The New Jersey Devils’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Albany Devils, are seeking the final playoff spot in a tough Eastern Conference race with a handful of games to go.
Albany currently stands at tenth place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference (the AHL still uses the NHL’s old “1 through 8” conference seeding system, similar to the NBA) four points behind the Springfield Falcons (AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets) in the ninth spot. The Falcons are tied in points with the eighth place Portland Pirates (Arizona Coyotes affiliate), but Portland holds the eighth spot due to having more wins (with less games played). This means that with only one extra game played than Portland, and two games in hand with Springfield, the A-Devils are essentially four points out of the final playoff spot.
Albany currently has six games left, starting with a road trip that begins against the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa) on April 10, takes them to Hartford to play the Rangers’ affiliate the Hartford Wolf Pack on the 11th, and finishes up in Worcester to face the Worcester Sharks (San Jose) on Sunday, the 12th. The final three games of the season see them home at the Times Union Center against the Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning) on April 15, then heading to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to take on the Penguins on the 17th and then the season finale at home against Hartford on April 18. Of those teams remaining on their schedule, only Binghamton is not a playoff team currently. The Senators are in 13th place in a 15 team conference. It will be a tough road for the Albany Devils.
The Albany Devils will be without the services of Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau, who have obviously been called up to the NHL club for the final games of their schedule. Albany does have leading scorer Paul Thompson (32 goals, 20 assists, 52 points) and leading assist man Joe Whitney (20 goals, 29 assists, 49 points) to lead the charge and goaltending from Scott Wedgewood (12 wins, 13 losses, 2.69 GAA, .905 save %). These are the kind of guys that they could build a playoff team and, possibly, a deep Cinderella playoff run on.
Although a playoff spot is not totally out of the question, the A-Devils have a tough road to travel. It would be disappointing for the franchise should both the NHL and AHL club miss the playoffs, but there is hope. The AHL club is doing a fine job of developing players for the NHL, supplying the future for the New Jersey Devils.
Although it was twenty years ago, the Devils want to get back to being a model franchise as they were in 1995. That year, the New Jersey Devils, of course, won the Stanley Cup, and their then-AHL affiliate, the Albany River Rats, won the Calder Cup (the AHL’s championship). But just as important as getting a player accustomed to winning at the AHL level is getting them ready for the NHL itself. If Boucher and Matteau become productive members of the New Jersey roster and fulfill their promise, then Albany coach Rick Kowalsky and his coaching staff (which includes former New Jersey Devils Sergei Brylin and Johan “Moose” Hedberg) will have done their jobs well.
Counting Albany out of the playoffs at this point is not unwarranted, but they do have an outside chance and, as any hockey fan knows, it is all about getting in and seeing what you can do once you are there. What matters even more for teams in the American League is developing the next crop of players for their parent club and ensuring that the next generation of players is in good hands.