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Crunch Corner: A good weekend for the Crunch

Syracuse picks up five out of six points over the weekend

Scott Thomas Photography

The Syracuse Crunch had three games in three days this weekend and they made the most of it picking up five out of the possible six points. Their strong play moved them back into a virtual tie with Utica for third place in the North Division. After losing their first game of the weekend in a shootout they took the next two with the help of newly acquired goaltender Eddie Pasquale. The veteran stopped 49 of 53 shots in his two victories.

That was the good news. The bad news: Anthony Cirelli Sunday’s game injured and did not return after blocking a shot in the second period. The rookie has been a big part of the Crunch offense with 33 points (11 goals, 22 assists). With Matt Peca and Adam Erne in Tampa, Syracuse was relying on him to provide some scoring. Hopefully, he won’t be out for long.

Forward Kevin Lynch also left the game injured. Lynch, who had just recently returned from injury, is putting together one of the strongest seasons of his career and has been a consistent boost for the Crunch when healthy. He has 19 points in 40 games.

Standings (as of 2/11/18)

The Games:

Friday - Hartford Wolfpack 4, Syracuse 3 (SO)

Syracuse started the game short an important player as Reid McNeill served his one-game suspension for cross-checking a Utica Comet player a week earlier. They then found themselves down a goal after the first period. Hartford’s Adam Tambellini took advantage of the puck hopping over Mat Bodie’s stick in between the circles and rifled it past Connor Ingram’s glove and into the net.

Alex Volkov tied the game in the second period as he converted on an Olivier Archambault feed from behind the net. For the rookie it was his 14th goal of the season. Fellow rookie Anthony Cirelli picked up his 21st assist on the season as well. The tie lasted all of ten seconds.

Filip Chytil won the puck along the boards in the Syracuse zone and then spun around in front of Ingram and slid the puck under the goaltender’s pads on the backhand. It was a pretty move, but Ingram should have been able to stop the shot. A few minutes after the goal, Ingram made a nice stop on Lias Anderson’s breakaway but was crashed into by Volkov who was backchecking on the play. The young goaltender stayed in the game for the moment, but was then pulled after giving up another goal at the 7 minute mark.

Cirelli got the Crunch back to within one as he scored on the power play late in the second period. Mitchell Stephens shot from the point beat goaltender Alexandar Georgiav but hit the post (something that Stephens has done about 5 times in the last three games). Cirelli was in the right spot to gather the puck and slam it into the net behind the Wolfpack goaltender.

Mathieu Joseph scored a birthday goal in the third period. The rookie turned 21 and celebrated by beating Georgiav on the far post to tie the game. It was the only shot, out of 15, that beat the goaltender in the third period and the game went to overtime. For the game Georgiav stopped 43 shots all told. Nothing was resolved in the extra session, but the Wolf Pack proved to be better in the skills competition, picking up the bonus point by beating Pasquale twice in the the shootout.

Saturday - Laval Rocket 2, Syracuse 3

After stopping all six regulation shots he faced in relief of Connor Ingram, Eddie Pasquale gets his first start in a Syracuse uniform against the Laval Rocket. The game got under way and both teams struggled to generate offense. The Crunch did drive the momentum early but soon found themselves, as they often have this season, killing a penalty.

Mathieu Joseph was sent to the box for boarding, but it was Syracuse that scored on the ensuing Laval power play. Anthony Cirelli started the play by blocking a shot at the Crunch blue line. He stumbled down the ice costing him a breakaway and allowing a Rocket defender to catch up to him. He didn’t give up on the play, though.

Cirelli circled out of the zone and Laval decided it was a good time for a line change (it wasn’t). Cirelli and Alex Volkov descended upon the Rocket net on a two-one-one, Cirelli put the pass between the defender’s legs and Volkov put it in the back of the net. It was the league-leading 10th shorthanded goal by Syracuse.

Cirelli got his own goal a little later. Jamie McBain made a nice move to split a few defenders at the Rocket blue line. He dropped the pass to Joseph at the left circle. The rookie rang it off the post, but Cirelli was there to blast the rebound home.

A Saturday night in the AHL can get a little chippy and these two teams were both willing to instigate each other. Laval’s Michael McCarren seemed to particularly interested in starting some drama as he laid out Reid McNeill well after a whistle (although McCarren didn’t stick around after the hit as he skated away). Dominik Masin and David Broll exchanged roughly 56 crosschecks in front of Pasquale while play went on around them with no call.

