Albany Week in Review

By Mike Buskus

Third-year defenseman, Andre Lakos, is now with the Utah Grizzlies. In exchange, the Devils obtained veteran forward, Vareri Kamensky from the Dallas Stars. Since the Devils have had goal-scoring problems, the acquisition of the forward who bagged 38 goals (1995-96) and wears a Stanley Cup ring (same year with Colorado), might bolster the New Jersey offense. (Cynics would point to his less-than-stellar record with the New York Rangers, but optimists would point out that Kamensky had injuries the last few years.)

Lakos, a big (6’6″, 240#) defenseman, has NHL potential. In his first two years in Albany, a shoulder injury diminished some of his effectiveness. Generally steady on the blue line and good at reading plays, Lakos has been reliable on defense. Last season, he won the plus/minus award in the league for one month (at +13).

The one element of Lakos’ game which never quite developed, and which might eventually surface, is physical play. For a big and strong kid, he hesitated to hammer opposing forwards into the boards. Checks were more like bumps into other passengers on the subway instead of “get out of my way, bozo” that, for example, Colin White says to opponents with his shoulder.

Shortly after the Lakos trade (in which the Devils also agreed to give Dallas the ill-defined “future considerations”), New Jersey inked former Hartford Wolf*Pack defenseman Benjamin Carpentier (then on a professional tryout contract) to a season-long deal in Albany.

With Lakos gone, the Rats temporarily called up Lucas Nehrling, playing with the Adirondack IceHawks in the United Hockey League. Nehrling saw action in three games this week and was “+1” for his efforts.

This marks the second time this season in which prospects from Albany have factored into trades for the Devils. Sascha Goc and Josef Boumedienne were packaged in a trade to Tampa Bay in which the Devils acquired Andrei Zyuzin in exhange. Zyuzin has seen more or less regular duty in East Rutherford, while Goc and Boumedienne, after brief cameo appearances at the Ice Palace in Tampa Bay, were shipped off to Springfield, where they are a regular defensive pair (top four) for the AHL Falcons. Both Boumedienne and Goc have regular assignments on penalty kill and the power play, so Tampa Bay obviously has both of them in the current plans.

The upshot of those trades is that two of Albany’s rookie defensemen, Mikko Jokela and Joel Dezainde, have gotten greater responsibilities. Though both of them are still making rookie mistakes, particularly on reading plays coming through center ice, Jokela and Dezainde have shown the effects of coaching from Rats’ assistant coach, Geordie Kinnear. Both Jokela and Dezainde are reacting more quickly to plays as they develop. In the week just past, Jokela was “+2” and contributed a pair of assists. Dezainde was “-1” and had a goal and an assist.

Recent combinations on defense have included Darryl Andrews with Mikko Jokela; Ben Carpentier with Joel Dezainde; and Lucas Nehrling with veteran Joel Bouchard.

Rats still struggle; 3 points out of 8

For a team languishing in last place, as the Rats have been for much of the season in the Eastern Conference, a long home-stand is a chance to gain some ground. In other words, to pick up some points from some road-weary visitors.

It did not happen last week.

On Wednesday, the Cleveland Barons came into town with a losing streak. After surrendering the first goal to Cleveland, Albany scored the next three, to take a two-goal cushion into intermission. Unfortunately, the Rats surrendered the next three. It took a spectacular play, charted during a time-out in the final minute of play thanks to icing by the Barons, for the Rats to escape with a tie.

It took Steve Guolla, with a pair of goals, including a game-tying marker with 26 seconds remaining, to salvage some respectability for the Rats on Wednesday. He won the key face-off in the offensive zone, with goaltender Scott Clemmensen on the bench and an extra attacker on the ice. With Mikko Jokela on the point and Ted Drury in the left corner and Brian Gionta in the right corner, the Rats were able to move the puck from the face-off dot to the left point to the left corner to the right corner. Gionta centered a perfect pass through the crease and Guolla jammed it home for the game-tying goal.

Friday started well and ended poorly. The Lowell Lock Monsters came to visit. Albany rolled up to a 3-0 lead after the first period, with goals by Richard Rochefort, Joel Dezainde and Steve Guolla (short-handed). But prosperity in the first period has been something that the Rats have been unable to handle this season.

Lowell scored the next three goals, Richard Rochefort answered with his second on the night, but the LockMonsters scored the final two goals and took the victory. Far too little hitting, at center ice or anywhere else, for the Rats.

The best game of the week was on the road, in Hartford. After a scoreless first period, Hartford scored early in the second period. Scott Clemmensen, who had fallen once behind the net and who had mis-handled a clearing pass, found his groove. He wound up making 46 saves (on 48 shots), as Albany out-scored the Wolf*Pack, 3-2, for only the third road win of the season. Heroes included Steve Guolla (with a nice power play goal, dancing in from the corner) and Jason Lehoux (with the game-winner). Captain Sylvain Cloutier had the other marker for Albany.

Former Hartford player, Ben Carpentier, who had the bad luck to have a Hartford goal go into the net off his stick, had the good pass to Jason Lehoux for the primary assist on the game-winning goal.

The Rats wish they had not played Sunday. The Rats also wish Bridgeport was not on their schedule. Tired, perhaps, but not ready to play on Sunday, they were shut out by Rick DiPietro and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The loss to the Islanders’ affiliate brings the Rats record this year to 0-4-1 against Bridgeport.

For the week, the Rats’ power play was awful. It tallied only one goal on 14 power play opportunities. A number of 5-on-3 advantages were so badly mis-used that the Rats failed even to register shots on goal.

Penalty kill work was OK, with Albany stopping 9 of 11 opponents’ chances and scoring once short-handed.

The player of the week, as selected by Albany Week in Review, is Steve Guolla. He had four goals and one assist. Guolla was first star in the three-point, two-goal effort, including the game-tying goal in the waning seconds against Cleveland. He was second star in Hartford. Guolla won more than his fair share of face-offs and was, as usual, a very strong defensive presence on the ice.

Guolla and Brian Gionta had several scoring chances short-handed, and combined for Guolla’s short-handed tally against Lowell.

Runner-up in the selection for AWIR player of the week was goaltender Scott Clemmensen. With one win and one tie in two outings, as well as 72 saves on 78 shots, Clemmensen was solid in net. His win in Hartford was probably his best game of the season.

AWIR speculates that at some point in the near future, J.F. Damphousse will probably be sent back to Albany for more playing time, while one of the Rats’ netminders (a tossup, but probably Clemmensen based on his solid play this week) will be called up to New Jersey to be backup for Brodeur.

Though Devils’ coach, Larry Robinson, had proclaimed before the season that he would cut down on Brodeur’s regular-season ice time, the Devils inability to defeat even marginal opponents has sort of forced the Devils to keep using Brodeur. Hence, Damphousse probably would benefit from some more regular play, which he could get in Albany.

In the upcoming week, the Rats host Syracuse on Wednesday, Springfield on Friday and travel back to Hartford for another Saturday night game at the Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum in Connecticut’s capital city.