The Weekend That Was(n’t)

End of February already? That means spring is getting closer and this horrible winter is almost over. But anyway I digress…

This weekend the Devils had a chance to pull away from the basement dwellers and continue their hot streak as of late. Well…that didn’t happen. In fact, they were 0-fer on the weekend, but in all 3 games at one point they did hold a lead, but just couldn’t hold on for the victory. Let’s start with Friday night in Springfield, a game I was very much looking forward to going to. Well a change in the weather forecast overnight Thursday into Friday changed my plans. What was supposed to be just 1-3 inches then rain turned into a 8-12 inch all snow event in Albany, keeping this girl grounded. What’s sad was in Springfield it just rained all day, if I was able to get out of New York I would have been fine. Anyway…the game featured the first matchup of the season between the Sestito brothers (Tim missed the matchup in January while on recall to New Jersey), this time Tom got the better of the two, scoring a goal in the first period and eventually earning #1 star honors. Jeff Prough got the Devils on the board early, but it was basically all Falcons the rest of the way as they took a 5-2 victory. Dave Caruso started the game and gave up all 5 goals over the first two periods, Mike McKenna relieved him to start the 3rd and shut down the Falcon offense. Pierre-Luc Leblond scored late in the third period, but it was too little, too late.

Saturday night while the Devils continued their road swing in Hershey, I headed up north to Glens Falls to take in the Phantoms-Sharks matchup. Not very often I get to go to a non-Albany game, and since the Devils play Adirondack several times in March and April I took the opportunity to do some prescouting so to speak. And visit with my friends on Worcester as an added bonus. I saw another goaltending duel, this time it was Michael Leighton vs. former Bears goalie Daren Machesney. Neither would allow a goal till the second period, when Greg Moore and Jamie McGinn exchanged tallies. The game eventually went to a shootout (not the Phantoms’ best friend lately, I believe at one point this month they dropped 3 of them in a row, including the two I saw last weekend against Charlotte and Albany), one the Phantoms took in 6 rounds. Meanwhile in Chocolatetown, the Devils dropped a 4-3 decision to the Bears in front of another sold out audience at the Giant Center. Brad Mills gave the visitors an early 1-0 lead, but of course the Bears stepped up and scored 3 in a row on Mike McKenna. Olivier Magnan brought the Devils back within one, but Boyd Kane scored his second of the night for an insurance tally. Adam Henrique made it 4-3 very late in the third, but it wasn’t to be. And of course Joel Rechlicz and Pierre Luc Leblond had their battle, but Rechlicz paid the price with an instigator and misconduct as a result. Still waiting for the Youtube clip to show up to see who got the better of it.

Sunday afternoon the road swing moved to the last home game in Atlantic City against Norfolk. The Devils ran into some early penalty trouble which resulted in the Admirals grabbing a 2-0 lead halfway through the first period. The Devils scored the next 3 to take a 3-2 lead into the 3rd, a lead that quickly evaporated thanks to more penalty woes. Norfolk tied it at the start of the period and took the lead for good 3 minutes later. What’s interesting is both goals were given up by Mike McKenna, who went in net for the start of the 3rd while starter Jeff Frazee (his first action since January 7th) was tending to equipment issues on the bench. As a result of the loss, Adirondack’s victory over Binghamton and Syracuse losing in OT to Rochester, the Phantoms jump ahead of the Devils by one point into 6th. The Devils fall to 7th and are only 1 point ahead of the Crunch for the basement spot.

Off topic for a little bit…I spent Sunday morning in North Adams, MA to see my friend’s son play in a youth hockey game. It was fun watching these 7 and 8 year old kids out on the ice and seeing how disciplined they are. One thing the kids are taught is if someone on either team goes down and appears to be shaken up or injured, everyone on the ice stops and gets down on one knee and play stops until the player is off the ice. With recent events in both the AHL and NHL (yes Trevor Gillies I’m talking to you), sometimes you have to go back to the beginning and see how everything starts out. And both teams were congratulated and supported as they left the ice at the end of the game, a great example of sportsmanship. I’m hoping to get to another one of my little friend’s games in March as their playoffs/yearend tournaments get into full swing, schedule permitting.

