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Crunch Preview: Syracuse opens 2019 in Utica

The memory of a 10-1 defeat lingers in the minds of the Comets.

Scott Thomas Photography

The Syracuse Crunch (20-8-2) kick off the 2019 portion of their schedule on the road as they are hosted by the Utica Comets (17-16-2-1) on Wednesday night. The Comets will be looking for a little bit of revenge as the Crunch whipped them 10-1 in their previous meeting. It’s the fourth match-up of the season between the division rivals, with the Crunch leading the series two games to one.

A big change from the previous games is going to be in net for the Comets. For the first time the Crunch will likely face Thatcher Demko. So far, the heralded prospect has only made a brief appearance against Syracuse as he stepped in for a portion of the second period in last week’s game. Demko, the number one goaltending prospect for the Vancouver Canucks, had missed a large portion of the season due to a concussion suffered in late September that kept him out of action until around Thanksgiving.

Syracuse probably won’t have the opportunity to knock Ivan Kulbakov around for a fourth time. In the three previous times they’ve faced off, the Crunch have roughed him up, scoring 14 goals in 127:28 minutes of play for a ghastly 6.59 GAA. With a few days off since their last game, there is no need for him to start, clearing the way for Demko to be between the pipes tonight.

Since returning, Demko has appeared in 15 games, posted a record of 7-5-1 with a 2.63 GAA and .909 SV%. Those numbers are almost identical to the Crunch’s Eddie Pasquale, who has been in 16 games and has a 11-3-2 record with a 2.66 GAA and .909 SV%. The difference in records can be largely attributed to the fact that the Crunch are scoring over four goals a game while Utica is down around three per game.

So, how have the Crunch managed to get to four goals a game through their first thirty games of the season? Well, by having pretty much everyone contribute. They have have five different players with ten or more goals, and six players with twenty or more points. One week it will be Cory Conacher scoring a bunch of goals, the next it will be Alex Barre-Boulet on the power play, and then it will be reigning AHL player of the week Cal Foote scoring four goals in three games.

Throughout it all, though, there has been Carter Verhaeghe. In December, he racked up 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) which followed a November where he had 17 points (7 goals, 10 assists). That’s not bad for the four-year veteran who sometimes gets lost in the shuffle when it comes to the Lightning's prospects. In 88 games for the Crunch, the 23-year-old forward has 30 goals and 53 assists. If he keeps producing like this, he might work his way onto the Lightning squad sometime in the near future.

In the three games against the Comets so far, Verhaeghe has “only” recorded two goals. The Crunch’s leading scorers in the series are Conacher with three goals and three assists and Taylor Raddysh with six assists (five coming in the last game). For the Comets, Darren Archibald has a goal and an assist in two games while Lukas Jasek also has a goal and an assist in three games. Utica did get veteran forward Wacey Hamilton back in their last game which is a huge boost for them.

Update! The Crunch won’t have to worry about Archibald as he was traded today. Vancouver sent Archibald and goaltender Anders Nilsson to Ottawa in exchange for old friend Mike McKenna, old friend Tom Pyatt (who Ottawa placed on waivers a day ago), and a 2019 6th round pick. McKenna will be the backup for Vancouver for now, but it sounds like Demko is going to be recalled sometime soon as they want to see how he does against NHL competition. Pyatt, who played 144 games with the Lightning from 2011 to 2014, will report to the Comets and provide some veteran leadership.

The Comets also signed defenseman Craig Wyszomirski to a PTO. The veteran blueliner appeared in seven games with the Crunch at the end of last season.

Previous Game:

The Crunch closed out 2018 with an overtime victory against the Springfield Thunderbirds. Andy Andreoff had two goals, including the OT winner, while Ross Colton had the other two tallies for the Crunch as they held off a resilient T-Birds squad that came back from a one-goal deficit three different times in the game.

Utica bounced back from the Syracuse beatdown to beat the Rochester Americans 4-3 in their game on Saturday. Thatcher Demko stopped 33 of 36 shots and four different Comets scored in the victory. Vincent Arseneau and Jonathan Dahlen had first period goals while Brendan Gaunce and Darren Archibald potted goals in the third.

Possible Line Combinations:

Forwards

Boris Katchouk - Andy Andreoff - Cory Conacher

Carter Verhaeghe - Gabriel Dumont - Taylor Raddysh

Alex Volkov - Ross Colton - Alex Barre-Boulet

Troy Bourke - Dennis Yan

Defense

Cameron Gaunce - Cal Foote

Hubert Labrie - Ben Thomas

Slater Koekkoek - Nolan Valleau

Dominik Masin

Goaltender

Eddie Pasquale

Notes: Coach Groulx went with an 11/7 roster last time out, and with Slater Koekkoek still in town there is no reason to think he won’t keep that going. Which means he’ll probably scratch a defenseman tonight. If he does, I would think it would be Valleau or Thomas in order to get Otto Somppi or Olivier Archambault back into the line-up. With the 11/7, he does like to mix-and-match the forwards lines as he doubleshifts Dumont and Andreoff on a regular basis.