Sometimes circumstances come together to make life in the American Hockey League hard. This past weekend was a perfect example of what can happen when things get a little crazy for an organization. Luckily, it comes at a relatively early spot in the season. Unluckily, no one can be sure when things will straighten back out again.
The Crunch lost both of their home games this past weekend, first in regulation Friday and then in the shootout Saturday. Syracuse is suffering from huge personnel losses, both because of NHL call ups and AHL injuries, and it's clearly showing on the ice. The Crunch, who was sitting pretty back atop the East Division last week, fell to third after only managing to nab one point in two games with their depleted roster.
J.T. Brown is up with Tampa Bay right now, as is Dmitry Korobov. Brown was recalled in the wake of the injury to Bolts' superstar Steven Stamkos, while Korobov was called up after injures sidelined Sami Salo and Keith Aulie. Brown scored his first NHL goal Saturday night during the Lightning's loss to Phoenix.
Korobov, on the other hand, has been a healthy scratch in the three games since his promotion, making his recall mostly for insurance purposes. Syracuse is also technically missing forward Brett Connolly, who was recalled from Syracuse a few weeks ago. Connolly was originally recalled for reasons that were never exactly made clear, and nothing has been said about a return date. That date, of course, is now further complicated by Stamkos' absence.
Connolly has been playing center for the Lightning in the place of missing Stamkos.
In addition to these missing players, the Crunch is also feeling the pain of the injury bug within their own club. Defenseman Matt Taormina was waylaid by an upper body injury more than two weeks ago and has yet to return. His status is unknown. Defenseman Nikita Nesterov is also out with injury and did not play this past weekend. Energy forward Dana Tyrell was missing from Syracuse's lineup Saturday after hurting himself sometime between Friday's game and that second contest on Saturday.
It was obvious that the Crunch was mostly missing Korobov, Taormina and Nesterov on Friday night. The Crunch struggling mighty to contain the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, a team they had defeated only a week and a half beforehand. The Pens got off to a quick start, scoring three goals that went unanswered during the first period. It was almost halfway into the second period before the Crunch managed to get on the board thanks to Vladislav Namestnikov.
Although Crunch players Evan Rankin and Danick Gauthier would attempt to make a game of it with their own goals, the Crunch just wouldn't be able to get out of the hole their defense dug them. Syracuse lost that game 5-3. Out of all of the Crunch's defensemen, only Artem Sergeev and J.P. Cote ended the night with a positive plus/minus (+2 and +3, respectively). ECHL call up Charles Landry ended the night at a (well deserved) -3.
After the game, Crunch defenseman Luke Witkowski told Syracuse broadcaster Dan D'Uva that the coaching staff made it quite clear to some of the players that their game Friday was unacceptable. Witkowski said that they called out a few guys specifically, although he declined to say who. One can hope that part of the coach's anger was aimed at those who left Crunch goaltender Riku Helenius, who saw his first start since October 19, with both hands tied behind his back most of the night.
Saturday night was a slightly improved effort from the team as a whole, but gaps in the Crunch's roster were still very evident in their shootout loss to the Albany Devils. Although they manged 30 shots on goal through regulation and the overtime period, the Crunch only found the back of the net once. They had plenty of chances and were granted five power plays, but still couldn't seem to put much of anything together. Thankfully, goaltender Cedrick Desjardins was on his game, only letting in one goal for the 34 shots he faced through four periods of hockey.
Nikita Kucherov scored for the Crunch, which would eventually force a shootout between the two teams.
Desjardins was almost perfect during the shootout, stopping all but one of Albany's attempts. Unfortunately, that one goal would prove to be the decision maker as none of Syracuse's shooters managed to score during the extra skills competition. Tanner Richard, Nikita Kucherov, Cedric Paquette, Namestnikov, and Gauthier were all foiled by Albany goaltender Keith Kinkaid. This was the Crunch's first shootout loss of the season.
Syracuse takes on the Hamilton Bulldogs this week at Belll Centre in Montreal. When the Crunch played the Bulldogs at the Bell Centre last season, they won 4-1. The Crunch and the Bulldogs will then travel back to Syracuse for a tilt at the Crunch's War Memorial Saturday.
Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:
Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 9-4-1-1
Place in the conference standings (top 8 make the playoffs): Fifth
Place in division standings: Third
Top scorer: Nikita Kucherov, 13-11-24
Top scoring defenseman: Matt Taormina 2-8-10
Top defenseman, +/-: Dmitry Korobov, +7
Top rookie: Nikita Kucherov, 13-11-24
Home Game attendance: 11/15: 5,112; 11/16: 5,091
Other Syracuse Crunch Player notes/transactions:
-Carl Nielsen (RW) was recalled from Florida of the ECHL to Syracuse. Saturday was the first regular season AHL game for Nielsen, who played in two games with the Crunch last year.
-Defenseman Jordan Henry was signed to a PTO with Syracuse. Previously, Henry had spent parts of five seasons with several different AHL clubs, including the Rochester Americans, the Abbotsford Heat and the Oklahoma City Barons. Henry had been with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL. He was a -1 in Saturday's contest and had 2 penalty minutes.
-Namestnikov saw his 13-game scoring streak come to an end Saturday. Namestnikov had netted a point in every game since October 12, but the "Ov" line breakup of Namestnikov-Brown(ov)-Kucherov has definitely affected the streamlined play of the Crunch's first line.
-Surprisingly, ECHL call up Gauthier has stepped into Brown's role and has excelled in his AHL game.Since being added on November 1, Gauthier has 2 goals and 2 assists in 6 games with Syracuse. Gauthier played in 38 games last season with the Crunch and scored 5 goals and had 5 assists.