Albany-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pregame Notes

What you may need to know before the Devils and Penguins take to the ice at Times Union Center tonight:

-Season: This is the 6th meeting between the two teams this season, with the Pens going undefeated in all 6 matchups. Last meeting, on January 22nd in Wilkes-Barre, the Pens got past an early 1-0 deficit and cruised to a 6-2 victory. The Devils franchise (Lowell and Albany) are still looking for their first ever win against the Penguins. The teams face off two more times, on February 7th in Atlantic City (makeup game from December 12th) and on March 23rd in Wilkes-Barre.

-Standings: Not much of a change since the last meeting. The Penguins remain in first place in the East Division, Eastern Conference and American Hockey League, checking in with a record of 35-10-0-0, good for 70 points and a 13 point lead over second place Norfolk. After a victory over Bridgeport on Tuesday night, the Devils sit in 6th place in the division with a record of 18-23-0-3, good for 39 points and a one point lead over Syracuse.

-Scoring: The Penguins are lead in scoring by center Dustin Jeffrey with 43 points (17 G, 26 A) and winger Brett Sterling with 34 points (17 G, 17 A). With All Star starter Brad Thiessen out due to injury, All-Star replacement John Curry has become the main starter, with recent callup Alexander Pechurskiy backing up. On the home side, Matt Anderson continues to lead the Devils in scoring with 31 points (16 G, 15 A), followed by Michael Swift with 28 points (16 G, 12 A). With Jeff Frazee out for at least two weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery, Mike McKenna will take over in net, looking to build on the 6-4 win in Bridgeport on Tuesday. I am sure at some point backup Dave Caruso will get some game action other than the relief appearance in Hershey on Friday night.

-Miscellaneous: on Thursday, two more Penguins were added to the All Star roster as replacements: forward Eric Tangradi and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, joining teammate John Curry. Brad Thiessen and Dustin Jeffrey were original picks, but will not play. Ex-Rat Jesse Boulerice is slated to return from a 10 game suspension received in early January. The Devils received 4 reinforcements from New Jersey while the NHL is on All Star Break: forwards Nick Palmieri, Vladimir Zharkov, and Mattias Tedenby, along with defenseman Mark Fraser, back down for what is being termed as another “conditioning” stint.

Game time 7:00. I will of course be in attendance with the usual…

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Dodging The Storm

Finally, a snowstorm on the East Coast that didn’t hit the Capital Region! I had to breathe just a little sigh of relief when I went out early this morning and not a flake was on the car. Meanwhile south and east of here got absolutely nailed, apparently some mid-Atlantic states lost power. I had a small heart attack this morning when I saw a Twitter post about Norfolk’s bus spinning out and getting stuck in the snow. After what happened to the River Rats almost 2 years ago I worry when there’s bad weather and I know teams have to travel by bus through it to get to the next stop (i.e. Charlotte earlier this month traveling from Albany to Springfield in crappy conditions…right past the accident site I might add). The one team I felt sorry for yesterday was the Springfield Falcons. Already in town to play Hershey and surprise, the game gets moved to Thursday night. Really? The only time the Rats ever canceled a game due to weather was way back in ’01, because St. John’s (really dating myself here) couldn’t get past Buffalo after a lake effect storm dumped a ton of snow and closed the Thruway down. Usually if the other team is able to travel, the game is played no matter what. The three NY NHL teams played through the post Christmas blizzard, but the Bears wouldn’t play in 4-6 inches of wet snow (at least that was the one forecast I saw I’m not sure overall how much they did get). Another reason to despise Hershey (other than the obvious).

Today I (along with the rest of the world) was introduced to the newest AHL mascot: Dax, who replaces Phlex in Adirondack. It’s a 7-foot orange/green beaver with a tail. Yeah if you say so. It looks like the Philly Phanatic ate too many carrots. But that wouldn’t explain the redneck Tow Mater-esque teeth. At first I thought why the name Dax? Kind of weird. But someone on Twitter did figure it out…Dax is in a way short for “Adirondacks” or “‘dacks”. So the theory is the rumored move to Allentown when an arena there is built isn’t happening anytime soon. Not sure when I’ll meet this monstrosity, I don’t think my next trip north is till the end of February.

