Photo Credit: Twitter/Albany Devils
Tonight’s game between the Albany Devils and Toronto Marlies doesn’t start or a few more hours, but there’s already been a small victory involved in the process. The American Hockey League announced their punishment for Dan Kelly this morning, and it wasn’t light; the Albany defenseman will miss ten games, starting with tonight.
Kelly, of course, was the player who delivered a dangerous elbow to the head of Andreas Johnson in the second period of Game 4. He received a match penalty for the incident, which came with an automatic 1-game suspension, but the league made the correct call to send a message. Many messages, really.
The most important message? Head hits are dangerous. Nobody deserves to spend the bulk of their life in pain and suffering because they got in your way as you both played a game that you love for a living. Bones heal; brains only recover so much. We have the knowledge now to understand the severity of these impacts, so we should know better than to encourage them.
Secondarily, it sends a message to the Devils. Blake Coleman and Stefan Matteau have also been suspended this year for hits to the head, and this is Kelly’s second suspension of the sort this season as well. Combine this with Joseph Blandisi’s uncalled cross-check in Game 3, and the league can’t be all too happy with the Devils.
It also sends a message to the Marlies, when you consider that Connor Carrick avoided punishment for his hit on Pavel Zacha in Game 1. Now they know that they too need to be more cautious in this series because the head office is watching. Hopefully, the rest of the journey is a clean one and the two teams can focus on playing hockey.
Unsurprisingly, Andreas Johnson won’t be playing tonight. It’s absolutely the right call, though the team has said that he’s feeling much better than he was two nights ago. In his place comes Colin Smith, who has two assists in two games these playoffs. On the point, there’s a chance that Stuart Percy returns to the lineup, seeing as his injury appears to have not involved his head after all, instead being a bit closer to general upper-body stiffness. If he doesn’t play, Travis Dermott will stay in.
The Devils have been relatively quiet about their lineup decisions going into this one. Kelly will obviously be watching from the press box, but the team has been quiet about who will draw in. If I had to guess, it will likely be Corbin McPherson, who came in for Reece Scarlett in Game 3.
The Marlies will once again look to Antoine Bibeau, who stopped 24 of 26 in Game 4. The see-saw between Garret Sparks and himself appears to have been stalled for a bit, but that’s what happens when a goaltender remains consistent and a series remains close. Toronto isn’t at a point yet where they can afford to take the slightly riskier door for the sake of equal opportunity. So long as Bibeau remains dominant against the Albany, he’ll stay in between the pipes.
Albany hasn’t revealed their starting goaltender yet. Scott Wedgewood has been their guy all playoffs but gave up five goals in two periods on Tuesday. Yann Danis wasn’t much better, though, so a return to the pipes isn’t something I’d rule out just yet.
What To Watch Out For
Now that both teams know that they’re under a tight watch, I’d expect the Devils to drop a bit of the aggressiveness that they’ve carried over the past week. How will that impact them? It could very well make them better, as the Marlies didn’t seem to get that distracted by most of their actions. Combine that with a hunger to bounce back from a 7-2 blowout, and the Marlies might have a tough game ahead of them tonight.