Last week, the Syracuse Crunch won a game and donated a lot of stuffed animals to charity. It was a win for all involved, and made the holiday season a little brighter for Crunch fans and the children who will be receiving those bears. In contrast, this week, most Crunch fans are wishing that the holiday break had started immediately after that teddy-bear-toss game instead of this weekend.
Syracuse lost all three of their games this week, blowing leads in two of them and struggling to find offense in all of them. The Crunch is now on a slippery slope in the standings, holding down precarious ground at 10th in the Eastern Conference. The two teams behind them, Hershey and Portland, need just two points to shove Syracuse even closer to the absolute basement. They have 27 points, Syracuse has 28.
Just how far has Syracuse fallen? Six weeks ago, the Crunch was sitting pretty at the top of the East Division. They were second in their conference and had the best line in the AHL. Now, at fourth in the East Divsion, Syracuse is at .500 with a 12-12-1-3 record. There's a lot of blame to go around here, but, unfortunately, not a lot of solutions.
Crunch fans have charged Tampa with not making strong vet selections during the off season to make up for the loss of dressing room leaders like Mark Barberio and Radko Gudas. Tampa countered with the signing of Jon DiSalvatore this past week. DiSalvatore did get an assist Friday night. But then, in that same breath, the Lightning also signed veteran AHL defenseman JP Cote to an NHL contract, snatching him away from Syracuse in the hopes of addressing their own blue line weaknesses. This left a gaping hole in the Crunch's dressing room and on their penalty kill. That PK let in three goals in two contests this past weekend.
Fans have been concerned about the goaltending. In response, Tampa judged Kristers Gudlevskis ready for the AHL. They promoted him from the ECHL and shelved Crunch goalie Riku Helenius. But, that move hasn't exactly worked out, either. Since his second call up to the AHL this season, Gudlevskis is 1-3-0-1, while his counterpart, Cedrick Desjardins, is 0-2-0-1.
Perhaps the blame lies with the players' psyches. The coaches and members of the Crunch have said multiple times that the team is holding their collective sticks too tight. This might be true of games like the one played Saturday, where the Crunch only manged nine shots on goal through two periods and struggled mightily to sustain pressure in the other team's end. But what about Wednesday and Friday, when the Crunch blew leads and ultimately lost the game? Well...
Zettler on blowing leads recently: "We get up by two, and then we think we're a fancy team instead of grinding it out."— Jeremy Houghtaling (@JGHoughtaling) December 21, 2013
Syracuse doesn't have any snipers. Brett Connolly, while finally getting some good looks as of late, is no where near as consistent as the Crunch needs him to be. Cedric Paquette is about as close as the team gets, and he just can't carry the load all by himself. The return of Vladislav Namestnikov will hopefully help, but he can't be expected to do it alone.
Lots of questions, lots of frustration, but very little relief on the horizon.
Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:
Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 12-12-1-3
Place in the conference standings (top 8 make the playoffs): Tenth
Place in division standings: Fourth
Top scorer: Nikita Kucherov, 13-11-24
- Top scorer still active with the team: Cedric Paquette, 8-8-16
Top scoring defenseman: Dmitry Korobov, 0-12-12
Top defenseman, +/-: Jean-Philippe Cote, +6
- Top defenseman, +/-, still active with the team: Dmitry Korobov
Top rookie: Nikita Kucherov, 13-11-24
- Top rookie still active with the team: Cedric Paquette, 8-8-16
Other Syracuse Crunch Player notes/transactions:
- Philip-Michael Devos (C) was released from his PTO
- Dana Tyrell (LW) and Matt Taormina (D) was returned to Syracuse from Tampa Bay.
- Carl Nielsen (RW) was returned to Florida of the ECHL.
- Ray Kaunisto (LW) was released from his PTO.