Last night since the Devils were off (more on them in a minute), I bought the video feed of Checkers-Penguins, take 2. I figured why not, just incase Justin Pogge has another meltdown after the one I saw Sunday afternoon. Well…his game more than he melted down, yanked after allowing 4 goals to the Pens. I do give the Checkers a lot of credit for taking over in the 2nd and coming back to tie the game. And to Mike Murphy for keeping his team in it, he was standing on his head making some very good saves. It wasn’t meant to be, the Pens took the lead in the 3rd and held on for the win, splitting a 2 game set.

Now to the weekend ahead. 2 home games coming up for the Devils, WBS on Friday and Rochester on Saturday. Not sure what to expect tomorrow considering how the last matchup went (the 6-2 beating I saw on Saturday), but today the Devils did get some help from New Jersey with the NHL on All Star Break: 4 players sent down, Nick Palmieri, Mattias Tedenby (in what may be the last time he’ll wear an Albany uniform…just a hunch), Vladimir Zharkov, and Mark Fraser (another “conditioning” stint…he’d have to be put on waivers otherwise). The one number I cannot wait to see is attendance, not just in Albany but in Adirondack. Tomorrow night while Albany plays host to the Penguins, Charlotte will be playing the Phantoms. I have a feeling it’s going to be a lonely night for me, many people are planning to see the former Rats. Here’s the thing: I would have liked to see my former team, which is why I went to Wilkes-Barre last weekend, but there is a team here that needs support more. I’ll have the same conflict come up again in February, the next time Charlotte comes to Adirondack: the same day the Devils travel to Binghamton. I would actually rather go to Binghamton (I do have a few friends out there that I visit) for the Devils, but if my schedule and the weather out there work against me, I’ll go north. But we’ll see what happens.

Albany-Bridgeport Pregame Notes

A few things you may need to know before the Devils and Sound Tigers take to the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard (there’s a mouthful) ice tonight:

-Season: This is the second meeting of the season between the two teams. Last meeting was on December 28th in Albany, with the Sound Tigers prevailing 4-3 in a shootout. After tonight, they meet two more times: March 9th in Albany and April 10th in Bridgeport.

-Standings: The Sound Tigers are currently locked in a 3-way tie for 5th place in the Atlantic Division with Providence and Springfield. They check in with a record of 19-20-3-3, good for 44 points. They are only 4 points behind Worcester for 4th place. After Saturday night’s loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Devils now stand in a tie for 6th place in the East Division with Syracuse, with a record of 17-23-0-3, good for 37 points. They are 14 points behind Binghamton for 5th and ahead of Adirondack by 6 points.

-Scoring: Bridgeport is lead in scoring by winger Rhett Rakhshani with 32 points (10 G, 22 A) and center Rob Hisey with 23 points (6 G, 17 A). Rookie Mikko Koskinen has assumed the #1 goaltender role with both Nathan Lawson and Kevin Poulin on recall to the NY Islanders. I expect him to be in net. On the Devils side, Matt Anderson continues to lead the team in scoring with 28 points (15 G, 13 A), following him is Michael Swift with 27 points (16 G, 11 A). With Jeff Frazee now on the shelf after knee surgery, Mike McKenna (in my eyes) becomes the #1 goaltender. He will be looking to add to his 7 wins after a disasterous weekend in Pennsylvania.

Game time is 7:00. I will be checking in late with tweeting from home due to a Devils Booster Club meeting.

Wilkes-Barre Wrap-Up

Happy frozen Monday!

It is FREEZING in the Capital District today. Woke up to a -11 reading, got all layered up and got the car going. Good news is this will go away by tomorrow, bad news is more snow comes with it. But only an inch or so, nothing to panic over.

