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Syracuse Crunch week four: A bump up in confidence

The Syracuse Crunch won both games goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was in net for this past week, which enabled them earn to five out of six possible points. Vasilevskiy's skills clearly affected the Crunch's confidence, boosting the team to the levels many feel they're capable of. The question is....can that continue?

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Scott Thomas

Sometimes all it takes for a team on the skids is just one confidence boost. In more extreme cases, that boost can come in the form of a trade, but often times it can be something much more simple. The right roster transaction at the right time can do wonders for a floundering team, especially if all that's needed is a reset in team confidence.

For a team in need of just that kind of reset, timing was on the Syracuse Crunch's side this past week. Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has been out after having surgery before the season started, returned to practice last week. He was then assigned to the Crunch for a brief conditioning stint to help him get back into the swing of things. Vasilevskiy backstopped Syracuse to two wins during his time with the Crunch, helping them to earn five out of a possible six points.

The consecutive victories stopped a four game losing streak that had dated back to October 18th. More importantly, it gave a wide variety of players on the team a chance to speak up, something that hadn't really happened yet this season. For a team as deep and talented as the Crunch are, a week like this past one could go a long way in helping the group gain more consistency as a unit.

The week started with a shootout loss to the Rochester Americans last Sunday, October 25th. The Crunch came from behind three different times to force overtime, but the extra frame wasn't enough. The Crunch couldn't score during the skills competition, and fell to the Amerks 4-3. Yanni Gourde, with his first of the season, Mike Blunden, and Anthony DeAngelo scored for Syracuse, while goalie Adam Wilcox stopped 38 of the 41 shots he faced through the overtime period. He was unable to prevent the Americans from scoring twice in the shootout, but the Crunch didn't help matters by not scoring at all.

Overall, the effort during that game was much more concentrated and energetic than the three previous games were, but there still seemed to be something missing. The players on the team were visibly frustrated after the game, taking little solace in their first earned point in four games.

This past Wednesday saw the Crunch visiting the Toronto Marlies. Vasilevskiy made the first start of his conditioning assignment, and after letting in a single early goal, he slammed the door shut completely. He stopped all 29 shots he faced after that. His performance allowed the Crunch to tie the game with Joel Vermin's first of the season and then pull ahead for good off of tallies from DeAngelo and Matt Taormina. Taormina's goal was also his first of the season. Six different Crunch players would earn assists on those three Crunch goals: Luke Witkowski (his second in as many games), Mike Angelidis, Tye McGinn, Henri IkonenJonathan Marchessault, and Jeff Tambellini.

Such a whole-group effort was exactly what fans in Syracuse have been looking for from this roster, and it was something they got to see in person this past Friday night. The Hershey Bears rolled into town, and, at first, looked to be in a great position to win the game. The Crunch's first period felt disconnected, with Vasilevskiy unable to stop another early goal less than three minutes into the first frame. However, just like Wednesday night, that early tally was just a bump in an otherwise impressive performance.

Over the course of the contest, Vasilevskiy stopped 27 more Hershey shots, making some incredible saves and allowing Syracuse to stay in the game. Taormina, DeAngelo (there's a pretty impressive pattern growing here with him, isn't there?), Tambellini, and Blunden all scored for the Crunch. Taormina also notched two assists over the course of the evening, while DeAngelo and Tambellini also put in multi-point performances with an assist each. The home crowd was energized by the performance, and the team was able to go on their unofficial Halloween break feeling good about the work they did.

Vasilevskiy has been recalled by the Lightning, while goalie Kristers Gudlevskis has been returned to Syracuse. Gudlevskis should be coming back to the Crunch in high spirits after an impressive spin with the big club. Although he only played in one game, a 1-0 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, Gudlevskis was the talk of the Lightning's dressing room afterwards. Players and coaches alike had a ton of praise for the netminder, who is looking at a rather crowded crease in Syracuse with rookie Wilcox and Kevin Poulin also vying for time.

The Crunch is off until this weekend, when they welcome the Albany Devils on Friday and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday to the Onondaga County War Memorial.

Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:

  • Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 4-3-0-1

  • Place in Eastern Conference: 7th

  • Place in North Division: 4th

  • Top scorer: Anthony DeAngelo (3-4-7)
  • Top scoring defenseman: Anthony DeAngelo (3-4-7)

  • Top defenseman, +/-: Matt Taormina (+3)

  • Top scoring rookie: Anthony DeAngelo (3-4-7)
A rundown of the AHL's new standings system can be found over at Syracuse.com.

Other transactions and player news:

-Tye McGinn has been recalled by the Lightning; Jonathan Marchessault has been returned to the Crunch.

Syracuse Crunch media highlights:

  • The Crunch's SoundCloud has been updated with broadcasts and player interviews from the past week.
  • A rundown of the Crunch's promotional schedule so far can be found on their website.
  • Be sure to use the hashtags #SyrCrunch, #BelieveInBlue, and #TampaCuse when tweeting about the team.
  • Video highlights from Syracuse's win over to Hersey Friday night: