Hockey is known as one of the most team-oriented sports out there. Although there are certainly teams with a superstar or two who can score a point a night, those guys don't mean squat if their team's netminders let beach balls into the net. In general, most hockey teams have to have a balance of ingredients in order for things to run smoothly.
No where is this more true than with the Syracuse Crunch.
What's interesting about the teams the Lightning affiliation has built in Syracuse is that each season seems to be formed by different atmospheres in the dressing room. During the first year of the affiliation, the Crunch's roster was built around a group of guys who had formed a true brotherhood during their Calder Cup run the previous season. The NHL lockout then helped to cement that air of thick-and-thin family in Syracuse, which set the team up nicely for the Crunch's own run to the Calder Cup finals that year. Confidence was huge with that group; if the Crunch scored first in a game, for instance, then they would most certainly win that game more often than not.
Last season, the Crunch certainly struggled with a young team ravaged by NHL call ups and their own injuries. Character was eventually formed during that season, certainly, and that character was only strengthened by late-season additions like Jonathan Marchessault and Yanni Gourde. However, to say that there was a winning atmosphere in Syracuse last season, or even an air of any kind of confidence, would be mostly untrue. Desperation formed that group, and team captain Mike Angelidis was often alone in leading any kind of charge for much of the season.
This season, the Crunch's success has been mostly marked by one single thing: contributions from almost everyone on the roster. Although the team's top line of Marchessault, Gourde, and Vladislav Namestnikov has been tearing up the AHL as of late, Syracuse has also needed everyone on the roster to participate in order to generate wins. When this happens, the team finds success. When this doesn't happen, the team fails dismally.
No where was this more evident than during this past week. Wednesday night, at the Rochester Americans, defenseman Slater Koekkoek got the Crunch off right by scoring at the 7:58 mark of the first period. But after his tally--his second of the season-the rest of the team disappeared. Rochester was allowed to put up four consecutive goals. The Crunch's forward unit was held scoreless. The team's power play went 0-for-8, the worst night yet this season for Syracuse's man advantage. Rochester skated off with the victory, handing the Crunch its third loss in a row.
Friday night, Crunch fans held their breath as Syracuse struggled again in the scoring department against Northeast Division rival Albany. Syracuse's shot output seemed to be at an all-time low--the Crunch managed just five shots on goal in the 1st, nine in the 2nd, and six in the 3rd against the Devils. Namestnikov, who tied with Angelidis for the team high with 4 shots each over the course of the game, was the only Crunch player to find the back of the twine through three periods of regulation and the seven-minute overtime period. Thankfully, recently-named AHL Goaltender of the Month Andrei Vasilevskiy did his part, only allowing one Albany goal in 36 total shots. The Crunch and the Devils would need a 10-round shootout before recent ECHL-call up Kevin Lynch put the game away with the only tally--for both teams!--of the shootout.
Vasilevskiy's performance was ridiculously strong, but it was a little concerning that Lynch was the only Crunch player who managed to score during the skills competition. However, contributions from a player like Lynch are exactly what the Crunch needs to keep rolling. Again, their success really does seem to depend on more contributions than just those in the top-two lines. The game snapped the team's three-game losing streak and helped to stabilize them in the standings again.
Saturday night, the Crunch was looking for another victory over conference rivals Binghamton. Going into Saturday, the Crunch had a 2-1 lead on the Senators in the season series between the two teams. The Crunch got off strong, with three goals in a row, one from Cody Kunyk and two from Mike Blunden. Both of Blunden's goals were power play markers. However, Syracuse then got back on their heels a little--okay, maybe a lot--and allowed the B-Sens to score four goals in a row. It would take some last-minute heroics and a hat trick from Blunden to even the score. Then, as the overtime period ticked down, Marchessault scored his ninth goal of the season with less than 20 seconds left in the extra hockey frame.
Marchessault's tally Saturday night was his first game-winning-goal of the season. The Crunch's five tallies were assisted by Joey Mormina, Eric Neilson, Marchessault, and Namestnikov. The Crunch needed everyone, from defensemen to 4th line forward, to be on their game. Although the hole it dug itself is concerning, the Crunch never would have dug themselves out of it if the whole team wasn't ready to pitch back in and contribute.
The theme here is to keep that kind of attitude going. The Crunch can go far if they keep that goal in mind.