Long story short: Recording a podcast just wasn’t going to work this week, so we had to get creative. Brandon and I have done this once before, and we thought it worked pretty well. You, dear reader, will just have to imagine our dulcet tones in your ears. Look for an actual podcast recording of the CrunchCast in two weeks!
Alex: Well, I guess we should just get the painful part out of the way - The Syracuse Crunch is 2-4-1-0 to start the season, 6th in the North Division. So that’s...a thing that’s happened.
Brandon: Well... it certainly hasn’t been an ideal start to the new year. The good news though is that even though the Crunch split the weekend, I thought they looked a million times better than they did the weekend before. That probably isn’t saying much because of how bad they have been to this point but it’s encouraging at least.
Alex: I thought we looked better Saturday. Friday had me incredibly worried, especially after that first period. While they picked up the pace after the initial embarrassment of the first four minutes, I still wasn’t exactly encouraged.
Brandon: It was a rough first four minutes for the Crunch defense and ultimately the blame came down on Michael Leighton who was pulled for the rookie, Conor Ingram. I think that as a whole, even though things got better as the weekend progressed... there was still a lot of bad hockey to be seen. I agree completely.
Alex: I heard some rumblings after Leighton got pulled Friday that he was hurt somehow during practice last week, and that it involved a rather large amount of blood. So I wonder if pulling him was two-fold: Not only to wake the guys up, but also to make sure that he was doing okay. Either way, that first 20 minutes was rough, and a 2-0 hole was the result. But, then, thankfully, the team came out with a bit more jump in the second.
Brandon: And wasn’t it great that the “jump” you spoke of was sparked by Michael Bournival? With all of the uncertainty heading into this year as far as his health goes, it was awesome to see him get that first goal and put the Crunch on the board. With such a young team, Bournival is going to have to be a key piece on the roster if Syracuse wants to compete.
One penalty. Two shorties. pic.twitter.com/XclH9mI8sc— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) October 21, 2017
Alex: I agree completely about Bournival. I was very worried when he was out for so long, especially since the ailment or problem wasn’t being revealed. I was only a little bit more reassured when the Lightning said it wasn’t concussion-related. Regardless of what it was, he’s pretty much shown that he is going to be one of the vets stepping up next to Cory Conacher and Tye McGinn.
Brandon: And while the veterans are going to have to be good in order for the Crunch to be able to compete, some of the young guns are going to have to step up and increase their workload. One guy in particular that has impressed me to this point was the player that scored the only other Crunch goal on Friday: Erik Cernak. It’s only a matter of time before guys like Anthony Cirelli, Alexander Volkov, and Mathieu Joseph (how snake bitten is this poor kid?) find the net. In the meantime, Cernak, a defenseman, has filled the void. I’ve been super impressed with his play.
Alex: I agree completely there, too. Cernak has been one of the best surprises so far this season. He uses his size effectively but has surprising bursts of speed, too. Usually you don’t get to say that about guys who are 6’3” and 221 pounds.
Brandon: With those two quick tallies in the second period coming shorthanded, the Crunch now have just as many goals on their PK as they have on their power play. So, an impressive showing of resiliency from the boys in blue but there is still a lot of work to be done. 2-for-43 on the man-advantage is not going to get it done. Overall consensus from Friday night: the guys battled, Ingram looked sharp in relief, and the PK looked stellar. Still not enough to take two points from another division opponent.
Alex: Oh, God, are we really 2-for-43 on the power play? I mean, I knew it wasn’t great, but Lord. Okay. So, awkward transition here, after that rough game we moved onto a game versus Springfield, who was - and still is - one of the few teams in the conference worse than us. As of writing this, they are 1-6. So, they come into the barn Saturday night, and I think I can speak for us all when I say that Crunch fans really weren’t sure what Syracuse team they were going to be seeing.
Brandon: And what we saw was a group of veteran players take control of the game and put it away early. Jason Akeson notched his first goal of the season, Tye McGinn found the net, and Bournival added two more of his own. For the first time this season, for me at least, it didn’t ever feel like the opposing team had a chance. It was a nice change of pace and an outing that the team and the fans needed badly.
