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Defensive state of mind in Albany

by Kevin Zalaznik || AHL On The Beat Archive

Moments before the Albany Devils took the ice on Nov. 11 for the start of a three-in-three weekend, the thought of an offensive battle during the next two outings was likely. Norfolk entered that night ranked second in the AHL averaging 3.79 goals per game and Syracuse – Albany’s opponent on Nov. 12 – was third in the league averaging 3.73 goals per game.

The end result for the Devils included a pair of wins, allowing just one goal.

Defense has been the backbone of Albany’s turnaround from a 1-5-0-0 start to a 7-1-1-1 record in its last 10 games. Entering a one-game weekend (at Hershey on Nov. 19), the Devils occupied the top spot in the Northeast Division with an 8-6-1-1 record (18 pts.).

“We have to play good defensively if we want to win,” said defenseman Alexander Urbom, who leads the team with a plus-3 rating. “It’s not just the defensemen, it’s the whole team.”

The Devils 10-game stretch has been the most successful since an 8-2-0-0 run midway through the 2008-09 season. During the most recent span, the team has posted a 1.96 goals-against average with two shutouts.

Of the team’s eight victories, seven have come in one-goal games.

“We are winning close games and that’s only going to pay dividends for the rest of the season – especially when we’re scoring a few more goals,” said netminder Jeff Frazee. “It’s huge that we are getting one goal wins right now.”

The team’s turnaround began with a 5-2 win against the Adirondack Phantoms on Oct. 22. The night before, the Devils had lost to the Hershey Bears, 4-1, moving Albany’s goals-against average to 3.75 – ranked 27th in the league.

Since then the term “accountability” has been used regularly.

“We are trying to hold everyone accountable in the room,” said Dan Kelly. “Guys are really buying in and we all respect each other on this team. Accountability is huge.”

Kelly has had a unique perspective, playing four games as a forward and three games as a defenseman.

“From a forward standpoint, you don’t want to turn pucks over and you want to keep that third guy high,” Kelly said. “When we are in low scoring games, we can’t be giving up two or three goals.

“Your main focus is defense first. We have a lot of young defenseman who are offensive minded, but are buying into the defensive system. They’re still getting their chances on the power play. Everyone is really focused on playing strong defense and that’s what’s going to help us win.”

After 16 games last season, the Devils were 25th in the league with a 3.44 goals-against average and 21st with 2.69 goals per game, resulting in a 7-9-0-0 record. This season, the team is 15th with a 2.88 goals-against average and 25th with a 2.31 save percentage.

Despite the gradual fall off in scoring, the Devils are confident the offense is on the verge of breaking out.

“You can look at it two ways,” said center Matt Anderson. “We need to score more or we need to keep goals out of our net. When you are playing responsible hockey, the offense comes.”

“Once things start clicking a little bit, it won’t be too long until we start scoring more. Once you get that second or third goal, the other team starts taking chances and it opens up the game.”

At the end of the day, a win is a win whether its 1-0 or 10-9. For the Devils, they are determined to stay on track and hold their position in the division into the latter part of the season.

“We have to keep doing the little things and keep outworking the other teams,” Kelly said. “We’ve been outworking most teams and I think that’s what’s putting us over the top.”