One of the things that had marked the Tampa Bay-Syracuse affiliation for two years running was a strong pre-season performance by the Baby Bolts. Syracuse had won the Mary Brown Cup in Newfoundland for two years straight, winning the series against the St. John's IceCaps both years it was played. Although pre-season success proved to be 50/50 when predicting regular season success--Syracuse made the Calder Cup final in 2012-2013 but then went playoff-less last season--fans can't help but have their confidence levels raised just a little when a team does well during pre-season.
Unfortunately, Crunch fans aren't exactly feeling too confident at the moment, although it should go without saying that the time to panic is still a very, very tiny dot in the future (that may never actually materialize).
Syracuse won only one of their three exhibition matches this time around. All three contests took place in Lyon, France for the first time in Crunch history. Two of their games was against Eastern Conference rival Binghamton, while one game was versus the Lyon Hockey Club Lions of the Magnus League, the top tier in France. Binghamton played a different French team Saturday night while Syracuse played the Lions, so both teams played the same amount of games - two against each other and one against a team based in France.
Sadly, the only game Syracuse managed to win was the one that really didn't mean much. The Crunch beat the Lions 3-1. Mike Blunden, Jerome Samson and Joel Vermin scored for Syracuse, while goalies Andrei Vasilevskiy and Kristers Gudlevskis split time in net.
Syracuse did not find that same success against Binghamton, which is a little frustrating considering that the Crunch will see the Senators eight times during the AHL regular season. During their two games, the Crunch was outscored 11-3. In the first game, Syracuse saw goals from Cody Kunyk, Samson and Vermin, while Vasilevskiy played the whole game, giving up five goals. During the second game, Syracuse was held scoreless while Gudlevskis stayed in net for the duration of the contest and gave up six goals.
Ouch on all fronts, to be honest.
Of course, the Crunch is currently lacking one of the big things that made last season so unbearable. Syracuse did not have a reliable first line of scorers for the majority of the 2013-2014 season, and lacked one in France. A few players the club will look to for scoring remain with Tampa Bay and are awaiting final roster decisions and roster cuts. Those cuts are expected to come as early as Monday afternoon, so Crunch fans will soon find out which combination of Jonathan Marchessault, Vladislav Namestnikov, Cedric Paquette, Nikita Kucherov, Brett Connolly, and/or Richard Panik will be filling out Syracuse's roster.
Complicating that particular issue is the fact that Panik and Connolly require waivers while the rest of those forwards do not. This increases the chances of them staying with the Lightning while a player like Kucherov may find himself getting an undeserved demotion to the AHL. The idea of Kucherov being demoted (after a very strong exhibition season) would compare to what happened to Brett Connolly at this time last year.
There may be a short-term saving grace for any player on the NHL bubble, however, as first round draftee Jonathan Drouin might be starting the year on IR due to a fracture in his thumb. If that happens, Drouin would be eligible for a conditioning stint with Syracuse despite his age. So, a player who might have been squeezed out due to a lack of space may get an extended stay with Tampa while Drouin visits the Crunch for a bit.
However, being outscored 11-3, even in pre-season, could make the fans a little worried about more than just scoring. Defenseman Luke Witkowski is also still with the Lightning, but Syracuse's blue line was basically intact besides him. Gudlevskis and Vasilevskiy will be the goalie tandem in Syracuse. Without having much of a play-by-play narrative as to what happened during each of the games, it is just a little niggling worry that Syracuse fared so poorly in Lyon.
This is certainly no time to panic or lose sleep. Of the 25 players on the Crunch's pre-season roster, 15 appeared on the Crunch roster during the 2013-14 season, but some, like Vermin, only appeared in a few games. This is still a team getting to know each other, and it is still a young group that is waiting for the rest of its firepower to arrive.
Syracuse's regular season gets started on October 11th. The Crunch is beginning their season at home for the first time since 2005-06, and is getting off with a bang in their new division. Syracuse was put into the Northeast Division over the summer, and will play two new divisional rivals over the course of the weekend. The Crunch will see the Springfield Falcons on Saturday and the Hartford Wolfpack on Sunday.