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Crunch Corner: A long way to the top

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Crunch Corner is a weekly column that highlights the ups and downs that each week brings for the Syracuse Crunch.

Crunch rookie defenseman Erik Cernak put together a quality weekend on the ice by scoring his first professional goal Saturday against the Utica Comets.
Photo by Scott Thomas

The Syracuse Crunch took to the ice this past weekend to try and improve upon their messy start to the regular season a week prior. Unfortunately for the fans, the team, and the coaching staff, more questions may have been raised than were answered.

Weekend Scores

Day Home Away Boxscore Highlights
Day Home Away Boxscore Highlights
Friday October 13th Syracuse 4 Belleville Sens 2 https://theahl.com/stats/game-summary/1017155 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21De_ZenKnM
Saturday October 14th Syracuse 2 Utica 3 https://theahl.com/stats/game-summary/1017169 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elBGvrPHgkQ
Sunday October 15th WBS Penguins 6 Syracuse 1 https://theahl.com/stats/game-summary/1017174 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGUhGDJ0pvc

Weekly Assessments:

  • What worked?

The one facet of the Crunch’s approach that stood out to me this weekend was their dogged determination to force the opposing goaltender to work and make saves. On Friday and Saturday in particular, Syracuse ran into two stellar goaltenders in Andrew Hammond (Belleville) and Thatcher Demko (Utica). While beating either of those goaltenders with a straight-up shot is extremely difficult, getting the puck towards the net gives the big guys down low a chance to mix things up in the crease and look for rebound opportunities.

The Crunch have had a difficult time finding the back of the net in the first two weeks of the season, but the fact that they are shooting is an encouraging sign that goals will eventually start to come. In two out of three contests this weekend, Ben Groulx’s squad outshot the competition by a wide margin. The key is to stick with the game plan and not let the frustration of playing a few good goaltenders force you into trying to make the pretty play. Keep firing the biscuit towards the basket.

  • What needs work going forward?

I should have stressed up above that the Crunch are doing a great job putting the puck on goal almost exclusively in five-on-five situations. On the man-advantage? Yeah, not so much.

Syracuse struggled all weekend long to consistently establish any sustained pressure while on the power play. Opposing team’s were relentless on the forecheck, making it difficult for the Crunch to even get out of their own end at times. They tried the dump and chase method to no avail. They attempted the reliable neutral zone drop-pass to try and gain entry just to get the puck swatted away. It wasn't pretty.

When the Crunch were able to gain the zone and set up the man-advantage, it was ill-advised passes and turnovers that halted the momentum. The ‘Cuse are fourth worst in the league on the power play, having converted just two times in 34 attempts. Rest assured, however, that Ben Groulx doesn’t settle for mediocrity and the kinks will slowly begin to straighten out.

First star of the week:

Cory Conacher: 2 G, 2 A

Despite capturing only two out of the possible six points this week, there were still quite a few bright spots that made choosing the recipient of this “award” tricky. Still, no individual effort from the last three games comes close to that of the “honey badger,” Cory Conacher.

Conacher inked a one-way contract with the Lightning during the offseason with all indicators pointing towards him landing a roster spot in the NHL. It felt as if he had said his final goodbyes to the Salt City last spring after leading the Crunch back to the Calder Cup Finals. The veteran journeyman had vocalized that he enjoyed his time here but that he was ready to either play in the show, or head back overseas for a bigger payday.

Still, even though he was demoted back to the minors, he has kept his head held high and produced on a nightly basis. Five games into the new campaign, Conacher is a point-per-game player, leads the team in shots-on-goal with 17, and has shown no sign of complacency or frustration with his status as a pro hockey player. If it weren’t for Erik Condra, Cory Conacher would be a prime candidate to wear the ‘C’ on his chest.

Honorable mentions:

Erik Cernak - 1G

Dennis Yan - 2G

Looking ahead:

Friday October 20th vs Binghamton (2-0-1-0)

Saturday October 21st vs Springfield (0-4-0-0)