Today was the NHL trade deadline day, a day where I always saw someone from here shipped off to who knows where. Lou was famous during the first Devil regime here for doing that…Steve Sullivan, Sheldon Souray, Brendan Morrison are just a few examples. This year that didn’t happen, the only move New Jersey made was shipping Jason Arnott to Washington for David Steckel. The only other interesting trade I saw go down today was a minor league swap between Columbus and Philly, the Flyers sent Phantom Greg Moore and prospect Michael Chaput (former Rat Stefan’s younger brother) to the Blue Jackets for Tom Sestito. He was sent to Adirondack, which means one thing: lots of sibling rivalry battles between Tim and Tom for the rest of the season. First matchup comes Saturday afternoon in Albany, then Sunday afternoon and next Friday night in Glens Falls (I’ll be logging a lot of miles next week between 2 trips north and a trip south next Saturday to Hudson for work, but I’ll worry about that later). As for this week, the Devils face a daunting matchup in Binghamton tomorrow night against the Senators, then back home Friday night to host Norfolk before the home and home with Adirondack…yes another 3 in 3 weekend. Hopefully by the end of it they don’t fall into the basement.

Albany-Norfolk Pregame Notes

A few things to get you ready before the Devils and Admirals take to the Boardwalk Hall ice:

Season: This is the 5th of 8 meetings between the two teams, with the Admirals holding a 3-1 lead so far. Last meeting came on December 18th in Virginia, a 5-1 Admirals victory. After today they meet 3 more times, March 4th in Albany and March 18th and 19th in Norfolk.

Standings: Norfolk begins the day in 5th place in the East Division, with a record of 28-17-8-5 and 69 points. They stand 2 points behind 4th place Binghamton and 21 points ahead of the Devils, who are in 6th with a 22-31-1-3 record and 48 points. They currently lead 7th place Adirondack by 1 point and 8th place Syracuse by 2 points.

Scoring: Norfolk is lead by center Marc-Andre Pouliot with 48 points (17 G, 31 A) and center Blair Jones with 41 points (17 G, 24 A). Dustin Tokarski has assumed the starting goaltender duties between all the injuries and callups to Tampa Bay for Cedrick Desjardins and Mike Smith. Jaroslav Janus currently makes up the second half of the goaltending tandem. On the home side, Matt Anderson still paces the scoring with 40 points (17 G, 23 A) followed by Adam Henrique with 35 points (18 G, 17 A). Jeff Frazee returned to the lineup to backup Mike McKenna in Hershey. The plan appears to be carry all 3 goaltenders currently on the roster for the time being. It is unclear who will be out there in Atlantic City, stay tuned.

Miscellaneous: This is the 4th and final appearance for the Devils at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, where they currently hold a 1-2 record and 1 postponement. The only win came on December 5th against the Phantoms, Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton took victories on February 4th and February 7th, respectively.

Game time: 4 PM. I plan on following along from home…

Albany-Hershey Pregame Notes

A few things to know before the Devils and Bears take to the Giant Center Ice:

Season: This is the 5th of 6 meetings between the two teams, with Hershey holding a 4-0 lead so far. Last matchup was February 4th in Atlantic City, a 5-3 Bears victory. They meet once more this season, on March 26th in Chocolatetown.

Standings: The Bears begin the day in second place in the East Division, with a record of 36-19-1-3 for 76 points. They stand 8 points behind first place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and 2 points ahead of 3rd place Charlotte. The Devils stand in 6th place with a record of 22-30-1-3 and 48 points, 20 points behind 5th place Norfolk and 2 points ahead of 7th place Syracuse.

Scoring: Hershey is lead by former Rats center Keith Aucoin with 56 points (15 G, 41 A) and winger Brian Willsie with 51 points (23 G, 28 A). Braden Holtby has assumed the starting goaltender’s role with Dany Sabourin out with a knee injury, but he too has had some injury issues recently. Todd Ford and Jared DeMichiel, both summoned from the Bears’ ECHL affiliate in South Carolina, are the current tandem in net, Ford getting the bulk of the work. For the visitors, Matt Anderson still paces the Devils in scoring, leading all skaters with 39 points (17 G, 22 A) followed by Adam Henrique with 34 points (17 G, 17 A). Jeff Frazee is on the Devils’ 3 game road trip this weekend, but it is not clear if he will see any action. Dave Caruso got the start in Springfield but was lifted for Mike McKenna after 2 periods after giving up 5 goals to the Falcons.

