Albany Week in Review

By pbadmin

By Mike Buskus

Albany Week in Review #17

Down on the farm: Salomonsson and Zyuzin

They have been with the River Rats long enough for a comment or two: rookie forward Andreas Salomonsson (10 games in Albany) and defenseman Andrei Zyuzin (3 games of a two-week “conditioning stint”).

Touted by some as the next Brian Rafalski at forward (as an older player who spent considerable time in Europe), Andreas Salomonsson was the Devils’ 8th choice, 163rd overall in the 2001 entry draft, listed at 6’1″ and 200#. He made the Devils out of training camp, but lagged all New Jersey players in plus/minus (at -13) after 35 games.

Enter rookies Christian Berglund and Brian Gionta. Bus ticket to Albany for Salomonsson.

For the first week and a half, Salomonsson skated at left wing on Albany’s top line, centered by Steve Guolla. He did not make an immediate impact, with few shots on goal and fewer still hits on opponents. His skating is smooth and passing is accurate. In one early game during his 10-game (to date) visit in Albany, when Brian Gionta was on right wing, Salomonsson fired a pin-point precision pass ahead of Gionta, who was crashing the net, and a nice-redirection goal by Gionta resulted.

Salomonsson has speed and good ice vision, anticipating plays as and before they develop. He has an aversion to physical play and, at times, unloads the puck in a hurry to avoid taking a hit.

The past two games, Salomonsson has been moved from the first line to the second line centered by Mike Rupp (with Richard Rochefort on right wing). This may be a coach’s message that Salomonsson will be in Albany for a while. His stats to date (1G; 3A; 4 points; “-6”; only 15 shots and 6.7% shooting accuracy) are not impressive. His play has been a little too much on the perimeter for the tastes of some fans. Some, this writer included, get the impression that he is not terribly pleased to have been sent down to the minor league, after having made the NHL out of training camp. However, he is obviously a good skater and moves well without the puck. He needs to shoot more and go to the net more.

So, the verdict is still out on Salomonsson, but he is obviously a very talented player. Playing on the Rats’ second line, centered by Mike Rupp, a promising and hard-working forward (see more on that, below), and Richard Rochefort, a reliable grinder in the corners, Salomonsson may get his chance to develop his “finishing” touch around the net. Players, fans and coaches have high hopes and high expectations for Salomonsson. Only time will tell how long he stays here down on the farm.

Defenseman Andrei Zyuzin, acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay that sent Sascha Goc and Josef Boumedienne in the other direction, has been in Albany a week on a “conditioning stint” from the Devils, after having been a healthy scratch several times in New Jersey.

Zyuzin is a fluid skater and has jumped into rushes and created scoring chances. He has been given an assignment on the River Rats’ “first unit” on the power play, but the Albany power play is so bad (21st at home, at 14.9%; 22nd on the road, at 13.3%; 25th overall, at 14.2%) that it is hard to judge Zyuzin’s work yet on the man advantage.

Albany was 1 for 10 on the power play this past week, wasting some 5-on-3 chances, as it has virtually the entire season. On the other hand, aggressive penalty-killing by Syracuse, Springfield and Hartford may have had something to do with the Rats’ wimpy power play this week.

Zyuzin tied with defenseman Benjamin Carpentier this week for worst plus/minus on the team, at -5. Zyuzin did play plenty, an estimated 25 minutes a game, often against the opposing team’s top lines. He played capably, but did not stand out with any solid “hits” or blocked shots.

On the offensive side of the ledger – which presumably was why the Devils acquired him in the first place – Zyuzin has yet to score a goal. He had one assist, moving the puck rapidly up ice to Joel Bouchard (since recalled by the Devils during Brian Rafalski’s injury), who fed Mike Rupp for a goal.

Some of the -5 on the plus/minus belongs to Zyuzin, whereas one or two of the goals allowed were errors by his partner, Daryl Andrews. Andrews’ error in judgment of trying to get the puck at center ice, instead of the man, let Ken Gernander set up a Hartford goal on Saturday night, and Zyuzin caught a minus for being on the ice at the same time.

Although he has not yet generated the offense that Rats’ and Devils’ coaches presumably expect, Zyuzin’s effort and intensity has been acceptable. No doubt his bus ticket back to East Rutherford is already purchased as soon as his “conditioning” stint ends here.

Player of the Week

It is a rare event that a player on a team that did not win a single game this week, and failed to register a point in the standings, gets serious consideration for American Hockey League player of the week. But it happened and Mike Rupp deserved the honor as the Sher-Wood player of the week.

The River Rats lost all three games this week (see more, below), but Mike Rupp stepped up his play, driving to the net to create scoring chances, and playing capably on the other side of the ice as well.

The second-year pro who missed part of the end of last season with heart surgery, had spent parts of this season centering for a rotating group of wingers. Occasionally relegated to checking assignments (à la Bobby Holik) against top opposing centers, Rupp had an adequate, but not sensational, rookie campaign with 10 goals and 10 assists.

