Skipjacks coach Robbie Laird doesn't have any preconceived notions about the Utica Devils.
Even though the Devils are once again the preseason favorite to win the AHL's Southern Division, Laird said he isn't ready to concede tonight's game at the Arena (7:30, WLIF-AM 1300) or any other because of what looks good on paper.
"The only thing I know about them is what I've seen through the summaries," Laird said. "I expect a good attack and a very physical team, a lot of rough stuff. I also know the goaltending is going to be good because of the veteran [Rollie Melanson]. They lost their first three and they won their next three so maybe it's taking them some time to jell."
For the Jacks, who are 3-0, that hasn't been a problem.
The goaltending has been sound, allowing seven goals. The young defense has played hungry, low-risk hockey. The offense, which was expected to be the Jacks' strong point, has been better than Laird even imagined, scoring 17 goals.
"I think these young players are really anxious to make a good first impression, not only on me but on the fans," Laird said. "We had those five days off last week and that really helped us because we worked our tails off in practice. I think it showed over the weekend."
The Jacks defeated Fredericton, which had been 3-0, twice in as many nights at the Arena, seemingly without breaking a sweat.
"The best part about our attack is that we don't have any one line that stands out," Laird said. "I like the fact that, offensively, I can put any combination out there and feel comfortable."
Due to some movement with the Washington Capitals, who lost 3-1 in Montreal last night, the Jacks will play without Steve Maltais and Chris Felix tonight, but have obtained Mark Ferner and Bob Joyce, who is a question mark with a sore ankle.
In goal for tonight, the Jacks have Jim Hrivnak, who allowed three goals in Hershey 10 days ago and was assigned to Washington over the weekend while Don Beaupre played for the Jacks.
The Jacks have a full weekend, with Maine in on Friday night before a two-game trip takes them to Utica on Saturday and Troy, N.Y., to face the first-year Capital District Islanders on Sunday.
VS. UTICA DEVILS
WHEN: Tonight, 7:30.
WHERE: Baltimore Arena.
RADIO: WLIF-AM 1300.
OUTLOOK: After losing their first three, the Devils have won three straight behind a strong offense led by centers Kevin Todd and Neil Brady. The Jacks have won all three of their games rather handily, outscoring opponents 17-6. The Jacks will have top goalie Jim Hrivnak back and will start Mark Ferner on defense instead of Chris Felix, who was assigned to Washington. Left wing Steve Maltais also is with the Caps. Tonight's winner will grab sole possession of first place in the Southern Division. Right wing John Purves, who has bulked up considerably and even got into a fight Saturday, leads the Jacks with three goals and four assists.