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Syracuse Crunch week 7: Away heaven

The Crunch embarked on their first real away trip of the season and went three-for-three, winning a game in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and taking the back-to-back series in Norfolk. Their recent good fortune has returned them to the top of the East Division.

It's been established that Syracuse Crunch GM Julien BriseBois likes away trips. Although Tampa Bay moved the Lightning's top minor league affiliate to Syracuse to reduce travel time for their AHL club, they've also made known their beliefs in team bonding and how road trips can help with that. The Crunch's now-annual pre-season trip to St. John's is one way this belief manifests itself.

Although the Crunch makes the trip out to Newfoundland just a few times during the regular season, usually only averaging a game or two out there, there's another trip that's becoming quite the regular in their rotation schedule each season. Ever since the cities of Norfolk and Syracuse swapped NFL affiliates (and entire minor-league rosters in the move), the two cities have seen their clubs play each other from twice a season to eight times. Although one could say the reason for this is that the teams have a little rivalry going, there might be another reason the Crunch makes the trip down to Norfolk for four games.

Because of traveling logistics, the Crunch usually plays a weekend series of back-to-back games in Norfolk twice a season.  Spending that much time, both in travel and in the same city, allows the team more time spent in each other's company and, therefore, more of that bonding time BriseBois looks so fondly on.

Over this past weekend, it appears to have been time well spent.

The Crunch saw themselves go a perfect three-for-three during this past week's road swing, the longest of the season so far. The team started off in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday, going against the Penguins, a team that soundly defeated the Crunch about a month ago by a final score of 6-3. This time, the Crunch managed to erase a one goal deficit with a little under five minutes left in the third to send the game to OT. Crunch goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis made 26 total saves and was perfect in the shootout, stopping all Penguins' shooters. Danick Gauthier, Nikita Nesterov and Evan Rankin scored for the Crunch during regulation, while Nikita Kucherov and Tanner Richard scored in the shootout.

Friday and Saturday night, the Crunch made their first stop of the year in Norfolk. Last year, the team's first game of the year in this city was a homecoming for many of the Crunch's players, most of whom had won the Calder Cup there just months before. Crunch fans were also very familiar with the majority of the Norfolk Admirlas roster, as those players, members of the Anaheim Ducks' organization, had been in Syracuse the year before.

This season, though, the stage for these games was a little different. Only three players who dressed for the Crunch Friday night were members of Norfolk's 2012 Calder Cup winning team (Mike Angelidis, Eric Neilson and J.P. Cote), while Crunch fans were only familiar with three members of the Admirals. Although Friday's game was physical, with the teams combining for 49 total penalty minutes, it didn't really have the same feeling it did last season. There is a rivalry here still, but it's now based more on divisional rivalry than anything else.

Syracuse was able to best the Admirals both nights. Friday, Gudlevskis stopped 23 of the 24 pucks that came his way. J.T. Brown and Kucherov scored in regulation for Syracuse, which lifted the Crunch over the Ads 2-1. Saturday night, Crunch starter Cedrick Desjardins saw his first shutout of the season as Syracuse put up four goals, with the tallies coming from Vladislav Namestnikov (who scored twice), Cedric Paquette and Dana Tyrell.

One of the most important things to note about these three games is that the Crunch's first line of Namestnikov-Brown-Kucherov didn't do all of the work. An article posted by the Syracuse Post Standard on November 4th, before the team embarked on this road trip, explained that the team's top line had scored 19 of the team's 27 total goals at that point. During this road trip, the Crunch scored 9 regulation goals. Five of them--a slim majority, but a majority none-the-less--came from players other than Bladdy-Nikita and J.T..

In other words, it appears that the Crunch took huge strides this past week towards becoming a more total, complete team. Those strides enabled Syracuse to jump from sixth to second in the Eastern Conference, and from third to first in the East Division. They say traveling is hell, but it seems to suit the Crunch just fine.

Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:

  • Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 9-3-1-0

  • Place in the conference standings (top 8 make the playoffs): Second

  • Place in division standings: First

  • Top scorer: Nikita Kucherov, 12-10-22

  • Top scoring defenseman: Matt Taormina 2-8-10

  • Top defenseman, +/-: Dmitry Korobov, +7

  • Top rookie: Nikita Kucherov, 12-10-22

  • Home Game attendance: N/A

Syracuse Crunch Player notes/transactions:

-Although he won all four of his Syracuse starts, the return of Crunch goaltender Riku Helenius from injury this past weekend marked the end of Kristers Gudlevskis' time in Syracuse...for now. Gudlevskis was officially sent back to the ECHL's Everblades on Sunday after being a healthy scratch Saturday night. However, Gudlevskis' impressive performance will surely guarantee him a bright future in the Tampa organization.

-Syracuse defenseman Matt Taormina continues to be out with an unspecified injury. Taormina did not make the road trip with the team.

-Nikita Kucherov was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week last week.

-Vladislav Namestnikov currently has the longest points streak in the AHL. Namestnikov has scored a point in every game the Crunch has played since October 12, 2013, for a total of 19 points.

-Kucherov saw his points streak come to an end this past Saturday, where he failed (if one could call this a failure) to net a point during the team's game in Norfolk. In the period between October 18th and November 8th, Kucherov amassed 18 points. Kucherov is currently second in the AHL in over-all scoring (22 points), with Namestnikov right behind him in third (19 points).


Cedrick Desjardins and the Syracuse Crunch shut out Norfolk Admirals 4-0 (via Syracuse Crunch)

Syracuse Crunch @ Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (via Syracuse Crunch)