Friday, January 25, 2013

Albany 4, Adirondack 1 1/25

Joe Whitney must be a big fan of Dr. Raymond Stantz, because he's been bustin' ghosts all season.

The Albany Devils forward continued his torrid pace against the Adirondack Phantoms, scoring two goals to lead the Devils to a 4-1 victory Friday at the Civic Center. Whitney now has five goals and seven points in five games against the Phantoms, and is the leading scorer in the teams' season series.

His second goal, 10:46 into the third period, came about four minutes after Adirondack winger Harry Zolnierczyk hit the post on a penalty shot that would have tied the score 2-2. Zolnierczyk had goalie Keith Kinkaid prone on his stomach and slid the puck past his right skate, but it hit the near-side post.

After the game, Zolnierczyk looked pretty dejected. He said he used the exact move he wanted to do and he did beat the goaltender, but then he slid the puck right off the base of the goalpost. That was pretty much the ballgame -- hard to bounce back from that kind of a momentum swing -- and then Albany's Kelly Zajac added another insurance goal with 7:00 to go to close out the scoring.

"I don't think we executed as well as we did in the first," Zolnierczyk said. "That's something we have to take on our own, but I think our D-zone was our biggest issue. They spread us out pretty big and we left some big gaps for them to take advantage of."

Erik Gustafsson, back from his ankle injury, and his defensive partner and AHL All-Star replacement Brandon Manning each finished minus-three. They were on the ice for those last two Albany goals, which Phantoms coach Terry Murray attributed to blown coverage and defensive breakdowns.

“For myself and Gus, we have to be a lot better there,” Manning said. “It’s the first game back for Gus and you can see he was struggling out there, but I have to step up and pick him up out there. It just comes down to little communication and bearing down on pucks. Unfortunately for us, they got a couple and it didn’t really give us much of a chance in the end at all.”
The Phantoms' modus operandi for much of the season has been to have a not-so-great start to the game, then following that up with a strong finish that usually leaves them just short. Tonight they did pretty much the opposite. They held a 12-3 shots advantage after one period and they were doing a good job of entering the offensive zone, but they couldn't replicate that at all in the final 40 minutes.

"You're passing the puck," Murray said of his team's first period puck movement. "When you break the puck out of your zone and you have five people together and you're organized and you're making short passes, then you can do that. But when you start getting into home-run plays that are to stretch players that are isolated, it's going to come right back at you."

The latter is what the Phantoms did in the second and third periods, and that played right to the Devils. Matt Anderson scored 9:28 into the second period to put Albany up 2-0. 

"We're not making plays that we should be," Manning said. "Guys don't know what to do. That just comes down to focus and knowing what you're going to do out there and bearing down. You could tell after the first period it wasn't really there. We didn't really generate much from there."

Matt Ford cut it to 2-1 two minutes after Anderson's score with a power play goal, but then Whitney and Zajac scored off the aforementioned breakdowns in the third. Murray credited the Devils' ability to cycle the puck and said "they took it to us" when it came to those plays.

“They just kept coming at us in the second and the third and we couldn’t handle them,” the coach said. “Too many breakdowns low in our zone.”

I don't think anyone will argue that the Phantoms also just plain need to get more pucks in the back of the net. Ford's goal was the kind of gritty goal you'd hope to see from a power play -- a deflection from right in front of the net -- but other than that they had no even strength goals.

The team's power play is not very strong -- it ranks 18th in the AHL at 16 percent -- but it's scored 34 goals. The Phantoms, collectively have 97. No Eastern Conference team has fewer than that, and only Abbotsford (94) and Hamilton (85) in the west have scored less. If your power play is in the bottom half of the 30-team league and it still represents 35 percent of your total goals, that's not that great.

If you look at Binghamton, which Phantoms coach Terry Murray has previously referred to as the most talented team the Phantoms have played, their power play is 20th in the AHL at 15.6 percent and has 28 goals. But the Senators as a team have scored 127 goals and currently sit atop the Eastern Conference standings. Their percentage of power play goals to total goals is closer to 22 percent.

Adirondack also just hasn't had a great shooting percentage.

They have 1256 shots through 40 games, but just 97 of them have gone in. That's 7.7 percent. That means goalies are stopping 92.3 percent of shots the Phantoms throw at them, which would tie for the eighth-best save percentage of any single goaltender in the American Hockey League.

"This is a team that's relied on our power play all year," Manning said. "Tonight, you see there's a lot of five-on-five hockey. We have to find a way to score goals five-on-five. You're not going to win many games when you're scoring only one or two goals. We have to bail out our goalies. There's been games where they've been there for us, but you have to find a way to score goals or else you're not going to win hockey games."

More tomorrow afternoon from Albany. I've heard they've already sold 8,000 tickets for that one.
-- MC


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