Following their win on Monday against the Binghamton Devils the Syracuse Crunch received the best news of the season:
After missing 13 games due to a left leg injury, Connor Ingram was cleared to return to game action. That gives the Crunch their top goaltending duo as they navigate their way through the second half of the season. It also means that Eddie Pasquale will now be able to watch the occasional game from the sidelines. The veteran played all but four periods of the the thirteen games, starting twelve in a row.
The Crunch posted a 6-5-1-1 record during Ingram's absence. As mentioned, Pasquale started twelve of those games and had a 5-5-1-1 record. Martin Ouellette won his only start against the Devils as he made 19 saves on 20 shots to pick up his first AHL victory since April of 2017. The final score was 2-1.
While the record looks rather mediocre (especially compared with Pasquale’s overall numbers with the Crunch), Pasquale wasn’t the reason Syracuse struggled over the last month. The middling record is more the result of a lack of offense than poor goaltending. In the twelve games Pasquale started, the Crunch scored 45 goals for an average of 3.75 per game. That seems pretty good, but take out the 10 goals they scored against Utica and the GPG drops to 3.18, well below their season average.
Overall during the streak, Pasqaule posted a 3.01 GAA and .886 GAA, numbers below his career averages. However, these numbers were not helped by the Crunch’s performance on the penalty kill. During the twelve-game streak, Syracuse was shorthanded almost five times a game and only killed off 79.6% (47/59) of those opportunities.
Oddly enough, Pasquale’s numbers went down as the Crunch allowed fewer shots. In four of the first five games following Ingram’s injury, Pasquale faced more than 30 shots and he stopped over 90% of them each time. He faced less than 30 shots in the next seven games and only stopped 90% or more once (19 of 20 against Bridgeport).
He did finish off the long stretch by allowing three or more goals in six straight games, but taking them on an individual goal-by-goal basis there aren’t too many that he would want back. Several were on odd-man rushes following turnovers. A few were on deflections or scored by players unmarked in front of the net.
Fatigue may have been a factor (although both the player and the coach deny it), and there is always the chance that he wasn’t feeling 100% healthy. It is, after all, flu season, and the Crunch did have at least one player miss a game due to illness.
The good news is that the Crunch managed to tread water during Ingram’s absence and didn’t lose that much ground in the standings. Entering the weekend’s games they are only four points behind Rochester (who they face on Saturday) and still have two games in hand on them. Having both netminders healthy as they head into second half of the season (with a ton of intra-division games ahead) is a big boon for the Crunch.
It was about this time last season that Pasquale came over from Bakersfield and the two netminders combined to run roughshod over the league. Pasquale posted 10-1-3-1 record after joining the Crunch at the end of January, while Ingram went 8-4 down the stretch. As the Crunch catch up to the rest of the teams in terms of games played, it will be important to be able to rotate the starts for the two netminders.
The Syracuse Crunch (23-13-2-1) continue their homestand as they host the Springfield Falcons (20-14-6-4) on Friday night. This is the fourth and final meeting of the regular season between the two teams. Syracuse took two of the previous three match-ups.
Syracuse is coming off of a 2-1 victory over the Binghamton Devils way back on Monday. Alex Barre-Boulet recorded his 20th goal of the season in the win, while Martin Ouellette stopped 19 of 20 shots in his first start with Crunch. Cameron Gaunce potted the eventual game-winner late in the first period and then found out his Stanley Cup ring had been stolen.
Springfield enters the final weekend before hosting the All-Star Game having picked up points in four straight games (2 wins, an OT loss, and a SO loss). Winger Harry Zolnierczyk is red-hot as he has picked up seven points (1 goal, 6 assists) in the those four games. He’s tied for the team lead in scoring with Paul Thompson, who is also playing well of late. Thompson is riding a four-game scoring streak and potted four goals in his last game, a 7-4 win over Hartford.
Samuel Montembeault will most likely get the start for the Thunderbirds. He’s appeared in two games against the Crunch this season and picked up the team’s lone victory against Syracuse when he stopped 25 of 27 shots in a 3-2 victory on December 19th.
It is possible that Jan Rutta may make his Crunch debut on Friday, as he was on the ice earlier in the week participating in practice. It will be interesting to see what kind of dynamic he brings to the team both offensively and defensively. There is a chance Syracuse decides to keep him out until after the All-Star break as a precaution. With Matthew Spencer playing adequate defense, there is no real need to rush Rutta into the line-up.
The other injured Crunch players (Kevin Lynch, Dominik Masin and Mitchell Stephens) are most likely out at least until the end of the month.
The game will be broadcast for free on the AHL’s Facebook page. While the Lightning are on break, it’s a good chance to check out the Crunch.