One of the more frustrating aspects of the Crunch's season last year were the struggles at home. While the Crunch's away record was a spectacular 24-9-2-2, their home record was a less impressive 19-12-4-2. The Crunch earned 52 points in away arenas and 45 points at home. While the difference isn't that big, it was a bit frustrating for the fans to watch their team pull off a season-high 9 wins away in a row at one point while only managing at most three home wins in a row.
This season, Crunch fans were hoping for a little bit more consistency at home. Those returning to the Crunch this season have played a full season at the War Memorial, a rink that is a bit smaller and more temperamental than others in the league. The organization is actively working on keeping the ice surface where it needs to be to let the team be competitive. The newer guys need toadjustment, of course, but the club has plenty of returning starters like J.T. Brown, Mike Angelidis, Matt Taormina, and J.P. Cote to help new players transition. Even guys like Joey Mormina (an AHL vet) have played quite a few of their games in the War Memorial, albeit on another team, so their perspective could absolutely be useful, too.
What Crunch fans are finding, however, is wild inconsistencies across the board, not just at home, but away, too. Much like the Lightning, the Crunch is also going through some growing pains as younger players struggle to adapt to the system, the minor-pro game, and to their new lives. The Crunch have now split consecutive weekend series, winning one game and losing the other.
Syracuse played two games this past week, a home-and-home series against the interstate-rival Binghamton Senators. Friday night, no one on the Crunch particularly sparkled. Although they put up 42 shots on goal, only two of them found the back of the net. Those goals were a power play marker by Vladislav Namestnikov and an even-strength goal by rookie Nikita Kucherov. Binghamton put up 20 shots and had six of them find the back of the net.
No, that's not a typo.
Crunch goalie Cedrick Desjardins definitely did not play his best game of the year, but as per the usual custom, the players weren't about to scapegoat their netminder. During a post-game interview with Crunch broadcaster Dan D'Uva, defenseman Taormina had a lot to say about what he felt went wrong. He admitted that it's taking time to get all of the newer players to buy into Tampa's system, and that he felt some of the players were trying too hard to make fancy plays and were dishing up too many cross-ice passes.
D'Uva noted that the passing has been a problem so far this year, that they don't seem as crisp or confident as they did last season. Taormina agreed, saying that guys are still getting used to playing with each other, and that it's little mistakes that are costing the team games. He also hinted that everyone has to start being more physical, no matter their official role on the team. It's a learning process, and he hinted that it's going to continue to be blackest before the dawn, so to speak. Syracuse, who never fell out of playoff contention last season, is now currently in 9th place, one spot out of the playoffs.
There is some good news here, though. One thing that has been carried over from last season is the family feeling in the dressing room. Another thing is the fan support. Kucherov recorded an interview with D'Uva earlier in the week, and talked about how the welcome has been and how incredible the fans were during Syracuse's home opener. He also touched on how he's adjusting his game to the AHL, what it's like being on a line with Namestnikov and Brown, and his now-famous celebration.
The Crunch also has the second-best power play in the AHL at 31.8%. Kucherov is also the top rookie in the league with 8 points (5 goals, 3 assists). Overall, Kucherov is fourth in the league in scoring. Taormina is also fourth in the league among defenseman, with 7 points (1g, 6a).
Going with the theme of good news, the team looked better Saturday night on the road in Binghamton. Crunch goalie Riku Helenius made 26 saves on 27 shots, while the Crunch's offense combined for 4 goals on 32 shots. Syracuse saw goals from Artem Sergeev (on the power play), Namestnikov, Kucherov, and Cedric Paquette. Binghamton's only goal came on the power play.
The Crunch will be in action again this weekend, facing off against the newly-minted Utica Comets (formerly the Peoria Rivermen) Friday and the the Bridgeport Sound Tigers Saturday.
Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:
Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 2-2-1-0
Place in the conference standings (top 8 make the playoffs): ninth
Place in division standings: Fourth
Top scorer: Nikita Kucherov, 5-3-8
Top scoring defenseman: Matt Taormina 1-6-7
Top defenseman, +/-: Luke Witkowski, +2
Top rookie: Nikita Kucherov, 5-3-8
Home Game attendance: 10/18: 4,643
Syracuse Crunch Player notes/transactions:
-Centers Maxime Langelier-Parent and Charles Landry were assigned to Florida of the ECHL.