Scoring was, by far, the one thing that wasn't supposed to be a problem this year for the Syracuse Crunch. With Jonathan Marchessault clearing waivers, and Matthew Peca, Yanni Gourde, Adam Erne, and veterans Jeff Tambellini and Mike Blunden around, most people thought that, for the first time in two seasons, the Crunch would be fairly consistent up front. Assisting with that was supposed to guys like forward Philippe Paradis, who was looking good last season until an injury sidelined him, and offensive defensemen like Anthony DeAngelo and Slater Koekkoek. Blueliner Matt Taormina had 37 points with Worcester last season, and was also figured in as someone who could bring additional scoring potential to Syracuse with his second go-around with the organization.
Unfortunately, any kind of scoring consistency is escaping the Crunch at the moment, something that isn't exactly comforting three weeks into the AHL season.
The Crunch has now dropped the last three games they have played. During those losses, they were outscored by a 13-5 margin. They were shutout by the Comets last night in Utica. Peca (two goals), Paradis, Marchessault, and Dylan Blujus were the players who scored those goals over those three games. The rest of the Crunch was silent on the scoring front during the past week, including, perhaps most disturbingly, Yanni Gourde.
Gourde was second on the Crunch in scoring last year with 29 goals and 57 points, but he has had only one assist in five games so far this season. However, he was slow to start last season, too, netting only one assist during the entire month of October. But, given that this is the start of Gourde's second full season with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, it was expected that he'd be picking up where he left off in April, not starting off where he was last October.
Due to the depth in Syracuse, Gourde's position has shifted around - he's no longer on the first line where he was for basically all of last season. However, a talented, speedy playmaker like Gourde, a guy who can see the ice like he can, shouldn't be 14th on the Crunch in scoring right now, especially given the way the team is struggling.
Unfortunately, Syracuse's problems are projected to get worse, not better, if the players who suit up every night don't decide to step up soon. It was announced yesterday afternoon that Erne, who was projected to play his first full season in the AHL with the strong possibility of a call up at some point, is out for at least a month with an upper body injury. The injury was sustained during Friday night's loss in Syracuse versus the Hartford WolfPack, and Erne is expected to miss at least four weeks (but could miss up to five or six). Rumors are that he broke his hand, but, regardless of what it is, the setback is certainly a hard one to swallow for both the young rookie and for Syracuse.
Sadly, a Crunch team struggling early on in the season and being unable to adjust due to roster holes isn't exactly a new story line. The same thing happened last season, with the Crunch faltering and sputtering through October and November before finally finding a groove in December (thanks, in part, to the return of forward Vladislav Namestnikov). The season before saw the same slow start occur and then continue, although that situation was made worse by a much, much weaker roster than the one currently on paper in Syracuse. It's concerning to see the slow start trend continue now, especially considering the fact that the Crunch has so much talent up front. Syracuse also has a lot of talent on their blue line, with strong, defensively-minded guys like Luke Witkowski continuing to work their tails off every night, so to see such a large scoring gap over three games is definitely frustrating.
Most know by now that the goaltending situation in the organization is expected to change this week. Kristers Gudlevskis is in Tampa, so Allen York is in Syracuse. Kevin Poulin is on waivers, and it's expected that Andrei Vasilevskiy will be making a conditioning stint appearance with the Crunch at some point this week. Hopefully things will stabilize in this area soon, although the waters are still unclear as to what is going to happen next.
Goalie Adam Wilcox performed admirably Friday night. He made several heart-dropping stops and did his best to keep his team in the game. Most felt that the score would have been much higher if it wasn't for him. York stopped 22 of the 26 shots his faced Saturday night in Utica. If Poulin clears, York, who is on an AHL contract with Syracuse, will be returned to the ECHL. Tampa then might end up keeping three goalies in Syracuse - Poulin, Vasilevskiy/Gudlevskis, and Wilcox - for a little bit. Or, Wilcox could be loaned somewhere to ensure that he gets minutes and isn't just sitting behind two other goalies. Poulin could also be loaned or traded. Logjams in the net rarely work out in the AHL, where the focus is on development and playing time, so chances are something will happen sooner rather than later (if it has to - Poulin might be claimed).
In the middle of all of this is the fact that the Crunch has a busy week ahead of them, so there's just no rest for the weary. Syracuse will play in Rochester today (Sunday) before heading to Toronto on Wednesday. They will then be back in Syracuse on Friday for a game against the Hershey Bears.