Syracuse Crunch week 18: Players come back, but team still struggles

Syracuse Crunch Richard Panik (14) beats Springfield Falcons goalie Curtis McElhinney (30) for the Syracuse Crunch's first goal in American Hockey League (AHL) Calder Cup Playoff on Wednesday, May 15, 2013. Panik was sent to Syracuse this past week. - Photo provided by Scott Thomas and used with permission

Despite transactions and returns from injury that should be helping the Crunch win, Syracuse still drops both of their games this week by a 7-3 goal differential. That brings their January record to 5-3-1-1.

It's no secret that the Syracuse Crunch has been hit hard this season with the one-two punch of their own injuries and prolonged call ups due to injuries within the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup. By the end of November, Syracuse's entire top line of Vladislav Namestnikov, JT Brown and Nikita Kucherov was out, either with injury (Namestnikov) or gone because of a call up (Brown and Kucherov).

In addition to losing their entire first line, through the course of the season Syracuse has also lost JP Cote to a recall, had Dmitry Korobov called up and returned three different times, said goodbye and hello to Brett Connolly twice,and has had their goalie tandem change about three times. Matt Taormina and Dana Tyrell have been recalled and sent back a handful of times between them, as well. Taormina has also struggled with injury this year, as has Phillip Paradis.

However, things should have been looking a little brighter in Crunch land this past month. Syracuse appeared to be bolstered by the return of Namenstikov and the send down of PC Labrie at the beginning of January. They managed to go on a six-game point streak and didn't suffer a regulation loss between January 3rd and January 17th.

Then, something weird happened. Despite being further reinforced by the additions of defenseman Andrej Sustr and right wing Richard Panik, Syracuse would drop the ball three games in a row, losing their January 18th game against Binghamton and the two games they played this past week, both against divisional rival Hershey.

Now, granted, Andrej Sustr has only played one game for Syracuse so far. He was injured in that game on January 17th and has not played since. But Syracuse should be playing some of their best hockey of the season right now. Observe:

  • Brett Connolly has found his stride. He has seven goals and seven assists so far for the month of January.
  • Namestnikov has netted five goals and three assists in the past month.
  • Cedric Paquette has four goals and four assists this month so far.
  • Labrie has a goal and an assist since his send down.
  • Panik netted an assist in his first game back Saturday night at Hershey.
  • Jon DiSalvatore has three goals and five assists on the month.
  • Tyrell has a goal and four assists in his best month so far this season.

Basically, Syracuse's roster is as complete as it has been since Kucherov and Brown got called up. They've been reinforced with talent, locker room presence, and veteran leadership. They should be riding high and deep in the playoff hunt again.

Instead, this past weekend, the Crunch looked almost as bad as they did during the month of December. Last week, it was stressed how important winning against their East Division rivals would be in the coming months. Syracuse had two prime chances to catch up to the Hershey Bears as they faced a home-and-home against them. Despite the desperate need for points, the Crunch allowed defensive lapses and hot tempers to throw off their game and ended up losing both contests, giving the Bears an eight-point lead over Syracuse in the Eastern Conference.

Friday night, the Crunch allowed themselves to fall behind 3-0 before the end of the second period. Although they did eventually manage one goal in the third, the team as a whole looked less than impressive as they struggled to keep up with Hershey. The Crunch gave Hershey five power plays, and although the Bears didn't capitalize on any of them, the repeated use of the team's penalty kill may have sapped some of their energy. Whatever it was, most of the team looked disinterested and lacked energy.

Saturday night was a bit of a different story, but unfortunately ended with Syracuse losing again. The Crunch and the Bears ended the first period knotted at 1 apiece after scoring within a minute of each other, and Syracuse would even briefly have the lead for part of the second period. But Hershey would eventually regain and keep that lead, winning the game 3-2. The teams did combine for a spirited 128 penalty minutes, but, of course, the standings remain unchanged despite who may have came out on top of the five different fights that were featured during the game.

Syracuse has a full week ahead of them. They are playing at Bridgeport today (Sunday), a game that Syracuse was losing 4-2 at the time of writing this article. This game will be covered in full next weekend. Wednesday will see the Crunch facing off against divisional rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Friday the team plays at Utica and Saturday they will see Norfolk coming up for their final visit of the season. Norfolk is also a divisional opponent.

Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:

  • Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 17-17-2-4

  • Place in the conference standings (top 8 make the playoffs): Thirteenth, down one from last week

  • Place in division standings: Fifth, same as last week

  • Top scorer: Vladislav Namestnikov, 12-16-28
  • Top scoring defenseman: Dmitry Korobov, 0-16-16

  • Top defenseman, +/-: Jean-Philippe Cote, +6

  • Top defenseman, +/-, still active with the team: Dmitry Korobov, +2
  • Top rookie: Nikita Kucherov, 13-11-24

  • Top rookie still active with the team: Cedric Paquette, 12-15-27

Other Syracuse Crunch Player notes/transactions:

-Maxime Langelier-Parent was returned to Florida of the ECHL.

-Korobov and Connolly played in their 100th Crunch game Friday night.

-Tanner Richard recorded his first professional goal Saturday night.

Syracuse Crunch media highlights:

  • Syracuse Crunch vs. Hershey Bears (Jan. 24th, 2014) (via Syracuse Crunch)

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