Anyway, on to other things…let’s review the weekend that was for me in Wilkes-Barre. I make an annual trip here, but I wish I could go more often. Myself, along with my friend Amy (my loyal sidekick for a majority of my trips) left the Capital Region around 11 and arrived in Wilkes Barre Township around 3:15 (after a lunch/Starbucks run). After settling in at the hotel, first stop was Wegmans (dear Capital Region: get with the program and open one of these here. I don’t care if I have to drive all the way to Glens Falls, just open one somewhere) for snacks (read: my brownie bites), then Walmart. Then it was back to the hotel and off to game #1 of the weekend, Devils vs. Penguins. Well…at least we got a good ticket deal. For one price ($21), we had seats 3 rows from the bench, plus a voucher for a free hat and another one for a hot dog, soda and popcorn. No wonder the place sold out (I believe the final attendance count was around 8200; like I said, culture shock compared to home). The game did have its share of entertainment thanks to Louis. He played the audience up as only he can, chirping anyone that came across his path. He wasn’t chirping too much after Joey Mormina fought him and won. The game did get off on the right foot for the Devils, Patrick Davis got an early 1-0 lead. It basically went downhill from there after that, the Pens took over and won it 6-2. Probably the only thing the Devils did right was in the fight department, Pierre-Luc Leblond and Harry Young both won their bouts. Afterwards, we were invited by friends to the casino. Not a gambler, but why not? So it was off to Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, only about 2-3 miles from the hotel. I played the slots quite conservatively, only spent $30 on the machines and knew to stop halfway through my credits. So I walked away with $16, only lost half my money. The place is amazing, lots of video slots to choose from, along with the poker/blackjack tables. There were quite a few dining options as well: Johnny Rockets, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, and where we went, Bar Louie (not bad, only problem was with the band playing live in the background you can’t hear yourself think). We get back to the hotel and I think I finally crashed around 1:30.

Sunday was the better of the two days. I was greeted to a little surprise when I went to go downstairs to see what the breakfast selection was. I got to the elevator around the same time Bryan Rodney (ex-Rat and current Checkers captain) did. Surprise, the Checkers were staying at the same hotel, on my floor. So I got a little pregame reunion with a few of them. Somehow Mike Murphy knew I was at the casino (hmmm…then I realized my friend had told him she was there, he must have automatically assumed I went too), and it was weird to see Zack Fitzgerald, normally a ball of energy, just half awake. Amy and I get checked out and were off to do some shopping. Then game time…well talk about opposite ends of the spectrum. Charlotte stormed out of the gate with 4 goals in the first period, taking a 4-2 lead into first intermission. I expected the Pens to jump right back in the game after being down because, well, they’re the Penguins. They have the best record in the league for a reason, right? Well as I expected they did come back to tie the game at 4, but then the Checkers turned on the jets…and then there was Justin Pogge. The boy needs to be careful with that short fuse of his. First he practically holds a Penguin hostage (and neither of the two refs, Ryan Fraser or Ian Croft, saw it. You’d think with 7000 or so people yelling at them they’d notice something was up…wait I forgot they’re AHL referees never mind), then at the end of the second period he decides to punch Robert Bortuzzo (Penguins D-man) and pick a fight with Joe Vitale, the one he held hostage earlier. He only got a double minor for all of that, we were surprised he didn’t get the gate like he did after his last meltdown in Hershey. Third period the Checkers basically took over, four more goals on John Curry (and his replacement Patrick Killeen). Zach Boychuk had a hat trick (and was just rewarded with a recall to the Hurricanes), Zac Dalpe contributed four assists. The Checkers won it 9-5. And oh by the way the same two teams play each other on Wednesday night. If coach Daniels is smart, he’d put Murph in over Pogge. Just saying. After the game, time to say goodbye for now, and on the way home we went. We actually booed the Welcome to New York sign on I-84 as we crossed the state line. Got home around 10:15 and was greeted by the arctic cold (it wasn’t too bad in PA, I actually got away with my fleece pullover for a little while…with my hat and gloves).

A few overall observations from the weekend:

-I can see how the Pens are scary good. But when they’re off…I’m sure the rest of the league wants yesterday’s game tape.

-The Wilkes-Barre fans were wonderful to us. Even that tall guy three rows behind me on Saturday night that booed…

-Tux is probably the most energetic mascot in the AHL. He could give N.J. Devil a run for his money. And he can do some tricks a lot of mascots couldn’t get away with (I’m looking at you, Devil Dawg).

-Attention Pennsylvania DOT: I-84 between the state line and Scranton is in horrible shape. If I want to ride a roller coaster I’ll stick to I-88 thank you very much.

