clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Crunch Corner: Two more games, two more losses

At least Taylor Raddysh scored twice.

Scott Thomas Photography

Two losses.

Two more injured players.

Not the best week for the Syracuse Crunch.

All in all, Syracuse drops to the bottom of the standings and the season continues to mirror last season. The coaching staff is continue to preach that it’s a long season, but the reality is that the team needs to find their game before it gets away from them.

The Standings

The American Hockey League

The Injuries

Gabriel Dumont is officially out four to six weeks, as noted on Friday. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only key player that ended up missing time. Both Erik Cernak and Mitchell Stephens left Saturday’s game against the Checkers in the second period.

Stephens appeared to suffer a right arm injury when he was pinned between Cal Foote and Charlotte’s Dan Renouf. Cernak’s injury wasn’t as obvious, but at some point during the period he injured his right leg. Syracuse’s radio broadcast mentioned that he was seen with an ice pack on his leg during the period and that he tried to test his leg a couple of times before the period ended. On his last shift before departing the game, Cernak did take a hit along the boards as he was carrying the puck out of the zone, but didn’t appear to be in immediate pain.

For an already battered roster, those are two more huge losses to absorb. The blueline was already thinned out a bit when Cameron Gaunce was recalled, and now they are down to just five healthy bodies. If Cernak’s injury is long term, look for a PTO signing or a player called up from Orlando.

Stephens injury means that the top two centers on the roster are hurt. On Monday General Manager Julien BriseBois confirmed that Stephens is out for about six weeks with an upper body injury.

The Crunch are a little better situated on the offensive side, especially with Dennis Yan returning from his suspension, but this still could mean more playing time for the younger players then Coach Groulx wants at this point in the season.

Roster Moves

After an influx of forwards last week, the Crunch saw their ranks thin out a bit. Newly acquired Mitch Hults was loaned to Orlando while Dennis Yan served a two-game suspension for his hit to the head of Utica’s Reid Boucher last Saturday. It wasn’t a malicious hit. Boucher had just recovered a loose puck and was turning up ice as Yan ran into him with his shoulder. Utica’s leading scorer never saw the hit coming and Yan just happened to catch him up high.

As stated already, prior to Saturday’s game against the Charlotte Checkers, Gaunce was called up to Tampa as a warm body due to the injury suffered by Victor Hedman. Gaunce’s promotion breaks up the top pairing for Syracuse, as he had partnered with Cernak for the bulk of the minutes on the Crunch’s defense. As expected, Dominik Masin stepped into the role vacated by Gaunce and paired with Cernak for the first period and a half. Once Cernak left with an injury, Cal Foote moved up to play with Masin as the Crunch scrambled to fill the hole.

The Games

Friday at Toronto Marlies - 1-4 loss (Box Score) (Highlights)

Saturday vs Charlotte Checkers - 3-6 loss (Box Score) (Highlights)

There really isn’t any reason to delve into the details of the two match-ups. Both games followed similar patterns:

  1. They play well early but give up the first goal.
  2. Defensive mishaps end up in the back of the net.
  3. They score on the power play and they give up goals short-handed.
  4. Despite seemingly even play they lose the game by multiple goals.

Here are the recaps from the Crunch for the game against Toronto and the game against Charlotte if you do want to pour over the sordid details. Instead, lets focus on the few good moments - the four goals they actually scored this weekend.

Taylor Raddysh Goal #1

Mitchell Stephens and Raddysh combined to turn Jeff Glass’ mistake into a goal. The Toronto netminder hesitated on playing the puck behind the net and turned it over. Stephens got control and fed it to Raddysh in front of the net, and the rookie banged it home.

Taylor Raddysh Goal #2

Nice job by all three players that touched the puck on this play. Alex Volkov outskated a Checkers player to beat out icing. He then held off the check and passed it back to Stephens who was open behind the net. Raddysh got in front of the net and presented a nice target for Stephens. The pass was on the money and the rookie ripped it past the goaltender.

Erik Cernak

Cernak has played a lot of minutes this year but hadn’t found the back of the net until Saturday night. He did a good job of moving the puck around to create some space. Then he just lined it up and blasted it from the point. It trickled through Alex Nedelijkovic’s legs and over the line before Alex Barre-Boulet could tap it home.

Sometimes the best plays are the simple ones.

Ross Colton

The rookie picked up his first goal thanks to some sloppy play by the Checkers. Carter Verhaeghe forced the defender to turn the puck over and it trickled to the front of the net where Colton roofed it over Nedelijkovic. It was a heck of a shot to get under the crossbar with Nedelijkovic out in front of the crease.

Thoughts on the Games

Who are the Crunch?

Syracuse’s season is now seven games old. They rest in the cellar of the standings with a 2-5 record and 4 points. Granted, they have 2 games in hand on most of the other teams in the North Division, but with the way they are playing that may not matter. Right now, they are the horse you bet on that just didn’t leave the starting gate with the rest of the thoroughbreds.