Game time: 7:00 PM. I will not be tweeting this one (will be at another game) but will pass along updates as needed…

Albany-Springfield Pregame Notes

What you may need to know before the Devils and Falcons take to the MassMutual Center ice:

-Season: This is the second meeting between the two teams, with Albany holding a 1-0 lead. That meeting came back on January 15th in Albany, a 6-3 Devil victory. After tonight the teams play two more times, on March 12th in Albany and April 8th in Springfield.

-Standings: The Falcons begin the day in 5th place in the Atlantic Division, with a 28-26-1-3 record and 60 points. They stand 1 point behind Worcester for 4th place and are 5 points ahead of 6th place Providence. Albany stands in 6th place in the East, with a 22-29-1-3 record and 48 points. They are 18 points behind 5th place Norfolk and 2 points ahead of 7th place Syracuse.

-Scoring: Springfield is lead in scoring by forwards Tomas Kubalik with 38 points (17 G, 21 A) and Trevor Smith with 37 points (18 G, 19 A combined with Syracuse/Springfield). Rookie Gustaf Wesslau and veteran David LeNeveu split the time in the nets, LeNeveu leading with 14 wins. For the Devils, the top two remain unchanged: Matt Anderson leads all Albany skaters with 39 points (17 G, 22 A) followed by Adam Henrique with 34 points (17 G, 17 A). Mike McKenna and Dave Caruso are splitting time with Jeff Frazee still on the shelf, Caruso having the hot hand in winning his last 3 starts in net, including one shutout.

Game time: 7:30 PM. Due to weather instead of traveling to MA I will be tweeting from home…

Midweek Observations

Okay first of all…yes I changed the theme again. This is what happens when you get bored and want your page to look a certain way. So I switched it back with a few modifications…the photo is one I took in Newark in Championship Plaza across from The Rock. Anyway on to the business at hand…

-Sunday saw the biggest Devils crowd of the year, about 5900. Thank you Time Warner Cable for cheap tickets. And it was televised on local TV through Time Warner Cable Sports, normally the only games you get are Rochester and Syracuse. Those watching in person and at home got a pretty good game, as the Devils made another comeback after being down 2-0 and won it 4-3 in a shootout against the Adirondack Phantoms. Dave Caruso was outstanding again in net, only allowing Danny Syvret to get two pucks past him. This will put the team in a pickle when it’s time for Jeff Frazee to return to the lineup, Caruso has been on a roll lately. Pierre-Luc Leblond got two-thirds of the Gordie Howe hat trick, getting one past Michael Leighton and winning a bout against Adirondack’s heavyweight Matt Clackson. Tim Sestito scored his first since being returned from New Jersey the day before and Trenton callup Jeff Prough added his first AHL tally. Adam Henrique nabbed the only goal in the shootout round.

-Meanwhile the parent Devils are continuing their tear of late, riding an 8 game winning streak after shutting out Dallas (and former captain Jamie Langenbrunner) last night. Very cool to see the Albany callups contributing to the cause; for example, Nick Palmieri got the only goal Johan Hedberg would need last night. Mark Fayne, Vladimir Zharkov and Mattias Tedenby are getting regular shifts, Palmieri was put on a line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac, and it looks like Jacob Josefson is getting a second chance (although scratched last night) to get back in the lineup. I do find it a little amusing that the recent hot streak (I believe it’s 16-1-2?) started being measured on January 9th, the day I was at the Rock to see the Devils beat the Lightning. Not that I’m taking credit for it or anything, but…

