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Crunch snap losing streak with 5-3 win over Belleville

Two early power play goals propel Syracuse to their first win in more than a week.

Scott Thomas Photography

In a game between two teams who tend to rack up quite a few penalties, it was a goal scored just as a power play expired that was the difference as the Syracuse Crunch defeated the Belleville Senators 5-3 on Friday night. Alex Volkov rocketed home a goal in the third period just as a Crunch man-advantage ended to break a 4-3 tie with seven-and-a-half minutes to go in the game. The win snapped the Crunch’s five-game losing streak.

The history between these two teams isn’t very long or very even. The Belleville Senators began play last season and have struggled mightily against the Crunch, especially in Syracuse. They entered the night not having won in their six previous trips to the War Memorial Arena. However, one thing they have done is rack up penalties. In their first meeting this season, the teams combined for 64 penalty minutes and then added another 36 on the very next night.

So, the last thing you would think the Senators would want to do is go shorthanded right off the bat, yet that’s what they did. As the teams lined up for the opening face-off, Max McCormick slashed Cory Conacher. Conacher retaliated with a crosscheck. They did it again and the linesman told them to knock it off. After the Senators won the face-off, and the play drifted into their zone, McCormick knocked Conacher to the ice and was whistled for tripping. Six seconds into the game and the Crunch were on the power play.

Granted, their power play hasn’t been lights out lately, but they are still ranked third in the league. Head coach Ben Groulx tweaked the units a bit, and it paid off. Cal Foote took Cameron Gaunce’s spot on the point and Taylor Raddysh moved into Carter Verhaeghe’s spot on the first unit. That balanced the scoring out a little bit between the two units and led to the first goal. After the first unit had some quality chances knocked aside by goaltender Marcus Hogberg, Verhaeghe came on the ice during their line change.

He picked up the puck in the neutral zone, danced around a couple of stick checks as he entered the Senators’ zone, and then cut in front of the net. He waited a split second for the puck to settle down and then snapped a shot over Hogberg’s glove. One minute into the game and the Crunch were on the board.

It was Verhaeghe’s 17th goal of the season, which set a new career high and capped off a good start for a Crunch team that desperately needed one.

Some of that momentum was sapped on the following shift. Darren Archibald steamrolled Ben Thomas in the Crunch’s zone and a frustrated Thomas got up and punched him in the helmet. That sent Belleville on the power play and the Crunch back to defending.

The kill was going alright, a couple of opportunities went just wide for the Senators. However, their lack of discipline would be their undoing. Thirty seconds in, Boris Katchouk sprung Gabriel Dumont on a breakaway. The veteran, in his 450th AHL game, was unable to beat Hogberg but drew a slashing penalty that ended Belleville’s advantage. Then Andreas Englund took an interference penalty.

As Thomas’ penalty expired, the Crunch went to work with a two man advantage. Cory Conacher took a wicked one-timer from his office and Hogberg fought it off. The rebound trickled over to Andy Andreoff, who was all alone with a wide-open net. He almost screwed it up. He whiffed on his first attempt, but was able to make contact on the second chance and flipped it into the back of the net for his 16th goal of the season.

It was less than five minutes into the game and the Crunch were dominating. They ended up outshooting the Senator’s 13-6 and had several chances stopped by Hogberg. Dennis Yan in particular had three or four chances.

Things started to even out in the second period. With the aid of a couple of power plays, Belleville balanced the run of play a bit. Eddie Pasquale, playing in his 250th AHL game (and 12th straight start), was sharp right from the start of the period as he kicked out his right pad to deny Archibald from in front of the net.

The Crunch increased their lead four minutes into the middle frame. Nolan Valleau corralled a loose puck in the Belleville zone. He fired a low shot from the top of the slot that Ross Colton tipped up, off of Joseph LaBate’s visor, over Hogberg, and into the back of the net.

With a three goal lead, the Crunch backed off a bit. Their puck retrieval started to slack off, and it bit them seven minutes in. Shorthanded, they couldn’t get the puck out of their zone and Cody Goloubef fired a shot at Pasquale. He kicked out a rebound to Stefon Elliott. Instead of shooting it right back at the net, Elliott slid it over to Filip Chlapik who had a better look. His shot found its way through a maze of players and into the back of the net.