Bottom line: this team hasn’t yet formed an identity. Whether it’s the injuries to veterans, the massive rehaul of the defense, the fact that two of their better players spent the majority of the preseason with Tampa, or the influx of rookies for the second consecutive year, they just don’t seem to know who they are as a group.

They certainly aren’t the relentless forechecking team from last year. There are breakdowns in the system on a nightly basis and opposing players are wide open in dangerous shooting zones or zooming in on the goaltenders on odd-man rushes. There are stretches of games when they seem to have it figured out, but then everything breaks down and they give up a goal or two in a short period of time and they are once again chasing the game.

Granted, all of this did happen on occasion last year, but the goaltenders were able to bail them out. While Connor Ingram and Eddie Pasquale have played okay so far, they haven’t had the game-turning saves that they had last season. Yes, they have been hung out to dry way too often by their teammates, but if they can make an extra save or two a game, it might change things around.

It would also help if the Crunch could score first from time to time. They have scored first in only one game so far this season (a game they won!) and have often fallen behind by multiple goals early. They are getting outscored 10 goals to 5 in the first period and 11 goals to 6 in the second. They just aren’t in the games early.

The good news is that the season is still early enough that luck can play a little bit of a role in how the games turn out. In all three of their homes games, Crunch shooters have rung a puck off the iron early in the matches. If any of those went in, the flow of the game could have been different. The difference between being up by a goal five minutes into a game and being down a goal is tremendous. Having to chase the score for an entire game is exhausting.

That being said, the Crunch haven’t seized the opportunity when they have had their chances. Against Charlotte, the game was tied at two with five minutes having been played. Syracuse basically had back-to-back power plays and weren’t able to convert. Shortly after the second power play expired Carter Verhaeghe had a glorious chance at an open net but couldn’t elevate the puck and it was snuffed out by Nedelijkovic. Two minutes later, Julien Gautier scores and the Checkers go on to win.

That scenario has played out time and time again this season. Once they’re behind they just haven’t been able to come back. Usually when a team is in this kind of funk, it takes a couple of lucky bounces to turn it around, but to get those bounces the Crunch have to start putting pressure on the other team.

Not only is the season is long, but some of those injured vets should be coming back in the next couple of weeks. Inserting Olivier Archambault or Michael Bournival into the line-up should give it a much needed boost. Hopefully, the team isn’t too far behind in the standings by the time it happens.

Home Ice Blues

The Crunch have played three games at the newly renovated Oncenter War Memorial Arena. They have lost all three games. Not only that, they haven’t held a lead at any point in those games. That’s not very good. Special teams have not been good at all. Their penalty kill is at a palty 63% while their power play is at 14%.

Their 5-v-5 play hasn’t been horrible at home (or on the road for that matter), but the special teams play has been killing them. When that happens in a home arena the effects seem to be enhanced. Constantly failing with the man advantage does take the crowd out of the game. Players past and present always talk about how loud the War Memorial can get when the team is cruising along. While there isn’t a measurable stat on how that affects a team, playing in front of a quiet crowd doesn’t help.

Four of their next five games are at home. Hopefully, getting into a routine in Syracuse can help them turn it around and get the season rolling in the right direction.

Players of the Week

Taylor Raddysh - 2 games played, 2 goals

The rookie was scratched for a couple of games last week and was reinserted after all of the roster churn this week. He made the most of it by scoring goals in each of the games he played. Not only was he scoring, but he was having an impact whenever he was on the ice. If he can find the scoring touch he displayed in juniors then it would be a big help for the Crunch.

Alex Volkov - 2 games played, 1 assist

It hasn’t been the easiest year for the big Russian. He had another strong training camp with the Lightning but ended up as one of the last cuts. He started on a top line with the Crunch but was demoted to the fourth line and kicked off the power play. Volkov has worked his way back up in the line-up and continue to display the skills that make him a valued prospect.

He may be the best puck handler on the team right now outside of Alex Barre-Boulet and is sneaky quick. He outraced an icing call to set up Raddysh’s power play goal against Charlotte. He does over-handle the puck from time to time and takes the occasional bad penalty, but he was one of the better players on the ice on another bad weekend for the Crunch.

Upcoming Games

Friday November 2nd vs. Belleville Senators 7:00pm

Saturday November 3rd vs. Belleville Senators 7:00pm

What is this, baseball? Two games in two nights in the same arena against the same team. It doesn’t happen all that often in hockey, but should make for an interesting weekend. Old friend Mike McKenna is one of the Senators’ goaltenders and should see at least one start against his former team. McKenna backstopped the Crunch during their run to the Calder Cup Finals in 2016-17, posting a .927 save percentage in 22 playoff games.

Hopefully the Crunch can put aside the injuries and lackluster play that has marked the beginning of this season and pick up their first home win against the Senators. The Crunch are currently 0-3 on home ice and have yet to even have a lead in a game in front of their faithful fans. Their first win at home last season was against Belleville, so maybe history will repeat itself.

Here’s a picture of a kid in a dinosaur costume with Boris Katchouk. Enjoy.

Scott Thomas Photography