The Springfield Thunderbirds entered Friday night’s game with the league’s top power unit. The last thing the Syracuse Crunch wanted to do was give them opportunities with the man-advantage. So, what did they do?
Well, they gave the T-Birds six power plays, including a five-minute major. Yet, it was the Crunch emerging victorious as they blew the game open in the third period, scoring four goals en route to a 6-1 victory.
Seven Crunch players recorded multiple points, including newcomer Jan Rutta whose first period goal proved to be the game winner. The Crunch not only killed off five of the Thunderbirds' six power plays, they also added a short-handed goal late in the third to seal the victory. It was Syracuse’s league-leading 10th goal while down a man.
The game featured two teams that are fast, can move the puck well, and can be deadly off of transition play. For most of the first half of the game, the two teams seemed very weary of each other’s counter-attacking speed. It was like watching a boxing match where neither fighter wants to throw a punch lest they get hit in return.
That made for a pretty low event game as the teams combined for only 20 shots through the first 27 minutes of play. Both teams also struggled to connect with their passes in the offensive zone as the defenses were intent on clogging up the shooting lanes and batting aside pucks. The Crunch’s forwards in particular were dropping down much lower into the the defensive zone then they have in the past. It was effective as they bottled up Springfield’s offense earlier on, and it led to the first goal.
Taylor Raddysh collected the puck in his own zone and snapped a pass through the neutral zone to Gabriel Dumont. The captain and Boris Katchouk entered the Springfield zone against defenseman Josh Brown. He did not play it well.
Brown retreated, not only allowing Dumont to come straight down the middle of the ice, but also cutting off the passing option. He half-heartedly waved his stick in Dumont’s direction, but his indecisiveness forced Samuel Montembeault to have square up to Dumont. Once that happened, the Crunch center slid it over to Boris Katchouk who easily knocked it into the net while Brown awkwardly spun in place.
The Crunch were dictating the play for most of the first half of the period as they quickly built up a 5-2 shot advantage following the goal. They also had several extended shifts in the Springfield zone that didn’t lead to many shots, but kept the T-Birds pinned back.
Midway through the period, Rutta recorded his first point as a member of the Crunch. The teams were skating four aside after Andy Andreoff took a needless slashing penalty in the neutral zone with the Crunch on their first power play.
Rutta raced to a loose puck in the Crunch’s zone and used his long reach to poke it past the awesomely-named Ludwig Bystrom and raced down the right side of the ice. He then snapped a wrist shot underneath Montembault’s blocker for his first goal as a member of the Crunch.
All of the positives that were in his scouting report were on display on that goal. Long reach, quick skates, and offensive instincts. He added an assist later in the game and had several good plays in the defensive zone. All-in-all it was a very strong debut for the newest member of the organization.
Following the goal, the Crunch-well, mainly just Dumont-lost their discipline a bit and it allowed the T-Birds to get back into the game. The veteran took not one (tripping in the neutral zone), not two (cross checking along the boards), but three (high-sticking in the offensive zone) consecutive penalties. Anthony Greco made the Crunch pay for their carelessness as he snuck a shot from almost behind the goal line through Eddie Pasquale to cut the lead to 2-1.
Springfield had a little momentum heading into the middle frame. They wouldn’t capitalize on it with any goals, but it was still an eventful twenty minutes that ended with the Crunch missing two forwards. One left due to an injury and the other due to a dangerous hit.
About eight minutes into the period, Dennis Yan collected the puck along the far boards following a Jake Horton shot that was deflected wide. As Yan passed it up the ice, a Thunderbird came flying into the area and drilled Yan into the boards (I believe it was Matt Marcinew, but it was hard to catch the numbers). It was clean hit, but Yan immediately skated off the ice and into the dressing room favoring his left arm. He did not return to the game.
The teams slowly found their rhythm on offense and the shots started piling up a bit more. Montembeault robbed Cory Conacher with his pad after the veteran unleashed a one-timer off of a feed from Rutta. Pasquale made his best stop of the night on Jonathan Ang as the rookie tried to backhand a feed from Paul Thompson right before crashing into the net.
