Including this past Saturday's game, the Syracuse Crunch has lost their home opener four times since the 2005-2006 AHL season. It isn't usual for any Crunch team, regardless of NHL affiliation, to come out flat in front of the home crowd at the start of the regular AHL season. However, that's pretty much what happened this past weekend as Syracuse faced off against two new divisional rivals and mostly looked unprepared, scattered, and lacking energy. Thankfully, there was some bright spots in the team's performance from the weekend as a whole, but almost all of them came against the Hartford Wolfpack Sunday night.
First, though, came Saturday night. The Crunch faced the Springfield Falcons and just did not look very good. The members of the team seemed visibly disconnected from each other. No where was this more evident than when Kristers Gudlevskis was supposed to head to the bench for an extra attacker, but yet seemed to be unaware he was heading there. The guys in Crunch uniforms had to practically bring the house down with noise from their sticks on the boards to get him to notice what he needed to do. Also of concern was that the Crunch handed the Falcons seven power play chances, which exhausted their penalty killers and never really gave Syracuse a chance to build momentum. The Crunch racked up 58 penalty minutes, as opposed to Springfield's 34.
Adding to the oddness of Saturday night was some strange roster choices made by head coach Rob Zettler. He chose to healthy scratch rising defensive star Slater Koekkoek prior to the game. He also healthy scratched center Cody Kunyk, who logged NHL time with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season. Both of them played Sunday night. However, on another odd roster note, energy spark and locker room leader Eric Neilson has yet to play a regular season game in a Crunch jersey.
Mike Blunden scored Syracuse's lone goal against the Falcons Saturday. It was assisted by Luke Witkowski and Nikita Nesterov. Gudlevskis faced 23 shots and allowed three goals (one empty net).
Although it was bad, Saturday night did seem to serve one positive purpose, however: it appeared to be a wake up call to the Blue Machine that the AHL regular season had started, practically without them, and that they had better get their stuff together.
The team looked like they were more on the same page Sunday, and were able to gain their first standings point of the season by pushing the Wolfpack to OT. However, the Crunch really only have themselves to blame for only getting a single point out of the night. Syracuse had the lead not once, not twice, but three different times throughout the duration of the contest, and they allowed Hartford to catch back up every single time and tie the game. The Crunch was more disciplined as a whole, and put up 10 more shots on goal than they had managed the night before (32 to 22), but they still couldn't close out the game to get the win.
Cedric Paquette scored twice and Tanner Richard netted his first of the season, while goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy faced 27 total shots. Five of those shots were during the OT frame. Vasilevskiy allowed four goals total, including the one in OT. The Wolfpack featured former Crunch netminder Cedrick Desjardins, who made his first return to the War Memorial since being let go by the Lightning over the summer. Desjardins looked fairly solid, allowing three goals, though the Crunch made his job a bit easier during the OT frame by backing off the gas and only managing one shot on net.
Of note is that Crunch fans got their first look at the AHL's new OT rules. The league approved several new rules for the start of the 2014-2015 AHL season. Among them was a revamped look for overtime, changes that were clearly made in an effort to reduce the number of regular season games going to a shootout. OT was changed from a five minute period to a seven minute period. OT used to feature 4-on-4 play, but now it features approximately three minutes of 4-on-4 followed by approximately four minutes of 3-on-3. The actual league rule states the following:
Rule 85 ("Overtime")
During the regular season, the sudden-death overtime period will be seven minutes (7:00) in length, preceded by a "dry scrape" of the entire ice surface.
Teams will change ends at the start of overtime.
Full playing strength will be 4-on-4 until the first whistle following three minutes of play (4:00 remaining), at which time full strength will be reduced to 3-on-3 for the duration of the overtime period.
If the game is still tied following overtime, a winner will be determined by a three-player shootout.
In the Crunch's case, the first stoppage of play with around 4 minutres remaining came at the 3:12 mark of OT, so that was when play went to 3-on-3. It was during the ensuing back-and-forth with the puck that Hartford scored to end the game.
Syracuse will be at home all this weekend, as well. They place Springfield again on Friday before facing conference rival Binghamton on Saturday.
- Forward Jeff Costello was reassigned to the Florida Everblades on Monday