The rest of the period was almost all Belleville as the Crunch managed only a few rushes into their zone. Midway through the period, Pasquale had a series of stops that may have saved the game. It starts with a left pad save on the initial shot. He then stops the backhand rebound and loses his stick. Another shot was kicked out with his right pad, leaving him sitting on backside with no stick. He threw his gloves up and stopped a shot from Elliott with his glove. He then finally collapsed on the puck to draw a whistle.

Oh Eddie, indeed.

It looked like the Crunch would survive the period with their two-goal lead, but with fifteen seconds to go they just stopped playing defense. They allowed a long pass through the neutral zone and then a cross-ice slap-pass to Jack Rodewald, who was uncovered in front of the net. He buried the puck into the back of the net before Pasquale could recover.

Still, the Crunch was 15-0-1-0 when leading after two periods. No way they were going to blow the lead, right?

Well, they made it interesting.

Following a center ice face-off, the Crunch kind of forgot what defense was again. Gaunce and Foote got caught too close together and facing the wrong direction as the Senator’s entered the zone. Rodewald fired a quick pass over to Morgan Klimchuk who fired it by Pasquale to tie the game.

Instead of panicking, the Crunch got back to being the better team. Raddysh was stopped on the doorstep. Barre-Boulet had a quick shot blockered away. All of the pressure finally led to a power play that the Crunch dominated. Foote launched a shot just wide that bounced to Raddysh. He passed it over to Andreoff who was staring at his second wide open net of the game. Unfortunately Englund was able to tie up his stick and prevent a shot.

Syracuse kept the pressure on and just as Goloubef stepped out of the box, Gaunce fed the puck to Volkov who was drifting through the right circle. The Russian unleashed a howitzer of a shot that beat Hogberg cleanly. Just like that, the Crunch were back in the lead.

Belleville pulled Hogberg for the extra attacker and the Crunch found the empty net to secure the lead. It was a smart play by Conacher that led to the final goal. Dumont blocked a shot in the Crunch’s zone and the puck came to Conacher. Instead of firing it down the ice he slowly banked it off the boards. Yan zoomed out of the Crunch’s zone and skated onto the loose puck. He carried it into zone and put it into the empty net.

It was a big win for the Crunch. After playing well but getting no pay off for the last few games, they finally were rewarded for their hard work. While they didn’t quite play a perfect game, they did play a resilient one. Keeping their calm after Belleville clawed back from three goals down shows that this team doesn’t panic easily. They hounded the Senators up and down the ice for most of the night and had one of their stronger forechecking games in a long time.

Three Stars:

3 Jack Rodewald 1 goal, 1 assist

2 Nolan Valleau 2 assists

1 Alex Volkov 1 goal - excellent puck pursuit all night long.

Box Score

Highlights

Preview:

After a nice win on Friday, the Syracuse Crunch (22-13-2-1) head down the snowy road to take on the Binghamton Devils (19-21-4-0) in a game that was moved to 5:00pm due to a large winter storm that should be hitting New York on Saturday. Martin Ouellette will most likely make his first start for the Crunch. Syracuse has another game on Monday afternoon, and asking Pasquale to make three starts in four nights is a bit much even for Ben Groulx.

The Crunch may also be without Dominik Masin, who missed Friday’s game with an undisclosed injury. Matthew Spencer filled in nicely, but isn’t a long term solution.

Binghamton is coming off of a 5-3 loss to Utica on Friday night, but did shut out Syracuse 4-0 in their last meeting.

Possible Lines (if Coach Groulx goes with the same line-up)

Forwards

Alex Volkov - Andy Andreoff - Cory Conacher

Dennis Yan - Carter Verhaeghe - Alex Barre-Boulet

Boris Katchouk - Gabriel Dumont - Taylor Raddysh

Ross Colton - Brady Brassart - Otto Somppi

Defense

Cameron Gaunce - Cal Foote

Nolan Valleau - Matt Spencer

Hubert Labrie - Ben Thomas

Goaltender

Martin Ouellette