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Crunch Preview: A red-hot Syracuse team takes on the Springfield Thunderbirds

The Crunch look to make it five in a row as Slater Koekkoek returns to Syracuse.

Slater winner winner chicken dinner

A very confident Syracuse Crunch team (19-8-2) welcomes a slumping Springfield Thunderbirds (15-11-2-3) into the Onondaga County War Memorial Arena on Saturday night. Syracuse is coming off a 10-1 thrashing of the Utica Comets and are riding a four-game winning streak. Meanwhile the Thunderbirds, the last team to beat the Crunch, haven’t won since their 3-2 victory back on December 19th.

After such a dominating victory Friday night, the test for the Crunch will be to bring the same intensity that produced those ten goals against the Comets. Most of the goals they scored last night came from outworking Utica’s players. Carter Verhaeghe’s second goal came from Gabriel Dumont forcing a bad pass and then Verhaeghe stealing a puck along the boards. Troy Bourke’s goal came from him outracing a defender to beat icing. Dennis Yan’s goal came from his linemates cycling the puck and winning one-on-one battles.

The goals also came from being responsible in the defensive zone. The forwards did an excellent job of dropping back and defending on the few times Utica was able to get the puck into the Syracuse zone. They backchecked and broke up passes, allowing them to set up the quick transition through the neutral zone that kept the Comets on their heels. That style of play is a hallmark of a team coached by Ben Groulx, but it isn’t easy to play.

The Crunch have to resist the urge of trying to switch to offense too quickly. The forwards can’t bust out of the zone too early, limiting the options the defense has to pass the puck out. Cal Foote’s goal from last night is the perfect example. Focus on the very beginning of this clip:

When Foote gets the pass, Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk are still in the defensive zone. Foote is able to quickly move the pass to Raddysh while Katchouk slows a bit so he is still in position for Raddysh to pass him the puck as he crosses center ice. If Katchouk had just skated through the zone, without waiting, that pass is a lot harder to make, or Raddysh is forced to carry it into the zone himself which cuts off part of the ice.

Syracuse has to stay responsible. This game is exhibit one in the argument that playing sound defense leads to good offense. The Crunch have the speed and talent to beat any team through the neutral zone, they just have to be diligent enough in their own zone to start the play. If they emulate that against the Thunderbirds it could be another big night for the home team.

As for the Thunderbirds, they’ve dropped their last three outings all by one goal. Utica beat them 2-1, Providence won by a 5-4 score and on Friday night Bridgeport took them down 4-2 on a third period goal.

Samuel Montembeault started the last game for Springfield, so the Crunch were likely to face veteran netminder Michael Hutchinson Saturday. However, Hutchinson was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs organization Saturday morning. The former Winnipeg Jets goaltender had appeared in eight games for the Thunderbirds, posting a 2-3-2 record with a 3.33 GAA and .906 SV%.

Montembeault is 11-6-2-1 in 20 games played. He has a 2.83 GAA and a 0.908 SV% with Springfield. Unless he’s feeling particularly fatigued, the Thunderbirds will now probably put him against Syracuse’s offense. The other goalie on roster for the Thunderbirds is Chris Driedger. Driedger has played in six games for Springfield this season, going 2-2-0-1 with a 3.28 GAA and a 0.901 SV%. He started the season with the Manchester Monarchs of the ECHL.

The Thunderbirds are still without their top scorer as Jayce Hawryluk is with the Panthers in the NHL. Dryden Hunt has picked up the pace with four goals in his last four games, including two against the Crunch in Springfield’s 3-2 victory on December 19th. Winger Joel Lowry is riding a three-game point streak as well.

Staying out of the penalty box would be wise for the Crunch as Springfield is clicking at 25% (14 for 56) with the man-advantage on the road. They only kill off 75% of the penalties (42 of 56) while away from home ice, so it might be a chance for Syracuse to get their power play going again. The Crunch did score a power play goal against Utica and looked really good on one of their other chances, but it still hasn’t returned to the lethalness that was on display during their run in November.

Previous Game:

The Crunch toppled the Utica Comets 10-1 behind Taylor Raddysh’s five assists and another two-goal outing from Cal Foote. Eddie Pasquale stopped 31 of 32 shots as Syracuse won their fourth game in a row.

Springfield lost their third game in a row as Bridgeport topped them 4-3 on a third period goal from Otto Koivula. Joel Lowry, Thomas Schemitsch and Dryden Hunt had the goals for the Thunderbirds while Samuel Montembeault stopped 19 of 23 shots in the loss.

Possible Lines for the Crunch:

Forwards

Boris Katchouk - Andy Andreoff - Cory Conacher

Carter Verhaeghe - Gabriel Dumont - Taylor Raddysh

Alex Volkov - Ross Colton - Alex Barre-Boulet

Olivier Archambault - Troy Bourke - Dennis Yan

Defense

Cameron Gaunce - Cal Foote

Dominik Masin - Nolan Valleau

Hubert Labrie - Ben Thomas

Slater Koekkoek

Goaltender

Eddie Pasquale

Archambault made his first appearance since December 15th and picked up an assist on Troy Bourke’s goal. Otto Somppi was scratched with no word of an injury, so it could be Coach Groulx giving the rookie a rest after a long stretch of games. The defense was mixed up a bit and the combinations looked pretty good as they chipped in three more goals.

There will be a new/old face in Syracuse tonight as Slater Koekkoek was loaned to the Crunch on a conditioning stint. Best guess is that Valleau or Hubert Labrie sits if Koekkoek gets into the line-up. Coach Groulx may go with an 11/7 rotation, but my money would be on Valleau getting a night off.