Albany Week in Review #2

By Mike Buskus

Albany Week in Review #2

Wow. What a difference an “off season” makes. Without a doubt, the acquisition of veteran players by the New Jersey Devils in the off season dramatically changed the quality of the “on ice” product fielded by the Albany River Rats. Players such as Craig Darby, Ray Giroux, Joe Hulbig, Ken Sutton and Mike Matteucci have given the River Rats poise, toughness, smarts and, very significantly for the team that set a league record for fewest goals (172), goal scoring.

Barely two weeks into the season, after five games, the River Rats are one of the highest scoring teams. OK, this is early in the year, so don’t buy your playoff tickets just yet. But, after last year, when the River Rats literally struggled to put up two goals a game, the 20 markers in 5 games (or, four per game) places the River Rats near the top of the league (tied for fourth) in goals per game.

So far, the bulk of the scoring has come from the Rats’ first line, the veteran combination of Craig Darby (3G; 8A), Joe Hulbig (2G; 6A), and Dave Roche (1G; 3A). Darby leads the league in points (11), at a better than two points a game pace. He, Hulbig and blueliner Ray Giroux (2G; 6A) are all in the league’s top ten scorers. Darby and Hulbig are tied with sniper Peter White (Norfolk) for the league lead in shooting accuracy (.500). Giroux leads all defenseman in points (8), with second year back liner Mikko Jokela also registering points (1G; 3A).

In the week just past, the Rats had a pair of road games, losing (4-3) to Norfolk at the Scope, a barn where the Rats have yet to win, and winning (8-3) in Hershey at the new Giant Arena thanks to a five-goal third period outburst.

So far, the special teams performance has been a mixed bag. As the second most heavily penalized team (Utah is first), the Rats have found themselves often in penalty-kill mode. Albany is in the bottom third of the league in killing penalties, thwarting 76.9% at home and 82.6% on the road, placing 21st and 18th respectively in those categories. Overall, the PK is 22nd, at 80.6%, although it is quite early in the season for statistics in this category.

On the other side of the ice, so far the Rats’ power play has been a dramatic improvement from last year. The Rats are 3 for 16 at home, for 18.8% (11th on home ice) and 4 for 19 away from home for 21.1% on the road (6th in foreign barns). Overall, the Rats are 7 for 35 for 20.0%, or 6th overall. The Rats don’t remember the last time they were near the top of the statistics in the power play department. This is due to veteran leadership. With Ray Giroux quarterbacking the power play, Dave Roche screening goalies and Joe Hulbig finishing near the net (3 PPG), Albany has netted 7 of its 20 goals via the power play.

AWIR player of the week

Coach Dennis (“Red”) Gendron nominated Craig Darby, for the second straight week, for AHL player of the week. His four-point night on Monday October 14 against Norfolk did not get counted in last week’s voting. Darby was uncharacteristically blanked in the scoring department on the road in Norfolk (though he was still “+1” in plus/minus), but he registered a three-point night in Hershey (1G; 2A).

However, though Darby would be a good choice, AWIR has selected Christian Berglund as player of the week. Weighing in at +1 on Saturday against Norfolk (1A), he added a +2 (1G; 2A) to spark the scoring in Hershey.

Ever since being sent down to Albany as one of the last roster cuts, Berglund has played with intensity. So far, he still is relatively highly penalized (23 PIM). He obviously harbors hopes of replacing Mike Danton. According to Randy Velischek, the Devils’ radio color commentator, Danton was summoned back to New Jersey to speak with Devils’ GM Lou Lamoriello. Danton was unhappy with being scratched, in favor of Steve Guolla, in the road game in Nashville. As he did last season in a dispute with the Devils, Danton did not hesitate to ventilate his grievance with Rich Chere of the Newark Star Ledger.

AWIR believes that Danton better learn to bite his tongue. A rookie with but a small handful of games under his belt has no business telling coaches or management that he disagrees with a coaching decision to play someone else. Worse yet, to mouth off in the press is indicative of immaturity. Devils’ GM, Lou Lamoriello, swallowed some pride over the summer by giving Danton (a/k/a Mike Jefferson) another chance. But, in an organization known for discipline, and having recently hired former police officer and disciplinarian Pat Burns, the Devils do not need a dissenting wise guy. If Danton doesn’t get with the program quickly, he will be gone. Steve Guolla, by contrast, has been a model citizen. Not once did he ever complain last year when, as the best player in Albany, he might have deserved a call-up. Guolla was the ultimate “team player” and Danton could learn a thing or two by following Guolla’s example.

In other Albany news, defenseman Tommy Albelin was recalled to New Jersey on Tuesday. Ken Sutton’s wife gave birth to twin girls.

Dave Sottile, of the (Hershey, PA) York Daily Record, reported that Philadelphia Flyers assistant coach, Craig Hartsburg, was in attendance on Sunday night to watch Chris Hartsburg, his son and a River Rats’ rookie right wing, play against Hershey. Though kept off the scoreboard, Hartsburg junior was “+1” on the evening.

The Rats have a three games in three nights weekend upcoming, hosting Cleveland and Rochester and traveling to Hartford on Sunday.