by Kevin Zalaznik || AHL On The Beat Archive
The Albany Devils had just won their fifth straight home game — defeating Adirondack 2-0 last Friday — and were on the verge of finishing 2013 with wins in 13 of their last 18 games. Scott Timmins, who netted the game’s deciding goal against the Phantoms, stepped out of the locker room to address reporters.
Asked to comment on linemate Joe Whitney and the assist to set up the goal, he responded: “He’s one of the most skilled players I’ve ever played with. Playing with him is a blast. We always seem to know where each other [is] on the ice. I’ve never clicked with a player like that before.”
For the past three seasons no other Devils player has registered more points, goals or assists than Whitney. During his rookie campaign he registered 44 points with 15 goals and 29 assists in 72 games. Last year, he followed with 51 points with 26 goals and 25 helpers.
The Reading, Mass., native is set to continue his upward trend. This season, he ranks tied for sixth in the AHL with 32 points, including 12 goals and 20 assists in 31 games. He is on pace for 78 points, which would crush the franchise’s single-season record of 61 set by Petr Vrana during the 2007-08 season.
“He wants that puck and when he gets it, it’s hard to get it off him,” said head coach Rick Kowalsky. “He has a lot of jump and we’ve seen him play with some fire and some jam in his game where he is finishing checks.”
Having led the team the past two seasons, Kowalsky warned Whitney he was going to be targeted by opponents’ top defensive pairs.
“His name was going to get circled,” Kowalsky said. “To his credit there have been nights he has taken this team onto his shoulders.”
Whitney has been left off the scoresheet just eight times this season. He had a six-game point streak between Nov. 11 and Nov. 23, and he entered this weekend on a four-game run.
“A lot of it is mental — the confidence you have in yourself and your teammates,” Whitney said when asked about his success this season. “I’m mentally feeling good and I’m confident and that shows on the ice a little bit more than when I’m not. I just try to work hard every day and the rest will take care of itself.”
This season, the Devils are 9-1-0-1 when Whitney has a goal and 18-4-0-1 when he has a point. After 31 games, the Devils have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference at 19-8-2-2. It’s a trend they hope to continue in 2014.
“I think we are playing the right way,” Whitney said. “We are playing our system very well. We have a lot of guys who work hard and don’t give up on pucks and we are relentless out there. I think if we continue with the compete level and how we work and play within the system, we have a lot of skill to go with it. We are having success scoring goals this year and that’s been a huge help.”
If the team can repeat or build off the first three months, they will certainly rewrite the franchise’s record books. For example, the team is averaging 3.19 goals per game, which is on pace for a franchise-best 242 goals. Along the way, Whitney has a chance to become the team’s all-time leader for points, goals and assists.
In 169 career game in red and black, the Boston College alum has produced 127 points, 53 goals and 74 helpers. To reach the top of the points and goals lists, he will have to surpass fellow Eagle and Devil Stephen Gionta, who had 140 points and 58 goals in 371 games.
“Dan Kelly actually mentioned that it was coming up,” Whitney said when asked about catching Gionta’s records. “Those things are great. Trying to get to the NHL is one of the main goals. Gio has put in his time and he’s kind of a role model when it comes to that. He works hard every day and it’s paying off for him. To follow a guy like that would be great.”