Alex: It was really great to Akeson net his first goal for us. He’s another one that’s been a pleasant surprise, although those who pay more attention than I to other teams might not have been so shocked. Akeson is currently on a PTO with us, and he’s played in 402 (!!!!!!!!!) AHL games. Man. Where was I when this guy was on the ice with his other teams, and how is he only just on a PTO with us?
Brandon: I don’t have any numbers, but I know that Akeson has been a Crunch killer in the past with Rochester, Binghamton, and Lehigh Valley, just to name a few of the teams he has suited up for. He’s a guy I've been clamoring for over the past few off seasons, and he has finally made it to Syracuse. He’s a proven scorer in this league and even though he is currently only on a tryout deal, I’d be shocked if an AHL contract isn’t offered to him when his 25 games are up.
Alex: I hope so, especially since there are certain players out there right now who just aren’t showing up. I’ve already gotten myself into enough trouble at the moment so I don’t want to name names, but I’m sure most of you can figure out which ones I’m talking about.
Brandon: Two of the names that jump off the page to me at the moment are Matthew Peca and Adam Erne. I believe Adam had two assists on Saturday but neither he or Peca have been able to score their first goal of the season. I don’t think it’s from a lack of trying, but those are two guys that should be lighting it up at this point of their career at this level.
Alex: One of those two I absolutely have major issues with. The other I really think continues to be stonewalled by his size and the sheer physicality of this league. I will say that the latter player was put on a line with Conacher and McGinn Saturday after the shakeup from Friday. I’m hopeful that putting him with two more physical players - but also two talented players - will encourage him along, even if it just opens more ice space for him. I can appreciate Ben Groulx’s willingness to shake things up when things aren’t going well. Doing that was certainly one of Rob Zettler’s struggles.
Brandon: Coach Groulx went as far as shaking things up between the pipes as well. I mean, did anybody expect Conor Ingram to be playing in back-to-back games in October?
Alex: No, I certainly didn’t. And to be fair, that’s nothing against Leighton. I honestly wonder if the team suspected he wasn’t at 100% last weekend. But either way, it is definitely encouraging to see him excelling so quickly at this level (a shout-out to Crunch goalie coach Karl Goehring is required here, of course, so getting that out of the way now). Since we never know what could happen, it’s good to see him coming into his confidence and his groove like this.
Brandon: I just knew the Goehring shout-out was coming. It was just a matter of when. You’re 100 percent right though. This is not to knock Leighton’s ability in the slightest but I have no problem watching a battle for the number one spot in net this season. I don’t think we are at that point quite yet, but a couple more solid weekends of play from the rookie and we could have something fun on our hands.
Alex: I really want to go off on a tangent here and talk about how glad I am that the Tampa Bay Lightning let goalie Kirsters Gudlevskis go and let him find his confidence again - he’s currently 2-1-0 for the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers - but I won’t. I’m still really confident in the Leighton/Ingram pairing. But now I must ask: We face an incredible test Friday night with the red-hot Toronto Marlies coming into town. Who starts?
Brandon: I guess it depends on the status of Leighton and how he is feeling if he is actually a bit shaken up from something. I haven’t heard anything so I assume he is good to go. It’s a coin flip really. Do you ride the wave with Ingram or do you give the established veteran a chance to redeem himself against the number one team in the North Division? I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer for Ben Groulx here.
Alex: As long as he’s fine, which I’d assume by now that he is, I’d lean a little towards Leighton.
Brandon: No matter who is in goal, the defense is going to have to be better and the Crunch scorers are going to have to show up ready to play. A big test looms for this young team. Win or lose, I think it will be very telling of how the team is progressing in the early going. It should be fun as always!
Alex: I did want to address one quick thing before we go - no, that thing, I promise, the other thing. I made a few offhand comments on Twitter Friday night about our warm up habits. I just wanted to say how nice it was to see things change Saturday. I don’t think there’s any harm in presenting a prepared, united, energized front right from the start of the night, something I just hadn’t witnessed us doing so far at home this season. The War Memorial is our ice. We should act like it at all times, and I appreciate the players who made the effort to do so.
Brandon: And with all of that being said, I want to thank you all for reading and making it this far. I know we have said that the podcast will become a regular thing again and we promise it will soon. Sometimes life happens and we appreciate you all for understanding.
Alex: Ditto! Please leave any comments and/or questions down below. I know I’m not the greatest at checking back, but I promise I will this time.