-I like how Wilkes-Barre is very much like Clifton Park and Rt. 50 in Saratoga: all the businesses are within a 2 mile radius of each other, including the arena and where we stayed. Very easy to get to everything. Except for all those u-turn lanes, still not used to that after 3 trips. If it wasn’t so cold out, I could have easily walked to Walmart or Starbucks.

-And the last thing about Wilkes-Barre? Everything cost less (or so it seemed to me anyway). Gas is about 20 cents cheaper (and thanks to my Price Chopper card I got 60 cents more off when I filled the tank yesterday…27 bucks lot better than 42 that’s for sure), no tax on clothes and 6 percent on everything else. Another reason I look forward to this trip every year.

So now it’s back to reality…and hopefully the Devils can wake up this week, the Penguins come calling again Friday night, along with a quick road trip to Bridgeport on Tuesday. At least with the Amerks coming in on Saturday there’s a chance at a somewhat ok week. It can’t get any worse than last week…right?

Albany-WBS Pregame Notes

Things you may need to know before the Devils and Penguins face off at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza:

-Season: This is the 5th of 8 meetings between the two teams this season. The Penguins are 4-0 in the season series; as a matter of fact, since the Devils came into existence in Lowell in 2005 before moving to Albany, no Devil team has ever beaten the Pens. In the last meeting on December 26th, the Devils came very close to ending the streak, but the Penguins prevailed 5-4 in a shootout. After tonight, the teams play 3 more times, on January 28th in Albany, February 7th in Atlantic City (makeup game from December 12th when poor ice conditions postponed the game), and March 23rd in Wilkes-Barre.

-Standings: Talk about a tale of two teams in two different directions. The Penguins are in first place in the East Division, first in the Eastern Conference and first in the American Hockey League. They check in with a record of 33-10-0-0, good for 66 points, 9 points ahead of second place Norfolk. The Devils remain in 6th place, with a record of 17-21-0-3 for 37 points, just 2 points ahead of Syracuse and 7 ahead of Adirondack.

-Scoring: The Penguins are lead in scoring by All-Star Dustin Jeffrey, currently still on recall to Pittsburgh. He checks in with 41 points (15 G, 26 A), followed by wingers Nick Johnson (15 G, 14 A) and Brett Sterling (13 G, 16 A), both with 29 points. All-Star starter Brad Thiessen and John Curry split time in net, with Thiessen leading the way with 18 wins. I expect he will be in net tonight with Curry starting the night before in Philadelphia. On the Devils side, Michael Swift (16 G, 11 A) and Matt Anderson (15 G, 12 A) are tied for the team lead in scoring, with Adam Henrique behind them with 24 points (11 G, 13 A). Mike McKenna looks to rebound from last night’s disasterous performance in Hershey that saw him get the hook after allowing 6 goals to the Bears.

-Miscellaneous: The Devils may have another injury on their hands. Captain Stephen Gionta was scratched from last night’s game due to an undisclosed injury. Jeff Frazee had an MRI on his injured knee yesterday, still waiting to learn how much longer he’ll be out of commission. Former River Rat Jesse Boulerice remains on suspension for an “abuse of officials” call he took in Charlotte on January 5th.

Game time 7:00. I will be in the sold out building with the usual…

The Chocolatetown War

Good Saturday morning!

Before I get ready to head out to Northeast Pennsylvania, figured I’d do a quick recap of last night in Hershey. Well I wish I had better news. With the almighty Lou in attendance (which probably explains it all), Hershey dominated from start to finish as only the Bears can, beating the Devils 8-3. The Bears took a quick 1-0 lead 3 minutes in courtesy of Brian Willsie. A minute later came the game changer that would set off a very physical evening. Former Bear Louis Robitaille appeared (I was listening not watching the game, will just have to take John Walton’s word on it) to run goalie Dany Sabourin, nearing taking him out of the game with a knee injury. Brian Fahey jumped in and the two fought. For his efforts Louis got two majors (charging and fighting) and a game misconduct. That gave the Bears a 5 minute power play, and they took advantage. Steve Pinizzotto scores on the power play to make it 2-0. Fahey and Patrick Wellar added goals to give the Bears a 4-0 lead late in the first, then Alexander Vasyunov cashed in to make it 4-1 Bears after one period.

