The Albany Devils have been consistent with their lineup during the first five games, sticking with the old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The team enters Wednesday’s showdown at Utica with a 3-1-0-1 record and the league’s third best goals-against average with a 2.00 mark.
The defensive pairing of third-year-pro Eric Gelinas and rookie Jon Merrill has benefitted the team not only on the backend, but also in the offensive zone. Gelinas is tied for fourth on the team with three points and Merrill is third with four points. Both players have a +2 rating.
“So far, so good,” said Head Coach Rick Kowalsky after Tuesday’s practice at Times Union Center. “We wanted to see how they would be together. We were wondering if there was enough puck for both of them. So far, it’s worked out and we are going to continue along that path.”
Both players are offensive minded defensemen. Gelinas has accumulated 62 points (23g-39a) in 137 career AHL games, while Merrill produced 47 points (11g-36a) in 82 games at Michigan (CCHA). Despite the offensive success, the tandem is aware of its requirement to protect Albany’s net.
“I’ve been paired with defensive defensemen for the past year and I always knew if I go, the other one stays back,” Gelinas said. “I think he knows that too and we’ve been doing pretty well with that. It’s up to us. If I see that he’s going to make a play, I’m reading off him and I’m going to be in the position to react to the play he’s going to make.”
“He’s a great player and easy to play with,” Merrill said. “He supports me when I’m in trouble and I support him. We are just working together and things are going well right now. We have a good little chemistry going on and we read and react off each other. I think he’s such a great player, it’s easy to fill in when he goes and he fills in when I go.”
The pairing extends to the power play where the Devils are operating at 20.8 percent with five goals on 24 attempts. Gelinas has a power-play goal and an assist and Merrill has two helpers.
“We have some chemistry going and moving the puck around well,” Merrill, who began the season with three assists on Oct. 6, said. “He’s got that big shot and I just look for him on the power play.”
Gelinas and Merrill started playing together during New Jersey Devils training camp and developed chemistry early, making Kowalsky’s lineup decision that much easier.
“They are both good puck movers,” Kowalsky said. “They are definitely different, but they see the ice well. They’ve found some chemistry and we’ve kept them together on the power play and five-on-five. Gelinas has matured. He just looks more comfortable out there. His habits and the details in his game have come a long way from last year. Consistency for him is going to be important.
“Merrill just has ice in his veins. He’s very calm with good composure with the puck, especially under pressure. They’ve played quite a bit together through training camp and into the season.”
The Devils will hold a morning skate Wednesday at 10 am before busing to Utica. That game can be streamed online or on mobile devices at ahllive.com.
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