-Looking ahead for the Devils this weekend…another 3 in 3 weekend, and 4 in 5 day stretch, all road games (technically one is home but it’s not really at home). Friday night at Springfield, Saturday night at Hershey, Sunday afternoon vs. Norfolk in Atlantic City, and Tuesday night at Binghamton. This will be a very good test to see how for real this recent run has been. The team has somewhat pulled away from the basement (just 3 points ahead of Adirondack who fell back to 8th after a Syracuse shootout victory last night), this is a good chance to create some breathing room and look somewhat decent. Weather permitting (stupid snow in the forecast again…how many days till spring?), I will be at the game in Springfield on Friday. It’s the second closest road trip (about 90 minutes) after Adirondack for me, and it’s one of my favorite stops. After the last matchup in January with multiple penalties, fights, etc. this should be interesting. And it’s also a battle for family supremacy…Tim Sestito going up against little brother Tom who is a Falcon. Very much looking forward to that one. The game at Hershey could be a good one too after what happened the last time the Devils were in the building, but Louis Robitaille is still nursing an upper body ailment, not sure if he’ll be in the lineup for that one. Sunday afternoon marks the Devils’ last appearance of the season at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, against a team struggling as of late in Norfolk. The Admirals have gone from a second place team to tied for 4th with the resurgent Senators, Tuesday’s opponent. The Devils will be making their second trip to Broome County in about a week and a half, hoping the 2nd time around goes better than the last, a literal last second loss in overtime.

Speaking of Binghamton, I have a decision to make for tonight’s entertainment…listen in to Pens-BSens in Binghamton or do some prescouting and listen in to Falcons-Sharks…may have to jump back and forth on this one…

Albany-Adirondack Pregame Notes

Just a few things to get you ready for the Devils and Phantoms at the Times Union Center:

-Season: This is the 6th of 12 meetings between the two teams this season, with Adirondack holding a 3-2 edge so far for the 2nd annual Time Warner Cable Cup. Last meeting came on January 5th, with the Phantoms taking a 3-2 shootout win. After today, the teams play again on March 5th in Albany, March 6th and 11th in Glens Falls, March 29th in Albany, and April 1st and 6th in Adirondack.

-Standings: The Phantoms begin the day tied for 7th place in the East Division with a record of 18-30-3-5 and 44 points. They are tied with Syracuse and 2 points behind the Devils, who stand in 6th with a record of 21-29-1-3 and 46 points. Albany sits 20 points behind Binghamton and Norfolk for 4th place.

-Scoring: Adirondack is lead by veteran Denis Hamel (17 G, 15 A) and defenseman Erik Gustafsson (5 G, 27 A) with 32 points each, and rookie Ben Holmstrom with 24 points (9 G, 15 A). Former River Rat Michael Leighton and Johan Backlund are splitting time in net, Backlund with 7 wins and Leighton 4 since his demotion from Philadelphia. On the home side, Matt Anderson continues to pace the Devils scoring with 38 points (17 G, 21 A) followed by Adam Henrique with 33 points (17 G, 16 A). Mike McKenna is back in the fold, he and Dave Caruso will remain the goaltending tandem for a few more days till Jeff Frazee is ready to return, which could be as early as this weekend.

-Miscellaneous: Lot going on at the Times Union Center today. First an awesome ticket deal: bring your Time Warner Cable bill to the box office and get a $5 or $10 ticket depending on where you choose to sit. The game will also be televised through Time Warner Cable Sports. Also, Dora the Explorer will be on hand for the kids during intermission to meet. To top it off, a post game autograph session on the concourse with the entire Devils team. So lots going on this afternoon.

Game time: 4 PM. I will be on hand doing the usual…

Last Second Heroics

Good Sunday morning!

What an interesting weekend so far…let’s start with recapping Friday night’s events. What should have been a very good 4-1 win for Worcester–Jonathan Cheechoo had two goals and rookie goaltender Jeff Jakaitis holding his own in net–turned into something completely different for the Devils in the last 10 minutes of the game. What I think started this awakening was simple enough…a heavyweight battle between Pierre-Luc Leblond and Frazer McLaren. Leblond took the fight, and immediately after the comeback was on. Brad Mills brought the Devils within 4-2 17 seconds after the fight. Then while on a power play, the goal came loose behind Jakaitis. Matt Anderson swarmed in and batted it into the net, bringing the Devils to within 4-3 and sparking a scrum in front of the net involving Adam Henrique and Jamie McGinn. The last minute was probably one of the most exciting and unexpected things I have ever seen in this building. Down by a goal, Dave Caruso was pulled for the extra attacker. With 53 seconds left on the clock, Adam Henrique managed to get the tying goal in net. About 40 seconds later, something interesting happened. Apparently referee Geno Binda had the teams face off in the Sharks zone instead of the neutral zone, and the Sharks bench became incensed. I didn’t see the actual incident from my angle, but Worcester assistant coach David Cunniff (son of former Rats coach John Cunniff) threw a pen at one of the linesmen out of anger and nailed him in the helmet. Obviously he was shown the door and the Sharks were given a bench minor. 8 seconds into the ensuing power play, former Shark Steve Zalewski (who is called Zeus by friends, I was sitting near his fan club from home), of all people, batted in the game winner with 4 seconds left on the clock, completing the improbable 5-4 comeback. I should also mention this was in front of a season high crowd of 5521, thank you GE for Kids in Free Day.