McCarren was finally called for a penalty late in the period. All he had to do to get the ref to blow the whistle was run over the goaltender.

The power play carried into the second period, but the Crunch were unable to convert. Then they were unable to count to five as they took back-to-back too many men on the ice penalties. Poor Dennis Yan had to sit in the penalty box for four minutes despite not doing anything wrong. The Crunch almost managed to kill off both penalties, but the Rocket then converted on a bit of a fluke goal.

Pasquale lost his stick as his teammate McNeill cut the corner a little too close chasing a puck behind the net and knocked the twig out of the goaltender’s hand. As the Crunch scrambled to get the stick back into his hands, Stephan LeBlanc launched a wrist shot from the point that made it through. The Crunch goalie made the stop, but he couldn’t get to the rebound and Broll poked it just past his reach to cut the lead in half.

Pasquale must think goalie sticks are overrated as he lost it again just a few minutes later. This time he was able to make the save.

The Crunch went on the power play a few minutes later. They didn’t score, but they did generate a few chances and stopped the momentum that Laval had built up through most of the second period, outshooting the home team 7-3 in the period before the penalty. The second frame ended as the first did, with the Rocket taking a late penalty.

Pasquale had a good save on Markus Eisenschmid as he slid across the ice to deny the shot with a shoulder save. Shortly after, Mathieu Joseph embarrassed the Laval blueline as he made a subtle little crossover move and accelerated between two defenders as they parted like the Red Sea. He didn’t score, but he did draw a penalty. Once again, the Crunch failed to score with the extra skater.

With just under 11 minutes to go the Crunch lost a face off in the defensive zone, the puck found its way to the point and Tom Parisi fired it at the net. Adam Cracknell got his stick on it and deflected it past Pasquale to square the game at two.

The tie game did not last long. Olivier Archambault blocked a shot at his blue line, went in one-on-one on Eric Gelinas and skated around him with a nice inside-out move and slid it through Zachary Furcale’s pads for the goal. It was nice.

Is now a good time to mention that Archambault is still on a PTO with the Crunch? They may want to see about making it official as he has five points in eight games with the Crunch.

Sunday - Syracuse 3, Bridgeport Sound Tigers 2

Eddie Pasquale gets the start again for the Crunch as they start a five game road trip with an afternoon tilt against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the New York Islanders affiliate.

The first period played out as one expect between two teams that had played less than 24 hours earlier. There were a lot of missed passes, mucky play in the neutral zone and both teams combined for only 13 shots. Bridgeport had the early advantage outshooting the Crunch 5-1 through the first few minutes. They also drew the first penalty. Reid McNeill buried Matt Gaudreau (yes, he’s Johnny’s brother) at center ice. The only problem...the puck was in a different time zone.

Bridgeport had the first power play of the game, but Syracuse had the first real chance. Mitchell Stephens created a short handed opportunity after he gathered a rebound in his own zone and then just skated past everyone on the ice, breaking in alone on the Bridgeport goaltender, but Chris Gibson stopped his backhand attempt.

Kristers! He didn’t get in the game, but his hair game is still strong

Syracuse went to the power play as Kellan Jones took a hooking penalty with 6 minutes left. Janne Tammala had the best chance as he skated from one circle to the next before releasing his shot, but Gibson tracked it all the way and made the save. After some more lackluster play from both ends, Syracuse ended the period by drawing a penalty with 30 seconds left.

The power play carried over to the second period and led to nothing in the second. As in not even a shot. The two teams traded opportunities after the power play. First it was Michael Bournival feeding Erik Condra in front of the Bridgeport of net and Gibson turning aside the shot from the Syracuse captain. The Sound Tigers broke the other way and Bailey was denied by Pasquale at the near post.

Olivier Archibald took a stick to the face drawing a high-sticking penalty. With four minutes of the man-advantage the Crunch did a really good job of….skating the length of the ice. They just could not get set up in the zone and Bridgeport was able to clear almost at will.

Bridgeport was more successful on their power play. After Reid McNeill fired a puck into the stands, the two teams lines up for a face-off in front of Pasquale. The linesman dropped the puck and Travis St. Dennis fired it past the surprised Crunch goaltender.

