Two teams in the Syracuse Crunch's Eastern Conference have already punched their playoff ticket: the Manchester Monarchs and the Hershey Bears. Manchester is first in the conference, with with 93 points. Hershey is in second with 91. Directly behind them is the Syracuse Crunch, in third, who has 88 points.
Syracuse has yet to clinch a playoff berth. Their magic number was down to 5 as of Sunday morning, even after they were shutout by the Rochester Americans Saturday night 2-0. A week that saw Syracuse earn four out of six points - or six out of eight if you go back to last Sunday - was good enough for that.
However, the Crunch's roster took two huge hits today when the Tampa Bay Lightning reportedly recalled forward Jonathan Marchessault and defenseman Luke Witkowski. Although nothing has yet come from either team, it's expected that the recalls will be made official first thing in the morning.
Marchessault currently leads the Syracuse Crunch in points, with 57 on the season (21 goals and 36 assists). He has consistently been a part of Syracuse's top line, regardless of the changes in personnel, and is a huge part of the team's ability to win games. Witkowski has been an integral member of the Crunch's penalty kill unit, and has been taking a lot of shifts since his return from Tampa Bay.
To be frank, the Crunch's depth isn't looking all that great. In fact, in comparison to Manchester and Hershey, it's downright dismal.
Manchester's current leading player in points, forward Brian O'Neill, has 71 points. Hershey's leading scoring, center Tim Kennedy, has 57. In Syracuse, Yanni Gourde now takes over from Marchessault and has 52.
In second in points in Manchester is Jordan Weal, with 62 points. In Hershey, it's Casey Wellman, with 51. In Syracuse, it's underdog Mike Angelidis...with 37 points.
62. 51. 37.
That is no knock to Captain Angelidis. That much needs to be made clear. Angelidis is having one of the best seasons of his career with less games than he's used to playing. He is the heart and soul of this team. But when your scoring depth ends with a guy in his 9th AHL season, one might think a team has a slight problem.
But, wait. It gets better.
In third in scoring in Manchester is defenseman Colin Miller, with 46 points. In Hershey, it's left wing Chris Conner with 49 points. In Syracuse, it's Tanner Richard, who is currently tied with Angelidis' 37 points.
From there, the Crunch's point totals drop to Joel Vermin's 29, and fall off pretty quickly after that into the teens. Manchester and Hershey don't hit those kinds of totals until four or five players later down the score sheet.
In fourth place in the Eastern Conference at this moment is the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Their top five scorers combine for a points average of 38.2. The Hartford Wolf Pack is in 5th place, and is directly behind Syracuse in the Northeast Division. Their top five points average is 43.
The Crunch's top five, not counting Marchessault, is currently at 35.8. Even teams below them in the Conference seem to have the edge in scoring power over Syracuse.
Crunch fans have been concerned about the team's depth all season. Many of those concerns have fallen on deaf ears, the ears of people who point to the standings and can't fathom a problem. In fact, it wasn't that long ago that Crunch fans were worried about even making the playoffs. And it wasn't that long before that when fans were concerned about a team that seemed to be performing well below their potential, a team that couldn't shift or change their focus once a game started to go south.
Yes, the Crunch is two and a half wins away from a playoff berth as of right now, and there's no one more thrilled about it than the person writing this. But looking at the challenge ahead realistically, it's just hard to believe that the Crunch will survive the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs. It just is. Even with Crunch goalie Kristers Gudlevskis playing some of his best hockey yet, the Crunch can't win games without someone putting the puck in the net.
Yes, this team has been beating the odds all season. One can - and will - hope that they continue to do so. But with more NHL recalls to come the longer Tampa's season lasts, it's almost impossible to believe that the Crunch's thin depth will weather the storm.