Albany, NY – The American Hockey League released the 2016-17 schedule this week, which gives everyone a chance to see the road that will have to be traveled to reach Calder Cup glory. Next week, in the triumphant return of the Albany Devils Podcast, I will be joined by Devils’ Vice President of Communications Kevin Zalaznik to go over, in detail, this year’s schedule. Until then, here are five things that jumped out at me upon first glance:
• A Balanced Division Schedule
Albany will play each of their North Division opponents eight times (four at home and four on the road). Last season, the Devils played three of their division rivals eight times and three of them six time. I am definitely a fan of a balanced division schedule. In total, the Devils will play 48 of their 76 games against the North Division – 63% of the time. It is a great opportunity for Albany to control its own fate in securing a playoff berth.
• Rest of the Eastern Conference
With the Devils adding six division games to their schedule (two more games each against Rochester, Toronto and Binghamton), they will be losing two games against Hartford (four instead of six), two games against Springfield (four instead of six), and two games against Portland who have relocated to Tucson, AZ to become the Roadrunners. Albany will also play two more games against Providence (eight instead of six) and play two fewer games against Bridgeport (six instead of eight).
• The Dreaded 3-in-3
Over the course of the season, the Devils will have to play six three-in-threes. Last year, Albany had eight three-in-threes. While the team did pretty well in those situations, posting a record of 16-5-3 during three-in-threes (6-2-0 in game one, 6-2-0 in game two and 4-1-3 in game three), three-in-threes are very challenging on any team, especially late in the season when depth gets tested due to injuries and call-ups. To be blunt, three-in-threes are one of the toughest situations that AHL teams have to deal with and having two fewer of them is fine by me.
• Down the Home Stretch
One of the quirks of this year’s schedule is that it is back-loaded with home games. Nine of the last 12 games will be at Times Union Center, including six of eight in the month of April. With games taking on so much more importance late in the season, especially if the Devils are in a fight for the playoffs, having these home games could be a huge boon for the team. Last season, Albany went 27-7-3-1 at home, a .763 points percentage, which was the best home record in the league. Over the last three years, Albany has produced a home record of 71-28-8-7 (a .689 points percentage). The Devils can use their home ice advantage down the stretch to finish the season strong and position themselves for the postseason.
• Air Canada Center
On Saturday, December 17 the Devils will be in Toronto to take on the Marlies. This game is a 1:30 PM matinee and will be played at Air Canada Center, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. This marks just the second time that the Albany Devils will play at a current NHL arena with their only previous occurrence a 5-3 win against Bridgeport on January 21, 2015 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, home of the New Jersey Devils. While no longer an active NHL arena, the Devils do regularly play at a former NHL arena, XL Center, formerly the Hartford Civic Center, and previously home to the Hartford Whalers.
Also of note: the ACC is home to the Toronto Raptors of the NBA. This will be just the second time the Devils have played in an active NBA building with the only other time being back in 2011 when Albany traveled to Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, former home of the Checkers, and current home of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets (though they were the Bobcats at the time). Though the New Jersey Nets did play at Prudential Center, when Albany was there in 2015 the team had already relocated to Brooklyn.