Looking to climb back into sole possession of first place, the Syracuse Crunch (21-10-2-0) head on the road to take on the Binghamton Devils (16-20-3-0) on Wednesday night. If there is ever an opponent that the Crunch, who has struggled a bit with consistency recently, would like to face, it’s the Devils. Six times they’ve met this season and six times the Crunch have emerged with a victory. In those six meetings, Syracuse has outscored Binghamton 29 to 9. Hopefully that trend continues.
In order for the Crunch to get back to their winning ways they will have to put forth a total effort, something that has been lacking over the last couple of weeks. Coach Ben Groulx has lamented the fact that they aren’t winning the puck battles and are constantly the second team to arrive at the puck. Their most recent game, a 5-2 loss to Toronto, was a prime example. For the first twenty minutes of the game, the Crunch were chasing the puck around and it ended with them trailing 3-0. They were better in the second two periods, but not by enough to overcome the deficit.
With Binghamton struggling (four losses in their last six games), it seems that it might be a good chance to give Eddie Pasquale a game off and start Martin Ouellette. Ouellette has been riding the bench since his call-up following Conor Ingram’s injury, while Pasquale has started seven games in a row (including two back-to-back series). Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be Coach Groulx’s way.
Since taking the helm prior to the 2016-17 season, ECHL goalie call-ups have played a whopping 78 minutes. Most of that came from Olivier Mantha’s one start at the end of last season. Nic Riopel chipped in the other 18 minutes in relief of Connor Ingram during a 4-2 loss against Utica last January. Clearly, Syracuse's head coach likes his goaltenders to have experience.
However it's worth asking the question: Does Pasquale even need a rest? The beauty of the AHL schedule is that even during the busy weeks there is usually a two or three day break worked into it. Yes, playing both Friday and Saturday night is tough, but that usually means no games Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
During this stretch Pasquale has posted a .908 SV% and a 2.58 GAA and won five of the seven games. The save percentage number is a bit below his his career average of .914%, but his goals against is right in line at 2.55. The Marlies game was most likely his worst game, there were a couple of goals that he might like back. Still, three of the goals allowed came short handed and one of those was an unlucky deflection off of a teammate’s stick.
The numbers don’t always tell the whole story with Pasquale. He may give up three goals in a game, but he will also make four or five key stops in that same game when the game is close. Even in the losses he is able to keep the team in the game by making a key stop on a breakaway or an odd-man rush (something that the Crunch allow on a regular basis). In the Toronto game, he kept them in it through the second and third periods by making several key stops.
So, expect Pasquale to be in net all three games this week and then next week as well. By then, hopefully Ingram will be back and they can get back to their regular rotation.
So, what will he face tonight? A Devils team that is 10-9-1-0 at home following a 3-2 win against Bridgeport. It’s also a Devils team that is dealing with its own goaltending questions. Mackenzie Blackwood was called up to New Jersey and was playing fairly well until he was hurt. That necessitated Cam Johnson getting the call from the NHL. Evan Cormier signed a contract with Binghamton at the end of December and has started the last two games. Following Johnson’s call-up, Jeremy Brodeur, son of Martin, signed a PTO on January 5th.
Most likely Cormier will start his third game in a row as the Devils look to pick up their first win against the Crunch this season. They did get a boost as forward John Quenneville was returned to them from New Jersey. He has two goals in three games against the Crunch this season and nineteen points in nineteen games overall with Binghamton.
For the Crunch, it should be a good chance to get their offense going again, as several players have enjoyed playing against the Devils this season. In particular, Carter Verhaeghe (12 points) and Cameron Gaunce (11 points) have seen their offensive totals swell against Binghamton.
The Crunch lost to the Toronto Marlies 5-2. Verhaeghe and Cory Conacher had the goals for Syracuse as the team allowed three power play goals in six chances against. Toronto scored 3 goals on 12 shots in the first period and outworked the Crunch for the majority of the game.
The Devils stopped a three-game losing streak by beating the Bridgeport Sound Tigers 3-2 behind a 26-save performance by Cormier, as he picked up the first AHL win of his career. Colby Sissons, Michael Kapala and John Ramage all found the back of the net in the second period to lead the Devils to the win.
Carter Verhaeghe - Andy Andreoff - Cory Conacher
Boris Katchouk - Ross Colton - Alex Barre-Boulet
Alex Volkov - Gabriel Dumont - Taylor Raddysh
Brady Brassart - Otto Somppi
Dominik Masin - Cameron Gaunce
Hubert Labrie - Cal Foote
Slater Koekkoek - Nolan Valleau
Notes: This could be a game where Coach Groulx shakes the lines up a bit as the Crunch look to find some offense at even strength. With an 11/7 line-up, he does constantly juggle the lines throughout the game, but he may do so even more as he looks for the right combination to get the team going. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Dennis Yan back in the line-up, either.