by Kevin Zalaznik || AHL On The Beat Archive
The Albany Devils, along with eight other Eastern Conference teams, are in a battle for the final spots in the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs.
With just seven games remaining for the Devils, they hope to string wins together and return to the postseason after falling short last year.
Coming off a span that included seven regulation losses in 11 games, the Devils have won back-to-back games against Rochester Wednesday and Providence Friday. As of Saturday morning, they were just two points out of eighth place.
Although the team has received a mix of scoring among veterans, rookies and everyone in between, head coach Rick Kowalsky is relying on his experienced players to extend the year past the regular season.
"I’ve really been leaning on (Tim) Sestito, (Stephen) Gionta, (Brad) Mills — those are your veteran guys -– and (Matt) Anderson a little bit,” Kowalsky said. “It’s not so much about scoring, but each faceoff, every situation is just so much more important this time of year.
“Their ice time has probably all been elevated, and they’re all guys who — albeit a little experience — have some playoff experience and have been in the league a while. You want to, in certain situations, put the game in their hands."
Gionta stepped up Friday night against the Bruins, registering a goal and assisting on the game-winning goal, which was netted by recent ATO signee David Wohlberg. Mills also had a hand in the goal.
"Those aren’t guys you’re going to rely on to score, but they’re the supporting cast who do things that don’t show up on the scoresheet, (like) blocking shots,” Kowalsky said of contributions from his veteran players. “They’ve been good on our penalty kill and important faceoffs. When we’re up by a goal late in the game…it’s things like that.
“They’re guys who should be easy to play with and make guys around them better. If they’re scoring and creating chances, it’s going to be more from hard work and not tic-tac-toe plays."
Gionta recognizes the responsibilities he shares with the older players on the team.
"We’ve had guys stepping up all year,” he said. “Every night, you need a full-team effort. As one of the leaders, I try to push the guys to do that. Hopefully, they respond. We have over the last few games, and we have to keep going down the stretch here."
Gionta’s performance against the Bruins was just one example of seasoned players producing at the right time. Sestito leads the team with four game-winning goals and Mills has nine points in the last 10 games.
With five of their last seven games against teams shuffling in and out of the final spots, the Devils will take any offensive production their veteran players provide. However, their leadership and work ethic is what matters most during this time of the year.