By Mike Buskus
One tie and one point on the week
One point in the standings is all that the Albany River Rats have to show for their efforts this past week. On Friday, they lost to the Hershey Bears, 3-1. On Saturday, after coming from behind late in the game to take the lead, they wound up with a 5-5 tie against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
On the other hand, the top brass with the New Jersey Devils got a look at goalie Scott Clemmensen, the rookie from Boston College who has had only limited playing time behind Martin Brodeur in New Jersey. With virtually the entire Devils’ management and scouting team in attendance, on Friday Clemmensen got his first professional start. He was in the pipes as the River Rats took on the Hershey Bears.
Although the Rats lost, 3-1, not one of the three goals allowed (on 28 Hershey shots) could be called a “soft” goal. Clemmensen was the victim of a porous defense in front, as the first goal (Matt Herr of the Bears) was a rebound in front which the defense was unable to clear. The second goal was even more obviously a defensive lapse, as a Bear slid across the hash marks from right, unmolested and picked his spot. Finally, the third Hershey marker was a classic 2-on-1, with the goaltender watching the puck-carrier. Only problem was that the lone defender back did not block the pass and Jeff Daw of Hershey had an easy “shovel-in” goal.
Of the 25 saves, most were routine, but several very nifty ones were included. To date, Clemmensen (who was returned to New Jersey the next day) has not started in net for the Devils. He played in relief the first night of the year and had a “cameo” appearance on Saturday against Boston. Then, coach Larry Robinson borrowed a play from Bob Hartley in making a goaltender substitution to get a free time-out, as the Devils planned strategy for a 5-on-3.
The River Rats took too many penalties against Hershey, causing coach Bob Carpenter to bench several players during the second period. And then, when referee Paul Stewart (yes, the NHL guy, on an injury rehabilitation assignment) gave the Rats their share of power plays late in the game (including a 5-on-3 which, with the goalie pulled, became a 6-on-3), Albany was unable to capitalize.
Saturday was slightly better for the Rats, but a much-needed victory (the Rats have only won one game in 11 contests) eluded them. After an explosive first period in which both teams scored three times, with Albany getting a pair of late goals, the lead see-sawed, with the Rats leading mid-way through the third period thanks to an unassisted goal by Jason Lehoux. (It was Lehoux’s first playing time in over a week.)
Unfortunately for the Rats, a blatant elbow by Sascha Goc, which was in retaliation for Eric Meloche’s uncalled high stick, led to a “makeup” call against Albany at a time when the referee usually swallows the whistle. A Penguins’ prospect, long in the dog house and often in the press box, Robert Dome, bagged the game-tying goal in the final two minutes of regulation when he pounced on a rebound and went to the net.
The 5-5 tie against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was a mixed blessing for the Rats. Giving up five goals was a testament to the Rats’ problem of giving up too much center ice and even the blue line to opponents and, as a result, spending substantially more time in the defensive zone than in the attacking zone. While scoring five goals was nice, it was against the league’s worst defense, with the Penguins giving up 4.65 goals against.
Here and there.
Albany Week in Review selects Jiri Bicek as the River Rat player of the week. Although no individual player dominated the scoring this week, Jiri’s one goal and one assist underestimated his contribution to the team this week. Bicek was extremely effective on penalty kill work, paired up with newcomer Steve Guolla. Bicek generated several excellent scoring chances short-handed.
Bicek showed his customary bursts of speed in accelerating with the puck after stealing it at center ice. He also managed to avoid the penalty box, even though virtually all of his team-mates spent time in the “sin bin” and a few got quarantined on the bench by the coach. Although in the past Bicek sometimes got frustrated and took bad penalties or displayed temper after missing a great scoring chance, his brief taste of the NHL (with the Devils out of training camp) seems to have dangled the proverbial “carrot” in front of him. In the opinion of Albany Week in Review, Bicek had the most positive impact on the team.
Former coach John Cunniff, who is on scouting assignments with the Devils, has been at virtually every River Rats’ game this season. It was reported in the press that his throat cancer treatments have been successful so far and Albany Week in Review wishes Cunniff a full and complete recovery.
Rich Chere, the longest-tenured sports writer following the New Jersey Devils, reported on Monday, November 5, in the Newark Star Ledger, that Devils’ General Manager Lou Lamoriello, has decided to pay the signing bonus to suspended River Rat, Mike Jefferson. Although Jefferson remains on suspension, for failing to report to Albany, following a dispute with the Devils as to a medical second-opinion regarding an abdominal injury, Chere reported that Lamoriello did not want to take the chance of losing Jefferson’s contract rights. The Star Ledger quoted Lamoriello as denying any possible trade of Jefferson, with the Devils’ GM asserting that a trade “won’t happen.”
