There was one play by the Syracuse Crunch on Wednesday that summed up their 4-0 loss to the Binghamton Devils. Roughly four minutes into the third period, with the Crunch trailing 2-0, Ross Colton rushed into the Devils’ defensive zone and stole the puck off of Colton White’s stick. The rookie forward rushed in towards the goal and cut in front of goaltender Evan Cormier. Just as he went to shoot it, he had the puck knocked off of his stick and it scuttled harmlessly into the corner. The Crunch did many things well, but had nothing to show for it in the loss.
The Crunch dominated most of the game. With the assistance of seven power plays, they dominated the shot counter to the tune of 35-10. They were better at the battles along the boards. Much of the five-on-five play was on their terms. They only took two penalties and killed off both of them. They limited the Devils to five shots in the first, three in the second, and two in the third. The only thing they didn’t do: find a way to beat Evan Cormier. The result was that the Devils picked up their first win against the Crunch in well...a while.
Cormier, making just his third start of his AHL career, was sensational. He was calm, controlled his rebounds, and made three to four solid saves once the Crunch got their offense going. His best sequence came against Boris Katchouk five minutes into the second period. Katchouk pounced on a loose puck just outside the Binghamton offensive zone. He broke in with Andy Andreoff on a two-on-one. His pass was blocked by John Quenneville but came right back to him. Katchouk shot it on net and Cormier, who was sliding over anticipating the shot coming from the middle of the ice, stretched back to stop the shot with his left pad. He also stuffed the rebound and covered it to keep the Crunch off of the scoreboard.
The Crunch came into the game a little shorthanded as forwards Gabriel Dumont and Alex Volkov were scratched at the last minute due to an illness. That led to Troy Bourke and Dennis Yan returning to the line-up. The duo played rather well as Bourke lined up with Andreoff and Cory Conacher while both found themselves with power play time.
One of the reasons they had time on the man advantage was because Alex Barre-Boulet did not. For some reason that hopefully Coach Groulx will explain it at some point, the leading power play goal scorer in the league did not see anytime on the special teams unit until late in the game. Taking his spot on the first unit was Cal Foote. Foote played a forward position down low while Conacher and Gaunce played the points. It was an interesting wrinkle that led to some chances but no goals.
Foote also had a pretty good bout with John Quenneville in the first period. The Devils center took exception to a hit by the rookie and squared up with him. Despite his own helmet betraying him a bit as it was caught up on his arm, Foote was able to land a few clean punches and did some solid body work before Quenneville spun him to the ground. After not having very many fights as a team early in the season, this is the second one in as many games for Syracuse as Dumont traded punches with Mason Marchment last Saturday. Maybe the frustration is starting to manifest itself in fisticuffs?
Getting back to interesting line-up wrinkles, Coach Groulx’s handling of Eddie Pasquale at the end of the game was definitely of note. Down 3-0 with 7:38 left in the game, he pulled the goaltender for a 6-on-5 advantage. Then he put him back in net. Then, thirty seconds later, he pulled him again. For the rest of the game he was in and out of the net, at one point going back into the net on the fly as the Crunch changed lines. Perhaps Coach Groulx was trying to confuse the Devils and possibly sneak a forward in when they weren’t expecting it. Unfortunately the creative line-up management did not pay off in a goal.
As well as the Crunch played, their troubles over the past week still plagued them from time to time. The first Binghamton goal came as a power play expired. Cory Conacher, just inside the Devils zone, tried to pass the puck across the middle. It was tipped and turned over to Brandon Gignac. Gignac busted up the ice like he was the second coming of Pavel Bure and beat Pasquale cleanly on his forehand.
The second Devils goal most likely sent Coach Groulx reaching for the Pepto Bismol. After a very good stretch of play by the Crunch where they were pinning the Devils back in their own zone and forcing turnovers, the play eventually ended up behind the Crunch net. Hubert Labrie was fighting for the puck with Nathan Bastian. As has happened so often recently, the Crunch lost the battle. Bastian was able to pass the puck out to Brandon Braddock, who snapped a shot from the left circle that went off the crossbar and just barely in (initially it was ruled no goal). Those are the lost battles that torment Coach Groulx to no end.
The power play looked very good as they racked up a lot of zone time. The passing was much better than it has been in recent games. However, not being able to get at least one goal against a rookie goaltender and a penalty kill that came into the game ranked dead last in the league at 76% is not a great look. A lot of the chances that the Crunch had came from the perimeter and they weren’t able to win the battles for the rebounds.
It was a very frustrating loss for the Crunch. For all of the good they did, there was still enough of their recent mistakes to prevent them from finding a way to win. Yes, Cormier played the game of his life in turning aside all 35 shots, but this was one game the Crunch had to find a way to win, and failed. Hopefully they can take the positive actions from Wednesday’s game and improve on it when they return to the ice on Friday against the Cleveland Monsters.
Three Stars of the Game:
3 Cory Conacher - 5 shots on net
2 Brandon Gignac - 1 goal, 1 assist
1 Evan Cormier - 35 saves, 1 shutout