Afterwards, I was outside by the Sharks bus hoping to visit with a friend of mine on the team, Dan Dasilva. Knowing the events, I knew I had to be careful with my words…I mean what do you say to someone who just saw his team blow a 3 goal lead like they did? I didn’t have to worry about that, he simply came over, said a quick hello and said he couldn’t talk, he was in a bad mood. Completely understandable. I talked with Nathan Perkovich and Jeff Frazee, both told me they should be back playing soon, Frazee as early as next weekend (I feel like a reporter now haha). When I got home to start writing up my Binghamton preview, I jumped on Twitter quick and saw a message from Dan’s Twitter account, basically apologizing to the “Albany fans waiting” for him. I messaged him back saying I was sorry for what he and the team went through and hoped to visit soon when he was in a better mood. What I got a few minutes later reinforced my reasons why I’m into hockey (and baseball) in the first place: I got a response from Dan personally apologizing to me and thanking me for all the support over the years (we’ve known each other since the ’06-’07 season when he was a Rat for one season). So Dan if you happen to see this: You’re welcome.

Moving on to last night. I went to Glens Falls to see Checkers-Phantoms since I was unable to travel to Binghamton for Devils-Senators. Very good game at the Glens Falls Civic Center, a goaltending duel between two of my favorite former Rat goalies: Michael Leighton and Mike Murphy. Chris Terry gave the Checkers a 1-0 lead after one, then former Rat Michael Ryan tied the game very early on in the 2nd period. The game stayed rather uneventful through late in the 3rd period (Geno Binda actually let them play), then Eric Wellwood scored the go ahead goal for Adirondack with less than 2 minutes remaining. Murphy gets pulled for the extra attacker, and with 28 seconds left a scramble in front of Leighton resulted in Matt Pistilli getting home a controversial tying goal. All the Phantom fans were screaming it shouldn’t have counted because it was not a direct shot. But Binda allowed it, and now I have to agree with Binghamton goalie Robin Lehner…the Phantom fans are idiots. One loud woman in particular next to us started yelling at us. Whatever. Nothing doing in overtime, which lead to an epic 7 round shootout. I feel bad for Bryan Rodney, he went to do his patented slow down move, but hit a bad patch of ice and fell flat on his stomach. Naturally Leighton came out of the net and pushed the puck to the side. Finally in the last round Zach Boychuk got the game winner and the Checkers won 3-2 in a shootout.

Meanwhile, out west in Binghamton (I was reading along tweets from the Devils official and B-Sens official, along with my new friend Joy from the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin), the Devils got some reverse karma from Friday night. Steve Zalewski remained hot, scoring 2 more goals (so far I think I know who got the better of this deal), and the Devils mounted another comeback after being down 3-1 in the 2nd period, coming back to tie it at 3 in the middle of the third. The game went to overtime, and this time it was the B-Sens with the last second magic, Mike Hoffman gets a goal past Mike McKenna at 4:59 of OT. Yes folks with one second left on the clock. It was the Devils’ first OT loss of the season, but they still gained a standings point and stayed ahead of Adirondack and Syracuse in the standings.

Today it’s back to the local rivalry for the first time in over a month, as the Devils and Phantoms meet this afternoon in Albany. The two teams better get used to each other, because half of March’s schedule involves them playing each other a lot. That includes a home and home the first weekend of March and two trips to Glens Falls in a 5 day span. Both teams have been trying to get out of the worst team rut and have been pretty successful, so this should make for an interesting afternoon.