With under three minutes to go in the period, Andreoff was whistled for a major interference penalty and a game misconduct. The hit came in the neutral zone and just after a Crunch power play expired. Fans on both sides will argue whether or not it was a headshot (the lack of replay and multiple angles doesn’t make it clear), but it was late and it was high. Harry Zolnierczyk was shaken up on the play, but returned to the game eventually.
Andreoff was issued the game misconduct (and may get an extra-long All-Star break), the Crunch were down two forwards (technically three since Otto Somppi had to serve Andreoff’s penalty), and were clinging to a one-goal lead against the best power play in the league.
It helped that the penalty kill was split over two periods, as it gave the Crunch plenty of time to rest their players, but they also outworked the Thunderbirds for almost the entire time. They won face-offs, made quick clears, and took advantage of a couple of bad passes. It also helped that Pasquale stopped all five shots that he saw on the major penalty, including a tricky deflection just as the third period got underway.
Buoyed by the successful kill, the Crunch found their offense just a few minutes later. It was another play off of transition, and this time it was Katchouk feeding Raddysh for the goal. The rookie snapped a 12-game goalless streak with his 12th of the season.
Dumont made a nice play by crashing the net but not disrupting the cross-crease pass. Montembeault and the defender converged on Dumont, which left an empty net for Raddysh to put the puck into. This line played very well together when they had the opportunity.
From this point on, it was all Crunch. First, it was Alex Volkov burying a feed from Conacher on a two-on-one. Conacher made the play, first by breaking up the play in the Crunch’s zone, then by a subtle little stick lift at center ice that allowed him to get behind Thompson and start the two-on-one. He froze Montembeault with a quick move and then gave it to Volkov.
On their heels, the T-Birds took a penalty and it didn’t take long for the Crunch to make them pay. Alex Barre-Boulet potted his 12th power play goal on a backhand in front of the net that kind of surprised Montembeault.
Four minutes after that, the Crunch struck shorthanded. Pasquale fired the puck down the ice and Volkov won the race. He won the battle against Bystrom and fed it front to Brady Brassart. Brassart was ready for it and ripped a one-timer past Montembeault for the sixth goal of the game.
Coach Groulx had stated before the game that he thought his team was rested both physically and mentally and they proved him right as they stay composed through a tight contest before blowing it open in the third.
Three Stars of the Game:
3 Jan Rutta - 1 goal, 1 assist
2 Cory Conacher - 2 assists
1 Alex Volkov - 1 goal, 1 assist
The Syracuse Crunch (24-13-2-1) finish up their pre-All-Star break schedule as they host the North Division-leading Rochester Americans (26-13-2-1) on Saturday night. The two teams will meet eight more times following the All-Star game, so get ready to see some familiar names.
The Amerks are led on offense by defenseman Zach Redmond. The nine-year veteran is having a career-year with 39 points (19 goals, 20 assists). Second-year forward C.J. Smith, back after a brief foray into the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres is second with 37 points (16 goals, 21 assists). Center Danny O’Regan has 17 goals to round out Rochester’s scoring threat.
Redmond suffered a lower-back injury on Wednesday and missed the game on Friday. He also withdrew from the All-Star Game so it’s likely that he won’t play against the Crunch.
With a win against Utica on Friday night, they are riding a five-game points streak, which is making it hard for the Crunch to gain ground. A win for Syracuse Saturday (in what should be Connor Ingram’s return to action) would be a big boost heading into the break.
The Crunch may be short a couple of forwards if Dennis Yan is still banged up from the hit he took in the Springfield game and if Andy Andreoff is suspended for the hit he threw in the second period. So, expect Ross Colton to come back into the line-up. Of course, Ben Groulx could go crazy and start Nolan Valleau as a winger (he took a couple of shifts there on Friday) and insert Matt Spencer on defense. Stay tuned for updates throughout the day.
Possible Lines (if Andreoff plays)
Alex Volkov - Andy Andreoff - Cory Conacher
Boris Katchouk - Gabriel Dumont - Taylor Raddysh
Carter Verhaeghe - Ross Colton- Alex Barre-Boulet
Troy Bouke - Otto Somppi - Brady Brassart
Cameron Gaunce - Cal Foote
Nolan Valleau - Jan Rutta
Hubert Labrie - Ben Thomas