Second period…3 more goals from the Bears (Francois Bouchard, Willsie with his second, Sean Collins) saw Mike McKenna exit stage left in favor of Dave Caruso. Then the physicality kicked in, first with the first of two heavyweight bouts between Joel Rechlicz and Pierre-Luc Leblond (still waiting for the Youtube tape to see it), then with 6 and a half minutes left it became every man for himself. Not quite a line brawl though…you had Brad Mills and Trevor Bruess both getting the gate for secondary altercations and Harry Young and Zach Miskovic going a round. 7-1 Bears end of two.

Third period…more Hershey, more fists flying. Rechlicz and Leblond had their rematch, but both got the gate for unsportsmanlike conduct. Harry Young took on a second opponent, this time Sean Collins, both of them were tossed for a secondary altercation. To top it off, two scorers, Matt Anderson and Keith Aucoin, decided why not and they went a round. Add in 10-minute misconducts each for Chris Murray and Fahey, and you have a total of 173 penalty minutes handed out. 9 players added at least 10 PIM to their stat lines, Rechlicz leading everyone with 22, with Young and Robitaille earning 20 apiece. And oh by the way a hockey game broke out…Rob Davison and Chad Wiseman brought the deficit back within 4, but Kyle Greentree scored to make it a 8-3 Hershey win.

I would say those 10,205 in attendance got their money’s worth. February 4th in Atlantic City is going to be a very interesting night. That is when the two teams meet again.

Tonight the Devils’ road trip doesn’t get any easier, a visit to first place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Penguins are coming off a rare loss to the Phantoms in Philly. That, plus the Devils performance and a sold out Mohegan Sun Arena, will make for a very interesting atmosphere tonight. One that I will be a part of. This will be a culture shock for me, going from where nobody’s home to every seat in the house filled. But I am very much looking forward to it and visiting with my Pens crew. I’m also staying for the Penguins home game tomorrow afternoon when Charlotte comes in. Visiting my ex-Rats and maybe doing a little scouting in the process, then coming back home tomorrow night.

Okay time to finsh my trip preparations before hitting the road…checking in from NEPA later I suppose…

Albany-Hershey Pregame Notes

What you need to know before the Devils and Bears square off at Giant Center tonight:

-Season: This is the 3rd of 6 meetings between the two teams this season, with Hershey up 2-0 so far. They last met back in December, playing twice in 5 days at the Times Union Center, with the Bears taking 3-2 wins on both December 3rd and 8th. After tonight, the teams meet three more times, February 4th in Atlantic City (a Albany “home” game) and February 26th and March 26th in Chocolatetown.

-Standings: Hershey currently stands in 4th place in the East Division, with a record of 23-14-1-2, good for 49 points. After last night’s loss to the Senators that stopped a 4 game winning streak, the Devils are now 17-21-0-3, good for 37 points and a 6th place standing, 2 points ahead of Syracuse.

-Leaders: The Bears are currently lead in scoring by winger and All Star starter Andrew Gordon with 36 points (18 G, 18 A), Kyle Greentree with 35 points (15 G, 20 A) and Brian Willsie with 34 points (13 G, 21 A). Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin split time in the nets, with 10 wins for each. With Holtby recently recalled to Washington, look for Sabourin to take over till the Caps goalie health situation is resolved. On the Albany side, obviously no scoring changes since the last pregame notes…Matt Anderson is still the team leader with 27 points (15 G, 12 A), followed by Michael Swift with 26 (16 G, 10 A) and Adam Henrique with 24 (11 G, 13 A). With Jeff Frazee out with an injured knee, I don’t expect any goaltending changes. I will assume Mike McKenna will be the starter through the weekend.

-Miscellaneous: The Bears roster sports 3 former River Rats, one from the first NJ regime Sheldon Souray, and two from the Carolina regime, former captain Keith Aucoin and Joel Rechlicz. There is one former Bear however…Louis Robitaille returns to where he won a Calder Cup back in the 05-06 season. We’ll see if he’s up to any antics in his old building. And may I add the Bears are the 2 time defending Calder Cup champs (sorry for the reminder…I didn’t like mentioning it either), who are struggling with injuries and callups to Washington in the quest for a threepeat (sorry not happening this year).

Game time 7:00. I will be tweeting from my living room, following along with Josh Heller’s call on the Devils radio feed, or I may check out John Walton’s call. Or a combination of both.