Showing some occasional promise on power plays as the low guy or screen in front of the net, Rupp has proven versatile. He has consciously worked on improving his face-off skills and holds his own in draws.

This past week, though, Rupp showed a new dimension to his play. His three goals and three assists, as well as “+3” stats, stood out on a stats sheet in which most River Rats were in the minus category.

All three of his goals resulted from drives to the net, either through or around defensemen. One of his assists started out as exactly such a play, leaving a rebound that Richard Rochefort polished off for a goal.

Rupp appeared to show more confidence and was strong on the puck in moving to the net. His effort was rewarded with “first star” on Wednesday against Syracuse, when his two goals were the Rats’ only markers in a 5-2 loss to the Crunch. On Friday, he garnered “third star” in a one-goal, two assist effort in a losing (5-3) cause against the Springfield Falcons. He added an assist on Saturday against Hartford, in a decent effort on both sides of the ice.

Albany Week in Review would have picked Rupp as the AWIR player of the week regardless of what the league did with the AHL honors. AWIR is pleasantly surprised that the coaches gave Rupp the nod this week, particularly since the Rats lost all three games. Just goes to show that not all efforts and not all talent is judged by a team’s bottom-line of winning or losing. The league honor is well deserved by Rupp.

The week just past.

Ouch. Good effort and nice try only go so far to comfort the players or satisfy the fans. Three games and three losses this week. For what it is worth, the Rats got better as the week went along.

The loss to the Crunch on Wednesday was cemented at the 3:21 mark of the first period. By then, after six shots, Syracuse led by three goals. Eventually, after a 4-0 deficit early in the second period, starter Scott Clemmensen got pulled and Ari Ahonen got the relief assignment.

Poor defensive coverage against the Crunch gave Syracuse forwards shots from right in front of the net. Two goals for Syracuse resulted in the first 30 seconds of the game.

A pair of drive-to-the-net goals by Mike Rupp, one of them a coast-to-coast effort, was the highlight of the night for Albany fans in the 5-2 loss.

Division rival Springfield came to town on Friday. Despite posting one of the league’s worst road records (5-14-2 going into the game, with 2 of the “W’s” being in Albany), Springfield again defeated Albany, raising its dominance this season to 4-0-1. A very bad result for Albany, since the Rats are in the basement in the Eastern Conference, 14th out of 14 teams. The Falcons are on the bubble for the playoffs, hovering between 10th (the last playoff spot) and 11th (out of the running) for the past several weeks.

The River Rats had hopes of a victory going on the road to Hartford on Saturday. They had won at the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum just a week earlier, a 3-2 win behind 46 saves by Scott Clemmensen. However, a repeat was not to be. Facing 45 shots and between 12 and 15 prime Hartford scoring chances, the Rats took the loss, 5-3.

Steve Guolla (1G; 1A), Mike Rupp (1A) and Richard Rochefort (1G) stood out on Saturday as Albany’s best forwards in the losing effort.

Devils’ developments

On Monday afternoon, January 28, 2002, the New Jersey Devils fired coach Larry Robinson, replacing him with Kevin Constantine. Former Rats’ head coach, and current special assignment scout, John Cunniff, was appointed as an assistant coach to Constantine.

Presumably, Constantine’s first attention will be to shoring up the sputtering New Jersey Devils. At some point, he undoubtedly will consult with Rats’ bench-boss, Bob Carpenter, and get reports about River Rats and send suggestions back on what he wants down on the farm. Only time will tell what effect this coaching change in New Jersey has on the farm club in Albany.

More on the Mike Jefferson saga

In reporting on Wednesday, January 23, 2002, by Rich Chere, of the Newark Star-Ledger, Mike Jefferson, the suspended forward, had harsh words for Devils’ General Manager, Lou Lamoriello. Chere quoted Jefferson as criticizing the medical care provided by Devils’ physicians and as demanding to play hockey.

For the pungent quotes, go to: http://www.nj.com/devils/ledger/index.ssf?/sports/ledger/15a666a.html

Albany Week in Review can’t help but commenting that things could have been better for Jefferson if, instead of throwing another grenade at the Devils and GM Lamoriello, he had started by apologizing for what he reportedly said several months ago. What kind of rookie, with all of two NHL games on his resume, has the chutzpah to challenge a general manager of Lamoriellos’ standing and status.

Bold prospects, like Brendan Morrison, were much less vocal, but never managed to decide their own fate. The Devils dealt Morrison, along with Denis Pederson, on their own terms and their own time-table. If Jefferson thinks he can win a war of words against GM Lamoriello, he is probably mistaken. For that matter, regardless of what talent he might or might not have, what other GM wants to buy into trouble in the locker room with a young player telling top management how to run its business. Talented or not, Jefferson has a lot of maturing to do. Stay tuned.