The Syracuse Crunch played 11 games during the month of December. Their record for that time period was 2-7-0-2. They earned six out of a possible 22 points. They dug quite the hole for themselves during that span. They fell to the bottom of the East Division, and slid almost to the basement of the Eastern Conference.
Thankfully, the digging out process appears to have begun.
In five games so far this January, Syracuse has gone 3-0-1-1. They have earned 8 points out of a possible 10. The Crunch has convincingly beaten teams at the top of a division (Toronto, #1 in the North, a 6-3 win) and forced tough opponents in their own division to over time (Binghamton, #1 in the East, a 6-5 OT loss for the Crunch). Syracuse's schedule has not been kind, but yet the team has prevailed and come away with some big, big points.
This theme of tough teams continued for the second week in a row in week 16. Wednesday night, Syracuse played Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (WBS), a team that's fourth in the Eastern Conference and second in the Crunch's East Division. Syracuse has played the WBS Penguins six times so far this year. WBS has come away as the better team in four of those meetings.
This past Wednesday, however, Syracuse had their number. The Crunch was up 4-0 by the middle of the second. Vladislav Namestnikov, Jon DiSalvatore, Brett Connolly, and Cedric Paquette all found the back of the net before WBS eventually responded later in the second period. Crunch goalie Kristers Gudleviskis, recently named to Latvia's Olympic team, would only allow one more goal in the third. He faced 26 total shots and stopped 24 of them, insuring that Syracuse's lead was never lost.
Connolly's game in particular was focused and confident that night. Although one game obviously isn't enough to tilt the selection process, it showed some of the reasons why he was selected this past week to represent Syracuse at the 2014 AHL All Star game. Not only did Connolly score a goal Wednesday, he also had two assists. He extended his point-streak, during which he he amassed 16 total points, to eight games. It was his third multi-point game during that streak. Those eight games also saw him score the game-winner four different times.
Friday night, Syracuse faced the first game in a home-and-home series against the Providence. It was the Crunch's first visit to the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence since Syracuse swept the Bruins in the first round of the 2013 Calder Cup playoffs. Providence is second in the Atlantic Division and is now sixth in the Eastern Conference.
The game proved to be all about the goalies. Gudleviskis and Bruins' goalie Niklas Svedberg faced 21 shots each through regulation. Neither goalie let a puck in. Overtime didn't solve the game, either, so onto the shootout it went. Connolly and Evan Rankin scored for the Crunch, but Providence would get one goal more. So, even though Gudleviskis shut out the Bruins, the Crunch lost the game 1-0.
The loss was a rather painful pill for the team to swallow, but luckily they had another shot at the Bruins Saturday night where the Crunch took to the War Memorial ice for the first time since December 28th. The team looked a little different than the last time the home crowd had seen them. Back was Namestnikov, who was still injured the last time the team played at home. Also back for the first time since last season was P.C. Labrie, a player the fans warmly welcomed with a standing ovation when his name was announced during the opening line up. With Cedrick Desjardins still up in Tampa Bay, Riku Helenius also made a return to the War Memorial, this time as back up for Gudleviskis.
Syracuse clearly wanted to send an early message that things would go differently than they had one game previous, and they succeeded. Cedric Paquette scored just 42 seconds into the game to put the Crunch ahead by one. The goal was the quickest the Crunch has scored this year. That single goal would stand up through three periods of hockey as the game winner. Gudleviskis stopped all 27 shots from the Bruins, earning back-to-back shutouts for the first time in his professional career. The win would give the Crunch points in five consecutive games, tying a season high.
The Crunch's penalty kill, which was rather shaky last week, turned out big performances during the weekend-long series. Friday night, Syracuse's PK killed off all four of Providence's power plays. Saturday, they killed off two, including one four-minute penalty to DiSalvatore for high sticking. That penalty kill, which stretched from the end of the second to the beginning minutes of the third, may have saved the game.
The Crunch gets a bit of a break this week in terms of the road schedule. They have no weekday games, which is a change from the past two weeks. They play at home Friday and Saturday. However, with that break comes a challenge: they will be facing two different divisional opponents and are in desperate need of four divisional points. Syracuse is up against Hershey on Friday and Binghamton on Saturday. Hershey is currently tied with the Crunch for 4th place in the East Division. Binghamton leads the East and is third in the Eastern Conference.
Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:
Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 16-14-2-4
Place in the conference standings (top 8 make the playoffs): Eleventh, same as last week, although by points Syracuse is tied with Hershey for 10th place. Hershey currently holds the tie breaker.
Place in division standings: Fifth, same as last week, although by points Syracuse is tied with Hershey for 4th place. Hershey currently holds the tie breaker.
- Top scorer: Vladislav Namestnikov, 11-14-25. This is the first time all season that Nikita Kucherov has been surpassed as the team's top scorer.
Top scoring defenseman: Dmitry Korobov, 0-14-14
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, 11-13-24
Other Syracuse Crunch Player notes/transactions:
-Charles Landry (D) was returned to Florida of the ECHL.
-Jordan Henry (D) was signed to an AHL/SPC contract.
-Danick Gauthier (LW) was returned to Florida of the ECHL.
-Gudleviskis' back-to-back shutouts is a rarity in the organization for rookie goaltenders. The last time a Crunch rookie goaltender recorded back-to-back shutouts was during the Columbus affiliation. Dan LaCosta earned two shutouts over two games, Feb. 2 and 3, 2007.