The Syracuse Crunch has an odd history with Russian players the past few years. Hockey fans might know the story of Nikita Filatov, the spoiled Russian "second-coming" prospect who was treated like a king by the Columbus Blue Jackets organization and eventually ended up burning bridges with every team he came into contact with. Filatov's professional hockey story started in Syracuse, where he was adored but eventually worn out his welcome. He demanded NHL time on a team that had no room for him and ended up sitting in a folding chair in Columbus' locker room, instead of playing on the top line in Syracuse. Crunch fans didn't exactly appreciate this. A second Blue Jackets Russian prospect, defenseman Andrey Plekhanov, was often compared to a folding chair by Crunch fans... A perfect compliment for Filatov, it seems.
On the positive side of things, Kirill Starkov and Maksim Mayorov, also from the Columbus affiliation years, both had potential but never seemed to find a way to truly capitalize. During the Anaheim affiliation seasons, the only Russian prospect Crunch fans got to see in action was Igor Bobkov, and although he won the few games he played, his rising star collided with the fall of the organizaitonal affiliation.
This year, the Crunch is nearly bursting with Russian talent. Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Artem Sergeev, Dmitry Korobov, and Nikita Nesterov all hail from Russia, and all are making a positive impact for the club. The Crunch's top line features Kucherov, Namestnikov and J.T. Brown(ov), and it's a line that's currently tearing up the AHL. Brown had a lot to say about Namestnikov after Friday's game, and complimented the burst of confidence that has come with Namestnikov's second pro year. Although Kucherov has proven himself completely comfortable at scoring, Namestnikov has quietly accumulated a 9-game points streak. Brown himself has 8 points so far this season.
Korobov has stepped into the physical defenseman position recently left vacant by Radko Gudas, using his 6'3, 235 pound frame to lay into anyone who might be in the Crunch's way. Nesterov got his first goal this past Friday, and has 6 points on the season. Sergeev, although he seems to be one of the players with a bit more development to go, is still finding ways to contribute. His two power play goals lead all Crunch defensemen.
Although the Russian talent is clearly blooming, the Crunch as a whole is still struggling a little to figure out a direction.The team is still having a lot of up and down moments. The group is also starting a slightly worrying pattern of digging themselves holes that they, more often than not, cannot climb out of.
This past Wednesday, the Crunch won over Albany by a final score of 4-1. Kucherov had a 4-point night, Brown scored twice, and goalie Cedrick Desjardins stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced. The Crunch's power play, second in the league only behind Binghamton, took advantage of two of the four man-advantages they were given. It was a well-rounded night for everyone.
Friday night, the game went a little differently. By the end of the second period, a penalty-laden Crunch had fallen into a 4-1 hole against rival Rochester. Goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis struggled a bit during the first two periods of this, although the team admitted after the game that their defense didn't do him any favors. The Crunch handed the Americans 6 power plays during the first and second, and Rochester cashed in on two of them. It took a strong third period from the Russians, a period that saw goals from Kucherov, Nesterov and Namestnikov, for the Crunch to be able to claw back and force the overtime round. The game would eventually go to a shootout, with Crunch players Kucherov (surprise!) and Cedric Paquette scoring for Syracuse and winning the game. Paquette now has two shootout goals in his two shootout attempts.
Saturday, the Crunch again dug themselves a hole during the first and second periods. Although they only gave Binghamton four power plays, three of them came during the second period. The Senators would score three times that period, bring the score at the end of the second to 4-1 Binghamton. Syracuse would find that rather familiar deficit too hard to climb out of, and ended up losing 4-2. Kucherov (there seems to be a pattern here) and Evan Rankin were the goal scorers for Syracuse. Goaltender Desjardins made 33 stops on 37 shots.
The Crunch has let the other team score a string of two or more consecutive goals 5 times this season so far. In those games, Syracuse has gone 1-4-0-0. Although the "come back kids" moniker followed the team to Syracuse last seasonr from Norfolk, it seems as though, at the moment, they don't have enough contributions from all of their lines to consistently regain the upper ground after falling behind. Syracuse is, for now, better off not letting the other team gain that kind of momentum.
Speaking of Norfolk, the Crunch make their first trip there this weekend, playing the Admirals November 8th and 9th. Before that, the Crunch will visit another East Division rival, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (WBS), on Wednesday. The Crunch is 0-1 vs. WBS so far this season.
Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:
Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 6-3-1-0
Place in the conference standings (top 8 make the playoffs): Sixth
Place in division standings: Third
Top scorer: Nikita Kucherov, 11-9-20
Top defenseman, +/-: Dmitry Korobov, +5
Top rookie: Nikita Kucherov, 11-9-20
Home Game attendance: 11/01: 4,972
Syracuse Crunch Player notes/transactions:
-Defenseman Matt Taormina remains "day to day" with an unspecified injury he received during Friday's game against Rochester.
-Defenseman JP Cote missed this past Friday's game after suffering an injury Wednesday night at Albany.
-Defenseman Charles Landry was assigned to Syracuse from the Everblades (ECHL) this past weekend.
-Danick Gauthier (LW) was assigned to Syracuse from the Everblades (ECHL) this past weekend.
-Kristers Gudlevskis (G) remains undefeated in a Crunch uniform (2-0-0-0).
-Nikita Kucherov was voted the AHL Rookie of the Month for October and has a points streak dating back to October 18th.
-Vladislav Namestnikov has a points streak dating back to October 12th. This streak is currently the second-longest streak in the AHL.
Video: Syracuse Crunch come back against Rochester
Syracuse Crunch vs. Rochester Americans (Nov. 1, 2013) (via Syracuse Crunch)