After a rough few games, the Syracuse Crunch righted their ship a little and brought their brief losing streak to an end. They won two out of three games this week and remain on the heels of the the Rochester Americans in the race for the top of the North Division. A three-game losing streak for the Amerks means their lead has dwindled to just two points over the Crunch, with Syracuse having three games in hand.
The Crunch have a pretty competitive schedule ahead over the next month so it could be a struggle to make up that ground. Adding to the degree of difficulty is the fact that they will be without 9-game winner Connor Ingram and his league-leading 4 shutouts for the foreseeable future as he recovers from a lower body injury.
They wouldn’t be the Crunch if they did it the easy way, now would they?
By their standards this season the Crunch had a relatively healthy week, which is saying something since they lost one of their number one goalies for possibly three weeks. In Friday’s contest, Ingram went down after a scramble in his goalmouth. He made a reflexive save right after, but was flexing his left leg for the rest of the game. He stayed in and struggled through the rest of regulation, overtime, and the shootout. On Saturday Coach Groulx announced Ingram would be sidelined for the near future.
Coming and Going
The shuttle between Orlando and Syracuse was quite empty this week as the recall of goaltender Martin Ouellette was the only transaction to take place. It’s the second time he’s made the journey to upstate New York this season, having spent almost a month with the Crunch during the Andrei Vasilevskiy injury.
The only difference this time is that he may actually get in a game. Syracuse has a total of nine games scheduled, including three back-to-backs, during the time that Ingram is expected to miss. It wouldn’t be beyond Ben Groulx to have Eddie Pasquale start all nine games, but that’s a bit much even for a veteran netminder who is used to playing a lot.
The contest against the Toronto Marlies on January 5th, which would be about midway through Ingram’s expected absence, may be a game to watch to see if Ouellette gets his first start in the AHL since the 2016-17 season when he was with Lehigh Valley.
Wednesday, December 19th at Springfield Thunderbirds: 3-2 Loss
Friday, December 21st at Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 3-2 (SO) Victory
Saturday, December 22nd vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins: 4-3 OT Victory
Thoughts on the Games
The Power(less) Play
It’s a testament to how overwhelmingly dominant their power play was earlier in the season that the Crunch could go 1 for 11 against the Penguins and still have the league’s top-ranked power play. The gap between them and the Texas Stars may have narrowed a bit (27.1% to 26.6%), but they are still number one.
It wasn’t just the game against the Penguins, though. The Crunch have struggled for most of December with the man-advantage, converting only 5 of 32 chances (15.6%). What’s been the main problem? Well, there really hasn’t been one. Some nights it’s an inability to get the puck in the zone and keep it there. Some nights it’s being careless with the puck and too many turnovers. Sometimes it’s just bad luck and good goaltending.
That last was the case against the Penguins. For long stretches the Crunch kept the puck in the zone on the power play. They moved the puck with speed and clarity. They shot the puck. The only problem was that Tristan Jarry was up to the task. They also hit goal posts on four different power plays, so an inch here or there and they could have been 4 for 11 instead of 1 for 11.
As long as they keep getting chances, they have too much talent to scuffle along much longer. When they do break through, expect the power play goals to come in bunches like they were earlier in the season when it was almost a given that you would be digging the puck out of the back of your net if you made the mistake of taking a penalty against the Crunch.
Scoring Drought for the Vets
Early in the season, the veterans on the Crunch were carrying the team as the rookies acclimated to the pace of play in the American Hockey League. Lately, it’s been the youngsters footing the bulk of the scoring load as the vets have hit a bit of a goal slump.
Andy Andreoff is goalless in his last five games. Gabriel Dumont hasn’t found the back of the net in six games. Alex Volkov has one goal in his last thirteen contests. Carter Verhaeghe snapped a six game goalless streak of his own with his overtime goal on Saturday, Even November’s AHL player of the month Cory Conacher only has two goals in December, none coming since the seventh of the month.
Scoring for the Crunch overall has dipped a bit, not that they could sustain the pace they set in November. They’ve only scored 11 goals over their last 4 games, well down from their season average. The good news is that it shouldn’t last for too long, there is just too much talent on their lines.
In the meantime the rookies like Alex Barre-Boulet, Taylor Raddysh and Ross Colton are scoring the timely goals and keeping the Crunch on their winning ways.
Players of the Week
Ross Colton (3 Games, 2 Goals, 1 Assist)
Both of Colton’s goals this week came in the third period and both brought the Crunch back level with their opponents. His goal against Lehigh Valley came just 11 seconds after the Phantoms had taken the lead. Coach Groulx’s willingness to throw the rookie on the ice in important situations shows his trust in the centerman. His defensive play early in the season had been a pleasant surprise, and if he adds an offensive element to his game he could be yet another mid-round (4th round pick in 2016) steal for the Lightning.
Carter Verhaeghe (3 Games, 1 Goal, 2 Assists, 1 Shootout Goal)
There are times when Verhaeghe is far and away the best player on the ice. Saturday’s game against the Penguins was one of those. He was seemingly all over the ice, especially in the offensive zone. He had six shots on that found their way on net and two more that hit off of the posts. He finally got a bit of a break in overtime when his shot deflected off a defender and past Tristan Jarry for the overtime goal.
It’s another three-game week for the Crunch after the holiday break. They start on the road for their 500th match-up this season against Binghamton before returning home for two games at the War Memorial Arena.
Wednesday, December 26th at Binghamton Devils, 7:05pm
Friday, December 28th vs. Utica Comets
Saturday, December 29th vs. Springfield Thunderbirds