Helgeson's hustle exemplary
Looking at the game sheet or the box score is enough to tell you the Albany Devils were solid defensively in Sunday's 3-0 win over the Syracuse Crunch.
They allowed just 13 shots on goal. Of those, very few were real threats to Albany goalie Scott Wedgewood, who stopped them all for his second shutout in as many nights. He made 23 saves in a 2-0 win over Hartford on Saturday.
But the numbers tell so much less than could be seen simply from watching a couple plays by rookie defenseman Seth Helgeson, a pair of plays that showed the effort the entire defensive corps was laying out for two nights.
A little more than midway through the first period, with the game still scoreless, Helgeson broke his stick on a point shot, then the puck was heading the other way just a second later. With no stick, he raced back to stop the breakaway attempt of Brett Connolly, one of Syracuse's better scorers.
“The first thing [that went through my head] was to get back as fast as I could,” Helgeson said. “I realized that the puck had gotten broken out and there was a guy flying down. I cut the angle off at the post, then fell over and went into the boards pretty hard.”
He popped back up, though, and played another 20 seconds or so of his shift in his own zone with no stick, gloving the puck down at one point and nearly kicking it out to clear the zone.
“That's exactly what we need this time of year,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “These games are tight. Yeah, we probably should have been rewarded for some more of our chances, but that's two games we've gone into the third period with a one-goal lead and haven't gotten frustrated. We've stuck with it. [Chris] McKelvie doesn't play tonight because he blocked a shot [Saturday]. [Harri] Pesonen blocked a big shot in Springfield on Friday. Those are the little things that make the difference at this time of year. That play exemplifies what we need. The second effort, playing one of their best players one-on-one without a stick. We're going to have to continue to build on that. That's the kind of effort and desperation and urgency we're going to need from everyone every night.”
And he did it without drawing a penalty.
“The one thing that was going through my mind was just to cut that angle off,” Helgeson said. “If you cut that angle off, there's no chance to get a penalty. I thought I had a good angle on him, so it worked out for the best.”
The other play that stuck out was in the third period with the game still not put away. After a turnover, the Crunch saw a scoring opportunity at the right post with a fairly open net, but Helgeson laid out to block the shot.
“I took it in the chest. I knew that it was coming at me, and luckily it didn't hit my face,” Helgeson said. “Better in the chest than the face. It was just a mental breakdown, we turned over the puck and so we had to get in those shooting lanes.”
Of course, the rookie wasn't the only one of the defensemen, or the only one of any of the Devils, for that matter, to block a shot Sunday. Most of them, though, didn't have to dive like they were falling on a grenade to get it done.
The entire lineup was solid in their own zone, though, and Syracuse coach Rob Zettler said that made life tough for the Crunch.
“They're playing really well. I thought they really played in-your-face,” he said. “They've got good sticks. It's hard to get anything quality.”
“We're tight, defensively, in our own end, but it's more about taking away time and space,” Kowalsky said. “I think if you ask anybody who's seen us play our better games, including opposing coaches and players, that's what it's about.”
The Devils posted back-to-back home shutouts this weekend, but only after allowing four third-period goals at Springfield on Friday in a 6-4 loss. That stuck with them on their way back to Albany, and Helgeson said it was a point of pride to play as well as they did Saturday and Sunday.
“We talked about our defensive zone,” Helgeson said. “We sacrificed a lot, we were blocking shots, getting the puck out of the zone, keeping them to the outside. You know, we'll take those shots from the outside. Battling in front of the net. We did all that today, it worked out for the best and we're glad Wedge got the shutout.
“I think it brings up our confidence. We trust Wedge back there. He had two great games. As a D corps, no goals against in the last two games, I think it was definitely a bounce-back from Friday. I think that laid out what we need to do, and we took Friday's game and brought it into Saturday and Sunday, then battled back and made sure those mistakes wouldn't happen again.”