It may have taken some time, but a formula for winning in Syracuse is finally becoming clear: find some ECHL players with a lot to prove, combine them with some rookies with heart, and, much like last year, be the first team to score. Have those things in place and the Crunch, depleted as they are, can manage to win.
Syracuse proved this formula twice this past weekend, winning games over the St. John's Ice Caps Friday and the Adirondack Phantoms Saturday. The two wins allowed the Crunch a brief respite from their previous stretch of five winless games.
Syracuse scored first in both their wins this week, bringing their record to 9-0-0-1 when scoring first. But. before those games, the Crunch sloshed through a rough showing in Binghamton Wednesday in a perfect example of the Crunch's problems during their losing streak.
The Binghamton Senators were allowed to get on the board first and then again before the Crunch were able to come back with anything. It was almost exactly halfway through the game before Syracuse finally got on the board with a power play tally from veteran Geoff Walker. The goal was Walker's first of the year, and although that tally should have sparked something on the bench, Binghamton would score three more times before the end of the game. This would put a 5-1 final exclamation point on the Crunch's losing streak.
Although one could point to a lack of scoring as Syracuse's main issues, a 5-to-1 final also begs questions about goaltending. Such a score certainly doesn't seem to make Crunch starter Riku Helenius look all that great, but one could also point to Helenius' stellar stop during a Senator's penalty shot towards the end of the first period as an argument against placing this loss squarely on the goalie's shoulders. Players this past weekend also pointed to Helenius' play in preventing several Binghamton short-handed chances throughout the game.
So, although it does help to have a goaltender with the aptitude of a brick wall during these rough patches, it just can't be said that the rough patch was due totally to goaltending. Helenius and Cedrick Desjardins split the losses during this time about as evenly as they could: Desjardins was in net for three of them, Helenius was in net for two. Maybe the goalies weren't as consistent as they each would have like to have been, but it's difficult to pin this on their heads alone.
It isn't difficult, however, to pin the rough patch on Syracuse's veterans, and even some of the Tampa Bay Lightning's prospects. Veteran Walker was the lone scorer Wednesday night, and although he would add a second goal in Friday's win, all of the other goal scorers this past week were either recent ECHL call ups or rookies.
For instance, rookie Cedric Paquette moved into fifth place in team scoring with two goals and an assist this past weekend. Crunch newcomers Ray Kaunisto, signed to a PTO this past week, and Danick Gauthier, called up at the beginning of November from the Florida Everblades, made pretty good cases for themselves by scoring a goal each Friday night. Gauthier also netted himself assists on both of Paquette's weekend goals. Kaunisto's goal was his first in the AHL in two years.
Speaking of ECHLers, Philip-Michael Devos made a return to Syracuse this week after spending the first part of the season with the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL. Devos played for two seasons in the Tampa system but was not re-signed over the summer. Although he was in training camp with the Ice Caps, he was released and landed in the ECHL and has been playing there for the past two months. He was signed to a PTO this past week, and he also netted an assist Friday night.
Maxime Langelier-Parent is yet another ECHL player who made an impact this past weekend. Parent was assigned to Syracuse on November 25th. He got an assist on Kaunisto's goal, which marked his first professional point. Even enforcer Eric Neilson, known more for his fists than his skill with the puck, got an assist this past weekend.
So, clearly, Syracuse's new strategy should be this: score first, but also be sure to put a stick in the hands of a few hungry ECHL players with something to prove. Do that, and those players will probably outshine every veteran, and even some prospects, on the team. Crunch veteran Mike Angelidis, for instance, only has two assists to his name so far this year, and he's played in every game. Walker has those two goals and then two assists. Brett Connolly only has three assists in the AHL so far, which is the same amount as Tanner Richard. A fan only as to look to those names to figure out why Syracuse has floundered with the absences of guys like JT Brown (recall), Vladislav Namestnikov (injury), and Nikita Kucherov (recall).
Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:
Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 11-7-1-1
Place in the conference standings (top 8 make the playoffs): Seventh
Place in division standings: Third
Top scorer: Nikita Kucherov, 13-11-24
Top defenseman, +/-: Jean-Philippe Cote, +6
Top rookie: Nikita Kucherov, 13-11-24
Home Game attendance:11/29: 5,438
Other Syracuse Crunch Player notes/transactions:
-Dmitry Korobov was reassigned to the Crunch this week from Tampa. He leads all Syracuse defensemen in assists with 9 for the season so far.
-Paquette, Gauthier and Connolly all had points in back-to-back games this past weekend.
-Devos had the following to say Friday night during Dan D'Uva's Shootout Show on his return to Syracuse:
It was a little bit weird for me to come back, but the first time I pulled into the parking lot down the street it felt good to be back. The pace and style of play was different for Max (Langelier-Parent) and I to adjust to, but we got there.