Meanwhile, if and when Jefferson returns, he would have to fight for a lineup spot. With the recent additions of veterans Bruce Gardiner and Steve Guolla, the Rats have had more “scratches” on the lineup card than at any time in recent memory.
One scratch on Saturday night was alternate captain Richard Rochefort, who sustained a knee injury in Friday’s game against Hershey. Rocky Rochefort was scheduled to have an MRI done on Monday to evaluate the severity of the injury. In Rochefort’s absence, Bruce Gardiner wore an “A” for alternate captain.
Since captain Sylvain Cloutier was injured with a knee ligament damage in the second game of the season, no one has worn the captain’s “C”. The good news for Rats’ fans is that Cloutier has been given medical clearance to resume skating and practice, although it seems likely that he is still several weeks away from suiting up for games.
Even though he is off the ice, Cloutier is still very visible, making the rounds of Pepsi Arena with his young daughter and gratefully accepting words of encouragement from fans. Cloutier told Albany Week in Review that he is anxious to return to play. From the failure of his teammates on the ice to follow his style of “finishing his checks”, the fans can only hope that his return to play is very soon. Cloutier is known, and well respected, for his hard work in the corners and on the boards. Indeed, his knee injury this season occurred when he was trying to check an opponent who turned and fell in front of him. Albany Week in Review wishes Sylvain Cloutier a speedy recovery and return to the ice. His style of play is missing and sorely needed.
Although it is still early in the season and lines are somewhat in flux, recent lines and defensive pairings this past week went like this: (L-C-R)
Max Birbraer (#16) — Steve Guolla (#23) — Brian Gionta (#11)
Mike Rupp (#14) — Bruce Gardiner (#22) — Stan Gron (#10)
Jiri Bicek (#9) — Ted Drury (#15) — Richard Rochefort (#12) [until Rocky’s injury]
Brett Clouthier (#21) — Mike Rupp (#14) — Stan Gron (#10)
Then, on Saturday, the lines went like this:
Christian Berglund (#17) — Steve Guolla (#23) — Brian Gionta (#11)
Scott Cameron (#19) — Mike Rupp (#14) — Jason Lehoux (#20)
Max Birbraer (#16) — Ted Drury (#15) — Stan Gron (#10)
The first unit power play featured Birbraer, Gardiner and Bicek with Birbraer, Guolla and Gionta working the second shift. The point was staffed by Andre Lakos and Joel Bouchard, with Richard Rochefort and Josef Boumedienne also working the points.
On Saturday, the power play units featured Berglund, Guolla and Gionta on the first unit, with Drury, Gardiner and Bicek on the second unit. Points were manned by Sascha Goc and Joel Bouchard on the first unit and Mikko Jokela and Josef Boumedienne on the second unit.
Defensive pairings for the week included Daryl Andrews with Sascha Goc; Joel Bouchard with Josef Boumedienne; and Victor Uchevatov and Andre Lakos for the game against Hershey. For the tilt against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Andrews paired up with Boumedienne; Joel Dezainde matched up with Joel Bouchard (two Joels on the same D-pairing !); and Mikko Jokela with Sascha Goc.
Penalty killing work featured Jiri Bicek and Steve Guolla, alternating with Christian Berglund and Ted Drury up front, with Andrews, Boumedienne, Dezainde and Jokela getting work back on defense.
Because the River Rats are still carrying three goaltenders on the roster (Frederic Henry; Ari Ahonen; J.F. Damphousse) and had to make room for Scott Clemmensen to get some ice time, there is no clear “number one” goaltender yet in Albany. Workhorse J.F. Damphousse has the most playing time (282 minutes), with Ahonen next (244), with Henry playing a game and a half and Clemmensen one game. The expectation is that, sooner or later, one of the goaltenders, probably Frederic Henry, will be “loaned out” to some other team, if for no other reason than simply for avoiding “rust” on the netminders.
In an unusual circumstance this week, Albany provided both the voice of the River Rats (John Hennessy) and the voice of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Jonathan Scherzer). Scherzer, the River Rats director of media relations was filling in for the regular WBS radio play-by-play announcer.
The River Rats host the Hamilton Bulldogs on Wednesday, then depart for a road trip with stops in Cincinnati and Cleveland.