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Crunch Corner: The losing streak is over!

Syracuse returns to the win column as the season moves into its second half.

Scott Thomas Photography

Thanks to Winter Storm Harper, the Syracuse Crunch only played twice in the past week as their Saturday game against Binghamton was postponed until late February. The deluge of snow gave the team an extra day off in what was scheduled to be a busy weekend with three games in four days.

A win on Friday ended their five game losing streak and they were finally rewarded for some of the hard work they had been putting in over the last couple of games. The offense returned as well, as they totaled nine goals over the two contests. This ended a string of games where they couldn’t find the back of the net more than three times a night.

Standings

The Crunch sits in third right now with a bunch of games in hand against Utica and a bunch of match-ups against Rochester coming up over the next month. Toronto has been on fire recently and is quickly moving up the standings, so they may be the team to watch out for.

Injuries

There was only one injury this week, but it was a big one. Dominik Masin left the game on Wednesday against Utica early in the first shift and didn’t return. He wasn’t on the ice against Belleville, and, according to Coach Groulx, probably won’t be back on the ice until the end of the month at the earliest.

While his offensive game hasn’t been strong this season, he has been extremely steady on defense. He just doesn’t make very many mistakes with the puck. Not having him on the ice for the 15-17 minutes or so he has been playing every night is going to be a huge loss for the Crunch to have to fill over the next couple of weeks. Hopefully the addition of Jan Rutta to the line-up will fill some of that void.

Coming and Going

The Crunch have actually been quiet on the roster moves this week. No additions or subtractions since the last Crunch Corner!

The Games

Wednesday, January 16th at Utica: 5-4 Loss (Box Score) (Highlights) (Recap)

Friday, January 18th vs. Bellevue: 5-3 Win (Box Score) (Highlights) (Recap)

Players of the Week

Nolan Valleau - 2 games played, 3 assists. Masin’s injury secures Valleau’s spot in the line-up for the foreseeable future, but it was nice to see him take no chances and step his game up a little. He had two of his best games in a long time. Not only did he pick up the offense, but he also cut down on some of the turnovers that had been piling up on his resume.

Alex Volkov - 2 games played, 2 goals. It seems like Volkov has spent the majority of the year working on his defensive game. He’s seen a lot of time on the penalty kill, bounced between the top line and the fourth line, and focused on defending instead of scoring. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, the best way to get promoted in the Lightning organization is to show that you can play the 200-foot game. Still, the man has a heck of a shot and it’s nice to see him remember that.

Thoughts

Depth in Scoring

When Alex Volkov rocketed a shot from the right circle past Marcus Hogberg on Friday night, he became the sixth Crunch player this season to record ten goals on the season. That’s tied for second most in the league (Rochester has 7) and shows what kind of depth they have on offense. Hopefully Dennis Yan, who is sitting on nine goals, joins the club in the next couple of games.

With their scoring so balanced, there shouldn’t be too many games where they struggle to find goals (which makes their recent losing streak so perplexing), and it’s a good sign that there won’t be too many more losing steaks on the horizon. It’s also a byproduct of Coach Groulx’s search for depth. If he has six or seven forwards scoring on a consistent basis, he can flip them between lines to keep things fresh without any player dragging another down.

It also makes the Crunch hard to play against when any of the four lines can produce offense. In watching the team on a daily basis, there is no real true fourth line made up of “gritty” players who are just out there to stop the other team from scoring. Ross Colton or Brady Brassart tend to center one of the bottom two lines, but they’ll often have a player like Alex Barre-Boulet, Volkov of Taylor Raddysh on their wing. Likewise, Troy Bourke will be up on the top line with Andy Andreoff and Cory Conacher. It’s hard for another team to focus on offense when they have to worry about stop the Crunch’s offense all sixty minutes of the game.

Power Play Shuffle:

In the game against Bellevue, Coach Groulx shuffled up the power play units a bit. Cal Foote jumped up to take Cameron Gaunce’s spot and Carter Verhaeghe was swapped with Raddysh. This wasn’t an indictment of their play, rather a chance to get the second unit going a little bit. Even during the stretch where the Crunch were scoring all of the goals, the first unit, then comprised of Gaunce, Conacher, Verhaeghe, Andreoff and Barre-Boulet, were scoring most of the goals.

Now, theoretically, the Crunch should be able to keep the pressure on for the entire two minutes. It was only one game, but the results seem to be positive. Verhaeghe scored the game opening goal after a line change on their first power play opportunity. Andreoff scored on their next opportunity, and Volkov’s goal came just as a power play expired.

The second unit also went to a four-forwards-one-defenseman rotation that mirrors the first unit. That give Groulx a chance to get as many forwards as possible (until he decides to roll out the five-forwards-line) on the ice for as much time as possible.

Upcoming Schedule:

The Crunch start a five game homestand with a day game against Binghamton on Monday. They end the week with a match-up against the division-leading Rochester Americans, a team they will be seeing a lot of over the second half of the season.

Monday, January 21st vs. Binghamton Devils 1:00pm

Friday, January 25th vs. Springfield Thunderbirds 7:00pm

Saturday, January 26th vs. Rochester Americans 7:00pm

Preview:

The Syracuse Crunch (22-13-2-1) have a rare Monday afternoon game as they take on the Binghamton Devils (19-21-4-0) at 1:00pm in Syracuse. Due to the New Jersey Devils being on their bye week, Binghamton has received a ton of reinforcements prior to the game as Nathan Bastian, Kevin Rooney, Mackenzie Blackwood and, surprisingly, Cory Schneider were all added to the roster this weekend.

NHL veteran goaltender Schneider was sent down on a conditioning loan as he works his way back from an injury that kept him out of action since December. He will most likely get the start against the Crunch on Monday. Expect Eddie Pasquale to be in net for the Crunch.

The Crunch are 6-1 against the Devils this season with Carter Verhaeghe leading the way with 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists). For the Devils, Brandon Gignac has 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists) in the seven match-ups.