The Crunch finally broke through against Gibson off a more traditional face-off win. Mitchell Stephens won the draw back to Dominik Masin and he blasted Gibson for his seventh goal of the year. Masin was so excited about his goal that he got into a fight with Ben Holmstrom a few minutes later. Unfortunately for the Crunch, Masin had committed another penalty before the fight and they had to kill another penalty.

Sadly, they did not actually kill it off, as Michael Del Colle jammed home a rebound. Even worse than that, on a prior shift Anthony Cirelli blocked a shot and had to be helped back to the dressing room. Not a great penalty kill.

Starting the third period down two players (Cirelli and Kevin Lynch who was shook up on a big hit earlier in the second period) and down one goal, the Crunch had their work cut out for them. Luckily they played their best ten minutes of the game to start the third period.

Mitchell Stephens got the work started by firing a shot just over Gibson’s glove and under the bar for his team-leading 18th goal. McNeil made a nice play by hustling to keep the puck in the zone to start the scoring sequence.

The Crunch continued to push the play and it finally paid off with twelve minutes to go in the period. Erik Cernak fired a shot wide of the net that caused Gibson to slide out of his net just a little too far. Dennis Yan gathered the puck off the boards and was able to tuck a backhand wraparound into the net before the Bridgeport goalie could recover.

From there on out, Bridgeport pushed the play. With three and a half minutes to go, Erik Condra took a bad penalty, wrestling a Sound Tiger down to the ground in the offensive zone. During the penalty kill Pasquale was forced to make a nice stop on a tip-in attempt by Gaudreau. Fortunately for the Crunch that was the last real threat from Bridgeport as the penalty expired without any further danger. Shortly after the game clock expired as well and the Crunch skated away with a 3-2 victory. Pasquale stopped 27 of 29 shots for his second victory in a Syracuse uniform.

There was no word on the injuries to Cirelli or Lynch after the game.

The prospects go up….the prospects come down

On Tuesday the Lightning reassigned Michael Bournival to the Crunch. Bournival saw action in four games during his recall, averaging about 9 minutes a game and not recording a point. The Bolts did give Crunch fans a few days to think that they would have a full line-up before recalling Adam Erne on Thursday.

Erne has appeared in 41 games for the Crunch this season and recorded 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists). If he had not been out of the line-up with an injury of his own, Erne most likely would have been called up in place of Bournival at the end of January when Ondrej Palat was injured.

Shane Conacher was also loaned back to Adirondack of the ECHL on Thursday. The 23-year-old was called up for his latest stint with the Crunch on the first. He didn’t appear in any games last weekend but has seen action in 7 games earlier this season. With injured forwards Kevin Lynch and Mathieu Joseph ready to return to action there wasn’t a need to carry Conacher on the roster.

Special Teams are not so special

One of the reasons the Crunch have 10 shorthanded goals this season is that they’ve spent a lot of time down a man. They lead the league with a whopping 257 shorthanded opportunities. They do have an 84% kill rate, which is eighth in the league, but taking penalties at that rate isn’t good for sustained success.

A lot of the penalties, like the one Condra took late in the game against Bridgeport, are not good penalties. It’s one thing to drag a player down when they’re on a breakaway, but to do it 200 feet from your own net late in a one-goal game shows a lack of discipline. They will need to improve on that if they want to make any noise in the playoffs.

They will also need to improve their power play which is at a disappointing 15.1%, good for 25th in the 30 team AHL. They do a good job of drawing penalties as their 232 opportunities is third in the league, they just haven’t been able to convert with the man advantage scoring just 35 times.

Locker room battles...on the mic

The Crunch have created a bit of a reputation for their lip-sync videos over the past couple of seasons. This year they’re apparently taking it to a different level and running a Locker Room Karaoke Battle on their website.

The final first round match-up is underway and it pits rookies Mitchell Stephens and Mathieu Joseph against each other. Fans can vote on this battle until February 13th.

The winner will move on and face Matthew Peca in the next round. No word if Peca will be reassigned just to participate or if he will be allowed to compete from the Tampa locker room.

Upcoming Schedule

Wednesday @ Utica Comets 7:00pm

Saturday @ Charlotte Checkers 6:00pm

Sunday @ Charlotte Checkers 3:00pm