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Crunch Preview: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton comes to town for some pre-Christmas hockey

Syracuse looks to start another winning streak as they host the Penguins in the last game before the break.

Scott Thomas Photography

After a lengthy two-week road trip, the Syracuse Crunch (16-8-2) return home and welcome in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (15-12-3-1) in their final game before the holiday break. A win in Allentown snapped their two-game losing streak and allowed them to finish the road trip with a respectable 3-2 record. This is the first of two meetings with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL affiliate.

The Crunch are looking to build on a lot of the positives that they had against the Phantoms on Friday night. They played a much better, much cleaner game then the one on Wednesday that they lost to the Springfield Thunderbirds. The passing was much crisper, albeit there were still a few missed passes, including one that directly to the Phantoms second goal.

The turnover by Cal Foote and Nolan Valleau had Coach Ben Groulx do something that he hasn’t done since Valleau was called up from Orlando: He switched up the defensive pairs. Prior to the game, he had remarked on how well the Foote/Valleau pairing had been playing and praised the rookie for the way his game was progressing.

However, he saw something he didn’t like in the game against Lehigh Valley and split them up in the third period. Foote saw some time with both Cameron Gaunce and Hubert Labrie, while Gaunce also paired up with Valleau. While Groulx is almost constantly tinkering with his forwards as he searches for the right pairing, he’s left the defensive pairings alone for the most part, usually changing them only when he goes to an 11/7 line-up. With no practice sessions due to the back-to-back, it will be interesting to see what pairings he has tonight.

The Crunch will most likely be starting Eddie Pasquale in net against the Penguins. The big question will be who will be backing him up? The AHL transaction page shows that Martin Ouellette was recalled, but no official announcement (Crunch confirmed the callup via Twitter) has been made as of the time of publication. That could indicate that whatever injury Connor Ingram suffered at the end of Friday night’s game may be a bit more serious than hoped for. Ouellette did play in the Solar Bears win over the Florida Everblades on Friday, stopping 25 of 28 shots in the win.

For the Penguins, it most likely will be Tristan Jarry in net. The fourth-year netminder is 7-5-2 this season with a 2.67 GAA and .914 SV%. He also has more goals scored than defensemen Will O’Neill and Chris Summers combined thanks to this:

The consistent scoring for the Penguins has come from Teddy Blueger (10 goals and 12 assists) as well as rookie Sam Lafferty (5 goals and 16 assists). The sixteen helpers is tied for third among rookies so far this season.

Syracuse will look to get their suddenly struggling (although still top-ranked) power play going against a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton squad that has struggled to kill penalties. Entering tonight’s game, only the Binghamton Devils have done worse than the Penguins 76.3% success rate. With the Crunch converting 31.8% of their power plays at home, that number could get worse for the Penguins. It could be a good chance for veterans Cory Conacher and Gabriel Dumont to get back on the scoresheet. Both forwards had strong games against the Phantoms despite being held pointless. Conacher fired five shots at the net while Dumont had three, plus a big screen in front of the goaltender on Cameron Gaunce’s goal.

Previous Game:

The Crunch beat the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in a shootout, 3-2. Goals came via Cameron Gaunce and Ross Colton while Connor Ingram stopped 40 of 42 shots. Ingram finished the game favoring his left leg after a goalmouth scramble late in the third period.

The Penguins lost via a 3-2 score as they gave up 3 power play goals to the Hershey Bears on Friday night. Jean-Sebastien Dea and Teddy Blueger had the tallies for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton while Anthony Peters stopped 30 of 33 shots in the loss.

Projected Lines (This is based on how they started in their last game. Chances are it will be somewhat similar tonight)

Forwards

Alex Volkov - Andy Andreoff - Cory Conacher

Carter Verhaeghe - Gabriel Dumont - Taylor Raddysh

Troy Bourke - Ross Colton - Alex Barre-Boulet

Boris Katchouk - Otto Somppi - Dennis Yan

Defense

Dominik Masin - Cameron Gaunce

Nolan Valleau - Cal Foote

Hubert Labrie - Ben Thomas

Goaltender

Eddie Pasquale