The Syracuse Crunch did many things right in their game-one loss on the road to the Toronto Marlies, but there are aspects of the game that still need to be shored up.
For a team that was short-handed often during the regular season, giving the Marlies four power plays was an improvement from their regular season average of 4.9 per game. However, the Marlies capitalized twice with the man advantage, both times to give the team the lead in a close match.
“I don’t think four penalties is a lot, but the goals are too much, obviously — it was probably a difference in the game,” said head coach Benoit Groulx after the game. “For me, I don’t think we were undisciplined, it was a hard-fought battle out there, and penalties are part of the game.”
The Marlies had the same 50% penalty kill percentage as the Crunch, but they took half as many penalties. “There are two fast teams on the ice and the puck is moving,” continued Groulx. “This season is different from the last. We know [the Marlies are] a good hockey club, 112 points, there are reasons for that. We know if we want to advance, we have to win a game in this building.”
If the Crunch want to beat the Marlies in this series, they need to be as disciplined as this team — if not more — when on the road.
“6-4 empty net, that was a tight game the whole game,” noted Mathieu Joseph, who had a short-handed goal in the game. “They were good on their power plays, we gotta be better on the kill. They buried when they had to bury. A couple good bounces for them, a couple good bounces for us, it could’ve gone either way when it was 2-2. It’s all tight games in the playoffs, you’re not going to win all of them. But this game is gone, and we want to focus on the next one.”
“We have to shoot the puck,” Joseph said. “They have a good defense-core, fast D, they’re pretty strong, and they have a guy [Dermott] coming back from the NHL who’s pretty good too. Basically, we need to out-work them. Scoring four goals tonight, that's a positive for sure, but I think we missed a couple chances that we could’ve buried.”
If the Crunch can get the job done at home — where they have a huge advantage with the home crowd against a team that struggled mightily in Utica — and keep the Marlies within striking distance while on the road, there is a good chance one of the four games at Ricoh will bounce the way of Syracuse. There’s hope, but as Joseph says, it’s not going to come without a lot of hard work.
“Joseph’s been good, he’s been a good player for us,” remarked Groulx of his star player. “He’s improved a lot, he's grown a lot, and there's a lot of room for growth still. We like the fact that he wants to win, he wants to make plays, he wants to be a difference maker. I really like those guys. Joseph’s short-handed goal was a big goal, unfortunately, they got one right after.”
However, Groulx did mention some concerns he had about needing more from specific players, whom he didn’t call out. “I thought we had a good effort overall. Individually, we have certain players who can do better. Overall, I’m happy with the compete level and the effort tonight. Individually, I think there are certain guys that have to be better in the next game, and that should help our team be better on Saturday.”
“We gotta take advantage of the rush, and we need to bury our shots,” added Joseph. “Sparks made some pretty good saves, but in the neutral zone, we need to make plays. If we don’t have a play, chip and work. But I think in general, our speed in the neutral zone could be better. We’ve been good all year about this, we just gotta keep going.”
When asked about how some of the rookies and younger players fared in such a difficult game, Groulx was positive. “You go out there, and you try to play hockey, you try to make plays. That’s what you want to see from your young guys. That’s been our team all year. I don’t think we're a young team anymore, that was game 80 tonight. They’re not rookies anymore.”
Not rookies anymore is right. The first-year pros combined for four points on Thursday night, and they looked like some of the most dangerous players on the ice for the Crunch. Especially Joseph, who led both teams in shots, with six.
Syracuse has the pieces to get it done in this series, but without Matthew Peca and Gabriel Dumont, who are both out day-to-day with undisclosed injuries, it will be a lot harder for the Crunch to out-score their way to wins unless more of the skilled players up front step up.