Prior to Wednesday night’s game against the Springfield Thunderbirds, Syracuse Crunch head coach Ben Groulx said that the team’s mindset following their loss to Laval on Saturday was to “Turn the Page”. For the better part of two periods, the Crunch were able to do that. Unfortunately a poorly played second period put them behind and a late goal by Dryden Hunt doomed them to a 3-2 loss.
Eddie Pasquale was back in net and Coach Groulx only made one line-up change, inserting Troy Bourke for Olivier Archambault. It was obvious from early on what the Crunch’s game plan was: They wanted to dump the puck in and forecheck. This wasn’t going to be an uptempo, slick passing game. They wanted to grind it out, force turnovers and keep the Thunderbirds pinned in their own zone.
For the most part, it worked. Springfield had some chances, aided by two Syracuse penalties, but for the most part the Crunch held the edge in play. Midway through the period, their hard work would pay off thanks to a fantastic individual effort by Taylor Raddysh.
The rookie dug the puck out of a scrum following an offensive zone face-off. He faked a pass to the right point and then cut back to the left boards. With the help of a little pick from Gabriel Dumont he was able to create a little space as he circled in towards the net. Once Jake Horton stumbled, Raddysh had room to cut in front of the net and he stuffed the puck past goaltender Samuel Montembeault for his 10th goal of the season
The Crunch picked up some steam following the goal and pressed to increase the lead. Montembeault was sharp to deny Nolan Valleau, who stepped up to fire a loose puck at the net, and then the Springfield goaltender denied Bourke as he tried to get the rebound past him. Just a few minutes later, Montembeault had some help from his defense as Ian McCoshen dove across the ice to deny Ross Colton an opportunity at a wide-open net.
With just under six minutes to go in the period, things took a bit of a turn. The Crunch struggled to clear the puck a few times and Boris Katchouk ended up getting whistled for hooking. While the penalty was killed off without much trouble, some of the momentum the Crunch had built up seemed to seep away.
Intermission then came a little early. With 3:32 left to play in the first period. Josh Brown tried to check Bourke at center ice. He caught a bit of the Crunch forward, but ended up colliding with the glass. He hit it in such a way that the glass partition that separates the off-ice officials with the penalty box shattered. The refs decided that the cleanup would take a bit of time so they sent the teams to their respective locker rooms.
Following the early break the Thunderbirds came close to tying the game, but two nice plays by Cameron Gaunce kept them off the scoreboard. First he dove to poke the puck away from Paul Thompson just before the Springfield forward could break in alone on Pasquale. Immediately after Gaunce slid to block a shot from Dryden Hunt.
The horn sounded, the teams switched sides of the ice and resumed play, and things went downhill for the Crunch. It started well as Carter Verhaeghe drew a penalty, but after just a minute the Crunch were called for too many men on the ice and for the next 18 minutes they were out of sorts.
Pasquale tried to prevent the inevitable as he made a back-to-back saves, first on a rebound off of the end boards and then a sprawling no-look glove save during a scramble in front of the net. But with the way the Crunch were playing, it was only a matter of time until the game was tied.
When Springfield finally got on the scoreboard, it was more luck than skill. Bobby Farnham threw the puck across the crease blindly and it hit the skate of Horton, who wasn’t even facing the net, and it deflected past Pasquale.
Following the goal, a conga line formed on the ice and started dancing its way to the penalty box. From the 12:32 mark through the end of the period there was someone in either the Crunch or the Thunderbird penalty box. The only even strength play came four-on-four.
Springfield capitalized first on the power play as Hunt found some space at the left circle. He wristed a rather innocuous shot at the Syracuse net and Pasquale simply missed catching it. Unfortunately it ended up in the back of the net.
The Crunch came back eight minutes later to tie the game. After looking rather ineffective on their first two power plays, which ran their drought to nine straight opportunities without a goal (a season high), they finally struck paydirt when gifted a 5-on-3. Coach Groulx went for it, icing five forwards, a move that almost failed as Carter Verhaeghe lost an edge on the ensuing face-off which led to a breakaway.
Luckily the Thunderbirds did not convert and the puck was worked back into the zone. The Crunch moved the puck with a deliberateness that had been missing all game. Raddysh fed Cory Conacher between the circles, who then stepped in and fed it to Alex Barre-Boulet, who wasted no time in slinging it past a stretched out Montembault.
It was pretty.
That was the only pretty thing for the Crunch in the period as they continuously turned the puck over, took bad penalties, and were outworked by the Thunderbirds. Pasquale bailed them out on several occasions as he made four or five highlight reel saves. Springfield was also victimized by bouncing pucks on at least two other opportunities.
The Crunch were lucky to leave the period tied at two.
The good news is that, in the final frame, they returned to the style of play that was successful in the first period. The bad news was that they couldn’t put a puck past Montembeault, who made fourteen saves in the third period. Dennis Yan and Troy Bourke both had clear looks at the net that were shouldered aside by the goaltender.
Syracuse limited the turnovers and kept the pressure on for most of the period. Their only hiccup came with three-and-a-half minutes to play in the game. Valleau tried to swing a pass back behind the net to Ben Thomas, but it was too hard. It skittered around the boards and ended up just inside the blue line where Ludwig Bystrom fired it on net. Initially Pasquale had the puck, but it dropped behind him and rolled tantalizingly slow along the goal crease before Hunt slammed it into the back of the net.
The Crunch had a few chances as time ticked away, the closest being a bouncing puck that Barre-Boulet direct on net that beat Montembeault but not the post. Despite the extra attacker, Syracuse could not find the equalizer and they lost their second game in a row.
Raw Charge Three Stars:
3 Taylor Raddysh (1 goal, 4 shots)
2 Ludwig Bystrom (3 assists, great name)
1 Dryden Hunt (2 goals, 7 shots)