Once again, the American Hockey League affiliate of the New Jersey Devils has done what the parent team has not done: make the playoffs. The Albany Devils will begin their Calder Cup campaign tonight. Their tag line: #FinalStand. The Albany Devils are moving to Binghamton for next season. As far as I know, Albany will not have another hockey team coming in for 2017-18. This playoff run really will be the end of the second incarnation of the Devils’ affiliate in Albany. Let’s see how it goes.
In a crowded race for the postseason (all stats from here on out are from the AHL’s website), the Albany Devils secured a spot by finishing third in the North Division with a record of 39-32-2-3 (W-L-OTL-SOL) and a winning percentage of 54.6%. Their first opponent will be the same squad that knocked them out of the playoffs last season: The Toronto Marlies. The Marlies finished second in the North Division with a record of 42-29-4-1. They enter the playoffs with a little more heat than the A-Devs with a 7-3 record in their last ten games. They also enter the first round as the most productive team in the North Division with 245 goals scored. No, the 2016-17 Marlies aren’t as dominant as last year’s team. And with the Maple Leafs actually in the NHL playoffs, players like Kasperi Kapenen are currently unavailable - at least to start the series. But they are still a very good team. They have plenty of threats up front in their leading scorer (19 goals, 33 assists) and shooter (185 shots) Kerby Rychel, Brendan Leipsic (51 points, second to Rychel), Andreas Johansson (20 goals), and Cal O’Reilly (41 assists). They even have veteran and former Devil, Mike Sislo, who put up sixteen points in eighteen games with the Marlies. Goaltender Garrett Sparks had a splendid season with a 92.2% overall save percentage in 31 games (tenth highest in AHL). In other words, the A-Devils do not have an easy opponent.
That said, the A-Devils aren’t exactly doormats either. With New Jersey’s lost season, Albany has had much of their talent replenished in the weeks running up to the postseason. Leading scorer John Quenneville (14 G, 32 A, 158 SOG) has been back. Blake Coleman is second on the team in points and tied for the team lead in goals (19 G, 20 A, 126 SOG); he’s back. Blake Pietila, Nick Lappin, and Kevin Rooney were returned earlier to strengthen the lineup. The squad now has Joseph Blandisi, Miles Wood, and Steve Santini returned to the Capital District with more experience and, hopefully, more to prove. In terms of prospects, forward Blake Speers and defenseman Colton White are now with the team after his junior team was eliminated from the OHL playoffs; he joins Brandon Gignac as the other junior with Albany on an Amateur Try Out deal. It remains to be seen how much ice time Speers, White, and Gignac will get from head coach Rick Kowalsky. It depends on how much he favors those players over those who have played more frequently for Albany in the regular season. It’s a group filled with players who have at least received tastes of the NHL in 2016-17 combined with veterans like Carter Camper, Ben Sexton, and Andrew MacWilliam. If there’s a big concern, it’s in net. Both MacKenzie Blackwood (90.7%) and Ken Appleby (90.3) posted save percentages in the 90s in addition to being relatively inexperienced at this level. With Sparks potentially in the other end, one of them will need to step up – and quickly.
(Aside: What about Severson and Zacha? Damon Severson was never moved down on a paper deal back at the NHL Trade Deadline, so he’s ineligible for the postseason. Pavel Zacha’s contract began in this past season so in addition to not being on Albany’s roster on March 1 to make him playoff-eligible, he couldn’t play in the AHL anyway due to the CHL-NHL Agreement or get an ATO like he did in 2016.)
Haste is important because the playoff format for the AHL is different than the NHL. The first round is a best of five series. The first two games are at the home of the lower seed with the following three taking place at the home of the higher seed. It’s absolutely important that Albany gets off to a good start. Dropping either home game puts them in a deep hole right away – and will require wins on the road to ultimately get out of it. Here’s the schedule for the Albany-Toronto series:
4/22 Update: Devils won Game 1!
4/23 Update: Devils lost Game 2.
4/28 Update: Devils are in an elimination situation. They lost Game 3 in OT.
4/29 Update: Albany has been eliminated. It took 3 OTs as Mackenzie Blackwood was on fire. He stopped 58 out of 60 shots on net. Alas, Albany couldn’t provide the difference maker.
- Thursday, April 20 – 7 PM EDT – Albany 3 - Toronto 0 - AHL Boxscore
- Saturday, April 22 – 5 PM EDT – Albany 2 - Toronto 6 - AHL Boxscore
- Wednesday, April 26 – 7 PM EDT – Albany 2 - Toronto 3 (OT) - AHL Boxscore
- Friday, April 28 – 7 PM EDT – Albany 1 - Toronto 2 (3 OTs) - AHL Boxscore
Saturday, April 29 – 7 PM EDT – Albany at Toronto (if necessary)
How can you watch these games? AHL does have their own online streaming service: AHL Live. It isn’t cheap, but there are options. They have packages for the entire postseason ($249.99), the first two rounds for one team ($44.99/team), and pay-per-view options ($9.99/game). If you’re in the Albany area, then you really should try to get to the game in person if only because this could be the end of AHL hockey in Albany for some time. Toronto is a good squad as far as I can tell; the second round is not at all guaranteed for the A-Devs. Better to take the chance to see it in person before it goes away.
And with Albany starting their postseason tonight, it’s just about it for everyone in the organization for the 2016-17 campaign. Unless I’m mistaken, the only other Devils that are still active in the postseason is Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian of the Mississauga Steelheads. They recently knocked off North Bay to face Peterborough in the OHL Eastern Conference Finals.
In the meantime, if you want to discuss what the Albany Devils are doing in the Calder Cup Playoffs, then the comments to this post are the place to be for that. And if you’d rather get into the Steelheads-Petes series, then sure, you can do so in the comments too. All site rules apply. Go Albany Devils. Please make your final stand last more than just one series.
4/29 Update: Alas, this series was the #FinalStand after all. Thanks to the Albany Devils for providing at least a little post-season hockey for the professional organization. That is it for the Capital District. The Devils’ AHL affiliate will now move to Binghamton for the 2017-18 season.