We have reached the month of March…and the start of a very busy month for the Devils, as they are faced with a tough 3 in 3 weekend stretch virtually every weekend during the month. The first set was all on the road…and they came out of it strong, notching 5 out of 6 points and staying in the playoff hunt. Time to look back:
The month of March kicked off with a trip west to Syracuse, where the Devils found a team riding a 8 game winning streak in the Crunch. No goals across in the first, but Jeff Frazee was kept quite busy, as his teammates were outshot 14-5. Second period saw more of the same…no scoring, but Syracuse dominating in shots taken, and Frazee rising to the challenge and stopping them all. By the end of that period, Frazee had stopped all 26 shots he had faced, while Albany only had 11 on Crunch goaltender Cedric Desjardins. Finally, 9 minutes into the third, the scoreless tie was broken…by Chris McKelvie, finally solving Desjardins for a 1-0 Devil lead. Darcy Zajac would double the lead just 1:02 later. Brett Connolly would break up Frazee’s shutout bid with just 2:15 remaining to cut the lead to 2-1, but Zajac would score an empty netter (his second of the period) with 45 seconds remaining to seal the Devils 3rd straight win. An outstanding performance from Frazee against the team with the AHL’s best record, stopping 37 of 38 shots and earning #3 star honors (he should have finished much higher, but what can you do?). Cam Janssen (yes, that Cam Janssen) notched his first two points since coming down, earning assists on both of Zajac’s goals, while three others had one assist apiece.
The road trip continued south on Interstate 81 to Wilkes-Barre, as the Devils and Penguins met for the first time since mid December, which if you recall was the Bobby Butler 4 goal game…and also featured 7 fights. But this rematch was not as chippy, although you wouldn’t have known it at first. The game also marked Maxime Clermont’s first AHL start of the season, and he did not disappoint. The Devils had to deal with the pest known as Bobby Farnham early on, as he goaded Chris McKelvie into a fight by the bench, and helping to draw a too many Devils on the ice penalty, which Albany was able to kill off. But on the second penalty kill halfway through the period, the Penguins got on the board on a Trevor Smith goal. Darcy Zajac, fresh off a rematch with Dominik Uher to end the first period, scored his third goal in two games late in the second to tie things up at 1. After that it was all Clermont and his opposing goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, as both settled in quite nicely. The deadlock moved into overtime, where the Penguins thought they had the game winner late, but a video replay called it off. It was then on to the bane of the Devils existence, the shootout…but the bonus round started off on the right foot, er, skate, as Mike Sislo scored in round 1. Clermont was able to hold off the first 3 Penguins shooters, but Jayson Megna would score in the 4th round to tie it. Tom Kostopoulos would score in the 5th round to put the Penguins up, but Joe Whitney would match him to send the shootout to extra rounds. Adam Payerl scored in round 6, but Steve Zalewski was unable to match up, giving the Pens the extra point and the Devils 10th shootout loss of the season, one off the AHL record. Clermont came up a hard luck loser in his season debut, stopping 29 of 30 shots.
The weekend concluded with the final trip up Interstate 87 of the season, as the Devils faced a struggling Phantoms team that had gone winless since February 24th…and just received former River Rat and Stanley Cup hero Michael Leighton as their latest starting goaltender. The first period saw no goals across, shots even at 9, and the newly formed 2/3 Zajac line (since Kelly was actually in the lineup on this day), with 1/3 Wiseman. Phil DeSimone would break the scoreless tie 1:49 into the second period for a 1-0 Devil advantage. Joe Whitney would make it 2-0 just 16 seconds after escaping serving a penalty. Andreas Lilja would break up Jeff Frazee’s shutout bid halfway through the second to cut it to 2-1. DeSimone would add his second of the day with 11 minutes left in the third for what turned into a very important insurance goal. The Phantoms would pull Leighton late, and just as the 6th attacker hit the ice Eric Wellwood sent it past Frazee to cut the lead to 3-2. But the Devils would hang on for the final 1:36 (and have a potential empty netter called off due to an offsides call) to grab the win. Frazee had another great day in net, stopping 36 of 38 shots and earning #3 star honors. Whitney added two assists, while Jacob Josefson and David Wohlberg (in a rare game appearance) each added a helper.
And now, the Cam Janssen Obligatory Fight Of The Week:
Now that we’ve reached March and the homestretch of the season, I’ve added another feature to the recap: the playoff standings update. After the weekend’s action, the Devils stand alone in 9th place in the Eastern Conference with 59 points. They trail 8th place Connecticut by 2 and lead 10th place Worcester and Manchester by 1 point.
-This week on the Albany/New Jersey/Trenton shuttle: As noted earlier, Maxime Clermont was recalled from Elmira on Thursday to take over for Keith Kinkaid while he backs up Johan Hedberg in New Jersey. After appearing in New Jersey’s loss to Winnipeg in Manitoba Thursday night, Tim Sestito was returned to Albany on Friday and ended up playing in Syracuse that night. He did not make an appearance the rest of the weekend due to injury. Bobby Butler was placed on waivers on Sunday afternoon with the intent of returning to Albany, but was claimed by Nashville.
-Injury front: Jay Leach sat out the weekend, but has returned to practicing with the team. Mattias Tedenby is presumably off to New Jersey for further evaluation of his skate cut. Scott Parse finally returned to the lineup Saturday evening in Wilkes-Barre, but then sat out on Sunday in Adirondack. Matt Anderson did not play all weekend, but did warm up on Sunday only to sit out.
The Week Ahead:
Another 3 in 3 weekend looming, but the good thing is it’s all at home, as the Times Union Center takes a break from hosting high school and college basketball. Friday night they face Bridgeport (and most likely Rick DiPietro), Saturday afternoon they play the Falcons (and it’s Eric Gelinas bobblehead day!), followed by another matchup with Adirondack on Sunday afternoon (it’s team poster/postgame autographs day).