The Syracuse Crunch (20-9-2-0) look to rebound from a loss as they host the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (21-9-4-2) in a battle of Eastern Conference heavyweights on Friday night. This is the first meeting of the season between the two teams and should be an entertaining match-up.
Syracuse will have to deal with a team that is almost as red-hot point-wise as they are. The Sound Tigers have picked up points in 12 of their last 13 games. They have recovered from a middling start, much like the Crunch, to move up to second in the Eastern Conference.
For the Crunch, there a couple of pieces of good news. One - they don’t have to face Bridgeport at home, where they have posted a remarkable 12-1-2-1 record. On the road, the New York Islanders affiliate is a more reasonable 9-8-2-1. Second - leading scorer Michael Dal Colle (28 points) is currently busy scoring goals for the Islanders and not the Sound Tigers.
In fact, three of their top seven scorers are with the Islanders as Josh Ho-Sang (22 points) and Devon Toews (19 points) are also with the NHL club. That hasn’t slowed down Bridgeport, as evidenced by their recent rapid accumulation of points. Rookie forward Otto Koivula, a 4th round pick in 2016, is picking up the scoring slack with 5 points (3 goals, 2 assists) in the last three games.
Veteran Steve Bernier - yes, the one with over 600 games in the NHL - has 12 goals for the Sound Tigers, but is officially listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury and hasn’t played since the 22nd of December. With the offense as banged up as it is, Bridgeport has been relying on their defense, led by Sebastian Aho, and their goaltending duo of Jeremy Smith and Christopher Gibson.
The two netminders have both appeared in 19 games with Gibson having the slightly better numbers (2.68 GAA, .907 Sv% vs. 3.06 GAA, .896 GAA), but they both have double digit wins. With Smith having started the last two games, chances are Gibson will get the start against the Crunch on Friday night.
For the Crunch, they will have to get their offense going again if they want to get back to their winning ways. A big boost for that might come from their power play, which was sputtering a bit during the five-game winning streak recording just two goals on twenty chances. Both goals against Utica on Wednesday did come with the man-advantage as Alex Barre-Boulet stuffed home his own rebound and then Cory Conacher scored on a six-on-four advantage late in the game.
On that night, they were two-for-seven on the power play and there were signs that they were getting back to their old ways as the puck movement and retrieval was much improved over their previous games. Even on the power plays that they didn’t score the Crunch kept the puck in the zone for long stretches of time and had multiple opportunities. The Sound Tigers are a middle-of-the-road penalty killing team at 78.7%, so if the Crunch draw some penalties they should be able to keep the success going.
The Crunch dropped their first contest of the 2019 calendar year to Utica, 4-2. They did record two power play goals as already described, but struggled to get pucks past Thatcher Demko at even strength.
Bridgeport is also looking to rebound from a loss as they gave up two third period goals en route to a 5-4 shootout loss to the Rochester Americans (a loss that allowed the Amerks to climb two points ahead of the Crunch in the standings). Ryan Bourque, Tanner Fritz, Otto Koivula, and Matt Gaudreau all scored for the Sound Tigers as Jeremy Smith stopped 25 of 29 shots in the loss.
Boris Katchouk - Andy Andreoff - Cory Conacher
Carter Verhaeghe - Gabriel Dumont - Taylor Raddysh
Alex Volkov - Ross Colton - Alex Barre-Boulet
Troy Bourke - Otto Somppi/Brady Brassart
Cameron Gaunce - Cal Foote
Slater Koekkoek - Dominik Masin
Hubert Labrie - Ben Thomas
With Brady Brassart skating in the pregame warmup before their last game, it looks like he is almost ready to return to action. That leads to a glut of forwards and Olivier Archambault getting loaned down to Orlando for the immediate future. I fully expect Coach Groulx to continue the 11/7 line-up as long as Koekkoek is in town, which leads to an even bigger logjam up front.