Just like that, the holiday break was over. The Syracuse Crunch (17-8-2) return to the ice as they head back on the road to take on the Binghamton Devils (14-16-3) for the 345th time this season (it’s actually just the fifth time, it just seems like more). The good news is that the Crunch have defeated the Devils all five times they’ve faced each other and have scored twenty goals in those contests.
Of even more welcome news, the Crunch’s special teams has absolutely dominated the season series. Their power play has converted nine out of 24 times for a 37.5% success rate, while they have killed off 93.1% (27 out of 29) of the penalties against them. Those are pretty good numbers and, if the trend continues, it should help correct the slight wobble experienced by their power play in the games leading up to the break.
Speaking of the break, it really wasn’t that much of a disruption to the Crunch’s routine. Other than the lack of practices that could be scheduled, the break lined up with a lot of their normal weeks this season - play a game on Saturday and then return again on Wednesday. The time off in this case may be beneficial, as the players were able to return home and relax a little from the day-to-day grind.
Eddie Pasquale will most likely be in net tonight as he begins what could be a heavy load of work over the next few weeks due to Connor Ingram’s injury. Pasquale has to looking forward to it, though, after not playing a lot in the beginning of the season. His playing time was sporadic due to the Crunch’s schedule, where they only had a couple of games a week, and then sitting in Tampa as the back-up. Pasquale has faced the Devils once this season and held them to two goals on twenty-six shots in a 5-2 Crunch victory on November 14th.
Carter Verhaeghe and Cory Conacher should also be chomping at the bit for the puck to drop in Binghamton tonight. The two veterans have been really, really effective against the Devils so far this season. Verhaeghe torched them for 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists), while Conacher has 9 points (4 goals, 5 assists) in 5 games against the Devils.
As for the Devils, they will be relying on John Quenneville, recently returned from on loan from the New Jersey Devils, and Blake Pietila to generate some offense, something they’ve struggled to do against Syracuse so far this season.
In net, the hoped for Eddie vs. Eddie match-up might not occur. Veteran Eddie Lack has been more of a back-up this season, appearing in only six game. Most of the goaltending has been done by Mackenzie Blackwood, the young prospect recently promoted to New Jersey in the wake of Cory Schneider’s injury. Rookie Cam Johnson has been getting the bulk of the playing time and is expected to be in net for the Devils tonight. Lack had made two previous starts against the Crunch and did not produce very good numbers, losing both games and posting a 4.59 GA with a .850 save percentage.
With the goaltending situation in a bit of flux, the Devils made a few roster movers prior to the game. They signed left-winger Nick Saracino and goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulos to PTOs. In sixteen games with the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL, Sakellaropoulos has posted a .914 SV% and a 2.66 GAA, pretty good numbers for that league. Saracino has been with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL this season and put up 37 points (17 goals, 20 assists) in 27 games. Expect him to be in the line-up to help kickstart the Devils’ offense, which is currently 21st in the league with only 93 goals.
The Crunch defeated the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 4-3 in overtime thanks to a goal from Carter Verhaeghe. Eddie Pasquale made 20 stops in a game that featured 18 power plays between the two teams.
Binghamton also won their final game before the holiday break as they took down the Utica Comets 4-3. John Edward had two goals, including the game winner, while Cam Johnson stopped 28 of 31 shots to pick up the win.
Possible Line Combinations for the Crunch
Boris Katchouk - Andy Andreoff - Cory Conacher
Carter Verhaeghe - Gabriel Dumont - Taylor Raddysh
Alex Volkov - Ross Colton - Alex Barre-Boulet
Troy Bourke - Otto Sompii - Dennis Yan
Dominik Masin - Cameron Gaunce
Nolan Valleau - Cal Foote
Hubert Labrie - Ben Thomas
Notes: These are the lines as the game started Saturday night. Coach Groulx is still looking for someone to step up and fill the wing position on the Andreoff line, so perhaps Volkov will get another shot at it. It also might be a night where he cycles in Archambault for Bourke or Yan. The defensive pairings have moved around during the last few games, with Gaunce double shifting with either Foote or Valleau.