral zone and slid it ahead to Timmins. He carried it in through the left circle and fed Boucher in the slot, where he dragged the puck past the outstretched stick of a defenseman before beating goalie Cedric Desjardins. Desjardins got a piece of it, but he couldn't keep the puck out of the net.
Timmins now has a point in all nine games the Devils have played. He and Whitney both have five goals and six assists. Boucher has three goals and five assists.
CLAMPING DOWN ON D
The Crunch were pretty solid in their own end for most of the night, and especially on the penalty kill, keeping the Devils from earning many good chances in the first and third periods.
"Other than a brief seven or eight minutes in the second period, I thought we were really good tonight," Syracuse coach Rob Zettler said. "I thought we limited them, I thought we were really good. We scored on our chances. Obviously, our top line was ... Kucherov was outstanding, I thought Brown was really good, and then I thought, defensively, we didn't give them a lot in the neutral zone.
"We were, coming out of our zone, really efficient, too, using the middle and coming out under control a lot of times. Then, Desjardins came up big for us when he had to. He made a couple of huge stops. That one in the third with his pad was huge."
The Crunch killed all six penalties they took.
"The last couple games, it's been pretty good," Zettler said of the PK. "We're starting to get a little bit more aggressive and read plays and pressuring them in the right way. Then our up-ice has been pretty good, too, just giving them trouble on entry. We're looking to get real aggressive on entry."
BACK IN TOWN
Three former Albany River Rats were in the Syracuse lineup: defensemen Joy Mormina and Matt Taormina, and centerman Mike Angelidis.
Though Angelidis' line didn't get on the scoresheet, the work he did with linemates Dana Tyrell and Geoff Walker did not escape his coach's notice. Angelidis continues to contribute in more ways than even the most involved statistician can track, but beyond the physicality and energy and leadership, he and his line also created a few chances.
Angelidis had a couple good looks, but he has been a little snakebit so far this season. Zettler said he isn't worried though, and expects his captain will eventually see his hard work pay off with a few goals.
That's what Kowalsky is hoping this loss amounts to.
"That's a good team, there's a culture over there, they don't give you a lot of room and they're aggressive," he said. "I think we got a bit of a lesson tonight that our guys can learn from. You can't let up. You've got to play hard, and you've got to do all those little things, all the time. This team [Syracuse] does it well."
ODDS AND ENDS
The Devils' forward lines were: Stefan Matteau-Pelley-Pesonen, Mike Hoeffel-David Wohlberg-Tim Sestito, Boucher-Timmins-Whitney, McKelvie-Kelly Zajac-Cam Janssen. D pairs were: Jon Merrill-McPherson, Dan Kelly-Brandon Burlon, Helgeson-Reece Scarlett.
As long as nothing happens in Thursday's practice, Darcy Zajac (upper body) should be the only scratch as a result of injury. If Sislo is used, that leaves just one decision for Kowalsky to make regarding his lineup. Well, regarding who's playing, anyway. He still may move a few players around to different lines.
The Devils have lost two straight after five straight games with a standings point. They are 5-3-0-1.
The announced attendance for Wednesday's game was 1,535. That's pretty pathetic, especially when they've been playing well in the first month of the season. Over the weekend, they played at home Friday and Saturday, drawing 2,345 and 2,099, respectively. When they're winning, as they were coming into the weekend, that can hardly be blamed on the players or the team as a whole or the quality of the product the fans are buying for a couple hours.
Whatever the reason for the fans' disinterest in the last week, they missed two entertaining games over the weekend. I'll admit, Wednesday's was a bit of a stinker at times, but it had potential to be a good game, complete with a trio of returning former River Rats and the defending Eastern Conference champion. The Crunch made it to the Calder Cup finals last season, and the season before, several of these same players were the Calder Cup champion Norfolk Admirals. So it baffles me when I see such paltry attendance.
AND it was Dollar Dog Night! Hot dogs and small fountain sodas were $1 each.
Mid-week games always have trouble drawing, but getting fewer than 2,000 (and I'll tell you, at 1,535, that was a generous count) is just ridiculous. More so is getting fewer than 2,100 on a Saturday or fewer than 4,500 for a two-game weekend.