The Syracuse Crunch kick off their final stretch of games before the holiday break by journeying to Springfield, Massachusetts to take on the Thunderbirds at 7:05pm. For the Crunch, this is the fourth game on their five-game road trip that wraps up in Lehigh Valley on Friday. It should be a good contest as the Thunderbirds are currently third in the Atlantic Division with a 14-8-2-3 record. The Crunch’s 15-7-2 record has them sitting in third in the North.
This is the second meeting between the two teams as Syracuse skated to a 4-0 shutout against the Thunderbirds on November 24th. Connor Ingram made 27 stops while Alex Barre-Boulet, Andy Andreoff and Michael Bournival collected goals. The win continued the Crunch’s recent run of success against the Thunderbirds as they are 3-0 against them over the past two seasons. Syracuse is also 3-0 at the MassMutual Arena against this current version of Springfield (the Thunderbirds were the Portland Pirates until the 2016-17 season when they relocated to Springfield to replace the Springfield Falcons who moved to Tucson to become the Roadrunners, got it?)
The Crunch will be looking to rebound off of their first shutout lost of the season as they were blanked by Etienne Marcoux and the Laval Rocket on Sunday. The loss snapped the Crunch’s three-game road winning streak. Losing to the last place Rocket isn’t ideal, but the Crunch should be happy with the road trip so far as they have picked up four out of six points and thrashed the Toronto Marlies 8-1 a week ago (yes, it’s petty, but beating Toronto at any level is always fun).
It’s always a guess as to who will be between the pipes for Syracuse, but it most likely will be Eddie Pasquale. The veteran netminder has been strong in his two appearances since his short stint in Tampa, winning two games and allowing only 3 goals on 52 shots. On the season his record stands at 7-2-2 with a 2.69 GAA and .907 SV%.
The forward lines should be pretty similar to what they were against Laval as the Crunch is as healthy as they will be for the next couple of weeks. Brady Brassart is still a question mark in regards to his health, but Bournival and Mitchell Stephens remain out for the foreseeable future. The injuries have given Otto Somppi a chance to play regularly and the rookie has taken advantage, scoring in his regular season debut against Toronto and adding a shootout goal against Laval on Friday.
A competition is brewing for playing time among the bottom-six forward positions and will only get more intense when Stephens, Bournival and Brassart return to the line-up. Somppi, Troy Bourke, Ross Colton, Brassart, Dennis Yan, Olivier Archambault, Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk are all in the mix and their aren’t spots for all of them. So far, injuries have allowed all of them playing time, but that can’t last forever (right, the injury bug has to go away at some point doesn’t it?)
Springfield will be a tough challenge for the Crunch as they boast a 10-2-2 record at home. Their power play is 28.2% on home ice and they kill 81.4% of their times shorthanded. The first number is the important one as it will test Syracuse’s dominant road penalty kill unit. They have been shorthanded 59 times on the road and have allowed only 5 goals for a gaudy 91.5%. Fifty-nine penalties is a bit much, but the fact that they have been so stingy at getting beat shorthanded may be their most impressive number of the season so far.
Playing in the Crunch’s favor is the fact that the Thunderbirds will be without two of their leading scorers. Jayce Hawryluk (7 goals, 21 assists) and rookie Henrik Borgstrom (5 goals, 17 assists) were recalled to the Florida Panthers on December 15th. They do get Anthony Greco (14 goals, 11 assists) back on loan so it’s not like all of their offense is gone.
Samuel Montembeault will most likely be between the pipes for the Thunderbirds. He has had a strong season posting a 10-4-2 record with a 2.77 GAA and .912 save percentage in his second year with Springfield. He’s sandwiched two spectacular starts (41/42 stops against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and 28/29 against Hershey) around a clunker (20/24 against Bridgeport).
Possible Syracuse Lines (These hold almost zero stock in Ben Groulx’s universe)
Carter Verhaeghe- Gabriel Dumont - Alex Barre-Boulet
Alex Volkov - Andy Andreoff - Cory Conacher
Boris Katchouk - Ross Colton - Taylor Raddysh
Olivier Archambault - Otto Somppi - Dennis Yan
Dominik Masin - Cameron Gaunce
Nolan Valleau - Cal Foote
Hubert Labrie - Ben Thomas