The Albany Devils have been playing some good hockey recently as they are winners of 8 of their last 11. While the playoffs are out of reach, finishing on a high note to end the season is a good building block for next year. Last week the Devils added two new faces to their roster: Forward Mike Hoeffel and Defenseman Joe Sova. Both will play the rest of the season on Amateur Try Out contracts and then begin their Entry Level Contracts in 2011-2012.
Aside from the winning and the signings everything else has been status quo for the team; Jeff Frazee still has nagging injuries (finger this time, but should be returning soon), Adam Henrique continues to tally goals (23 which is first on the team and second among AHL rookies), and PL3 and Louis Robitaille battle for the team lead in PIM (PL3 has 254 and Robitaille has 234).
As they go into the final stretch of the season I wanted to take another opportunity to watch some of the Albany Devils games and report back what I have seen. I purposely chose to do this before Hoeffel/Sova play so that I can focus my attention on them in a later post. For this post, I changed things up a bit. Instead of just putting out some subjective views I decided to play statistician and provide some stats not readily available in AHL box scores. After the jump I go into the stats/players I focused on, the team's performance in the three games I watched along with some general thoughts as the season winds down.
First, let me go into the lines/defensive pairings* currently used by Albany. They are:
Adam Henrique-Brad Mills-Matt Anderson
Stephen Gionta-Steve Zalewski-Chad Wiseman
Nathan Perkovich-Tim Sestito-Alexander Vasyunov
Pierre LeBlond-David McIntyre-Louis Robitaille (can we call this McThug?)
Alexander Urbom-Olivier Magnan
Dan Kelly-Jay Leach
The next two defensemen were Harry Young and Chris Murray although they rarely played together. When Young was used, he was with Magnan and Murray was with Urbom.
Power Play Unit Setups:
Unit 1: Wiseman (QB), Anderson (Other Point), Henrique (Halfboards), and mixture of forwards like Zalewski, Gionta, etc.
Unit 2: Urbom (QB), Magnan (Other Point), Zalewski (Halfboards), and mixture of other forwards.
*Note that these were the line/defensive combination used in the 3/13 contest.
In each of the games I got out my notepad and focused on even strength Corsi, even strength zone starts and faceoffs for both Adam Henrique and Steve Zalewski. (My original intent was to do David McIntyre but he was out for the game on 2/19 so I used Zalewski instead). Note that I was watching the game via AHL Live and it is not the most functional video playback system so I may be off a shot here or there, but I am pretty confident the numbers I tallied were close to accurate.
The numbers from the three games show a few things:
1. Henrique's line gets more offensive starts than the other top Albany line which Zalewski is on.
2. Henrique had no faceoff numbers because he didn't take any even strength faceoffs.
3. Zaleski's line generates offense despite starting in the defensive zone more often.
Also, in the three games I watched Zalewski had 2 goals, 1 assist, 12 shots and was a +1. Henrique had 0 goals, 0 assists, 9 shots and was a -2.
Now I know this is a very small sample of games. Over the offseason I will attempt to do some more focused stat work to see how guys like Henrique, McIntyre or Vasyunuv did over the course of the season. I hope you find the three games worth of data above valuable.
When the Devils acquired Zalewski (along with Jay Leach) from Worcester back in February, I looked up how his play had been viewed by those who follow the Sharks and their AHL affiliate. To say Sharks fans didn't like him would be an understatement. The fans were looking to get rid of him. Maybe he is reinvigorated by the trade, because I saw a good player. The Devils have been 12-9 since the trade with Zalewski scoring 16 points (9 goals, 7 assists) in the 21 games. Overall this is a down year for him compared to his 2009-2010 season of 22 goals and 40 assists (and he played 3 games with the NHL Sharks). He is on a 35 goal pace (per 82 games) with Albany. Granted he is shooting a very high 16.4% so perhaps he would score 25-30 goals over a full season.
Zalewski plays a bit smaller than his listed height. He is also deceptively quick. What he does very well is forecheck effectively using great positioning, anticipation and an ability to shift his momentum quickly enough to adjust to a pass by the opposition. In the games I watched he pretty much generated his own scoring chances via turnovers. I might have been too generous in my previous ranking of him in my top 20 list. That said, at worst he is a good addition to the 4th line for a team at the NHL level, likely on the wing as he is only mediocre in the faceoff circle.
I am really surprised that Henrique has stuck at left wing instead of being moved back to center when Jacon Josefson was called up to New Jersey. At least when Josefson was on a line with Henrique they were splitting faceoffs and it was more of a shared role. Now he only takes draws on 4-on-4 or penalty killing situations. If this gets him to New Jersey faster, that's great. But I hope they didn't pull the plug on the idea of him being a center after half a season in the AHL.
Alexander Urbom is playing a much calmer, focused game. He moves the puck well on the power play but at even strength he errs on the side of caution when trying to advance the puck. His positining is much better as he adjusts to the AHL as he is playing a smarter game in his own end. His size and skating actually reminds me of Henrik Tallinder a bit. A player who has offensive abilities but tends to play a conservative game.
McIntyre and Vasyunov on the third line has actually been better than I expected it would be. Vasyunov has looked very explosive in the games I have watched and is creating his own offensive opportunities. His third line presence actually gives Albany something they have lacked all year, an ability to score. That said, we have to remember that he is playing against other team's third line players.
McIntyre's move to left wing is not that surprising. In my profile on him last summer I noted his decreased use in the faceoff circle and I thought this could happen.
Dan Kelly is hard to get a read on. He is typically on a pairing with Leach and they tend to be on the ice with Albany's third/fourth lines. He is dependable, uses his body well, and has a good reach which makes him effective at poke checking the puck away from an onrushing attacker. I think he has some value as he does provide depth in the organization in case of injury.
My next (likely final) update of the year will focus a bit more on Hoeffel and Sova as I am curious to see how they adjust to the AHL.
Thanks for reading and sound off below.