One of the initial issues many fans had with Syracuse Crunch head coach Rob Zettler was the way his team always seemed to falter whenever a roster move had been made. Players come and go in the American Hockey League constantly, and a coach in the AHL needs to be savvy enough to know how to make adjustments work. For the majority of Zettler's beginning tenure with the Crunch, it just didn't seem like the team was following whatever game plan he was putting down when changes happened. Granted, it was difficult to tell whether the breakdowns were coming from the coaching side or the player side, but the disconnect was too large to ignore.
Well, whichever side needed to make an adjustment has apparently made it, because nothing seems to stop the Crunch now.
As of early Sunday night, the Syracuse Crunch has the best record in the entire AHL. Their 29-11-7-0 record is good for 65 points. Right behind them in the Eastern Conference is the Manchester Monarchs, with 64 points. Over in the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Barons also have 64 points. The Barons played Sunday night; the Monarchs did not.
So, pending the outcome of that Barons' game, the Crunch might still be on top of the league when this story goes live, a feat that is really pretty remarkable give the past month. Syracuse quite literally clawed their way up to the top through plenty of adversity. Defensive and goalie call ups have ravaged the team on that end, with Nikita Nesterov, Luke Witkowski, and Andrei Vasilevskiy all in Tampa Bay for the foreseeable future, while major injures to the Crunch's forward squad has weakened Syracuse's scoring side. Forward Mike Blunden is done for the season due to knee surgery, and Jonathan Marchessault is out for at least another week with an undisclosed lower body injury.
Despite all of this, Syracuse has a 6-2-2-0 record in their last 10 games. Although the Crunch's scoring has wilted, the team still managed to push through to a 1-0-2-0 record this past week, earning three out of six points, which was just good enough to be crowned the AHL king (for however long it lasts).
More good news should be coming down the pike for Syracuse, as things should start becoming a little easier for the Crunch. Thanks to some smart acquisitions by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Syracuse has a new first line of Vladislav Namestnikov, Carter Ashton, and Nicolas Deschamps. Ashton was re-acquired this past week by the organization, along with ECHL/AHL forward David Broll. Deschamps is paying his second visit to the Salt City, as he played 111 games with the Crunch when Syracuse was affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks.
On the defensive side, defenseman Artem Sergeev is back with Syracuse after starting the season with the ECHL's Florida Everblades. Last season, Sergeev totaled 10 points (3g, 7a) in 68 games with the Crunch, but ended the season with a team-low -11 +/-. Sergeev was muscled out of the Crunch's initial 2014-2015 roster by guys like Nesterov, Slater Koekkoek, Dylan Blujus, and Jake Dotchin. Sergeev's return will be positive for the Crunch if he can show that he isn't still a liability on the blue line.
Goalie Allen York was solid in his season debut for the Crunch Saturday night, stopping 34 of the Springfield Falcon's 36 shots through regulation and overtime. Both York and Kristers Gudlevskis have looked confident and strong in net, win or lose, something that will only help the Crunch excel down the stretch.
The Crunch plays at Adirondack Tuesday before bringing their game down to Norfolk, Virginia for one final time this weekend. The Crunch and the Admirals, who have had a spirited rivalry ever since they switched parent clubs three seasons ago, won't be facing each other ever again in regular season play. The Admirals will be moving to San Diego, California next season, while the ECHL will be relocating the Bakersfield Condors to Norfolk.