The Syracuse Crunch went into Cleveland and did something they weren’t able to do last spring in the playoffs: Win. It might have helped that they didn’t have to face Brad Theissen in net this time. Instead it was a duo of Veini Vehvilainen and Matiss Kivlenieks. The Crunch struggled to victory in the first meeting on Friday, but found their offense on Saturday.
While it’s still too early to see the identity of this season’s team, there are some carryover trends from last season. When they get space in the neutral zone they can generate speed and cause issues for their opponents. Their power play (33%) is lethal and the penalty kill is solid.
So far Coach Groulx has started each game with different line combinations. Despite being a veteran-heavy team, the players haven’t had much game action together, so it might be another few games or so until he figures out the right combination. One thing he hasn’t done much of so far is tinker with the combinations throughout the game. He’s giving them a chance to get used to each other and find some chemistry. It will be interesting to see if some of the combinations (especially the Dennis Yan-Gemel Smith-Cory Conacher line) stay together for Wednesday’s game.
Going into Utica will be a good test as the North division rivals always tough to play at home (plus it’s the Comets’ home opener). The Crunch’s biggest test of the early season will come on Saturday when they open their home schedule against the Charlotte Checkers. The defending champions took three of four games against the Crunch last season, including both matches in Syracuse.
Coming and Going
The Crunch picked up some veteran help as Gemel Smith was assigned to Syracuse following Brayden Point’s return to the line-up in Tampa. Luke Schenn also suited up for his first games with the team, adding some physicality to the blue line as well as a steady presence. He also chipped in a couple of points, which is an added bonus.
As for Smith, he was exactly what the organization was hoping for when they signed him this summer. He was quick on the forecheck and tough on the puck in all zones. Smith also added some speed and tenacity on the penalty kill.
Surprisingly, no one was assigned to Orlando as a result of the additions. It looks like they may be rotating several players on the bottom line. Already we’ve seen Otto Somppi and Jimmy Huntington scratched since Smith entered the line-up. As for the defense, Luc Snuggerud was the odd man out in both games Schenn appeared in for the Crunch.
Despite a fairly physical series against the Monsters, there were no major injuries to report from either game. The Crunch are fairly healthy with the exception of Daniel Walcott and Alexander Volkov, who remain out for the near future.
The New Veterans (non-goalie edition):
The Crunch did something on Saturday that they haven’t done since the 2016-17 season: they had just one rookie in their line-up, Peter Abbadonato. Part of the reason they were able to do that is because of the veteran signings they made over the summer. So, how have those players contributed so far?
Danick Martel - 3 games, 2 goals scored (combined distance on the goals: 3 feet).
Smith - 2 games, 2 assists
Both players play similar games. They rely on speed, kill penalties, and can be absolutely pains in the ass to play against. That’s what they’ve done so far.
Chris Mueller - 3 games, 1 assist
Mueller didn’t really make an impact in his first couple of games. On Saturday he was a little more effective as he had several chances down low that he almost converted. With Coach Groulx’s line shuffling early on in the season it might take awhile for Mueller to find a compatible line mate.
Luke Schenn - 2 games, 2 assists
Schenn missed the first two games as the organization gave him a couple of extra days to sort his personal affairs. Since he’s entered the line-up he’s played a fair amount of minutes (first paired with Cameron Gaunce and then Nolan Valleau). Both of his assists were shots from the blueline that were tipped in front of the net.
In their three games the Crunch have had five infractions, two infractions (both on the same play), and seven infractions. That’s...inconsistent, but three games is also too small of a sample size to see if they’re going to fall into the same bad habits as in the past by taking too many undisciplined penalties.
The last two games weren’t too bad, but both Valleau and Gaunce managed to pick up extra penalties (Valleau for arguing with the ref and Gaunce for ripping off a Monster player’s helmet). That’s an added element that really needs to go away quickly.
As far as penalties in the offensive zone, they’ve avoided that pretty well. Ross Colton did pick up a needless one late in Saturday’s game, but so far most of the penalties have been okay, or, in the case of Ben Thomas’ slashing penalty on Saturday, timely (he prevented a pretty good scoring chance).
The good news is that the Crunch have killed off all thirteen shorthanded opportunities that they’ve faced to open the season, so whoever is responsible for coaching the special teams is doing their job. Almost all of the forwards have found time on the penalty kill, something that bodes well as it helps keep them fresh.
Their formula for keeping the puck has been pretty simple, keep the other team on the perimeter, don’t allow second chances, clear the puck when able, and, as always, rely on some strong goaltending. They haven’t been as quick to rush up the ice offensively as they have in the past (hence the lack of shorthanded goals), but that prevents them from getting caught out of position as well. The forwards stay in and give the defense outlet options so they don’t have to just bang the puck off the glass to clear it.
At some point they will give up a power play goal, but much like last year, they shouldn’t give up too many. If they can cut down on the times they’re shorthanded in a game, that just gives their offense more time to work.
Two more games this week including the home opener (
finally FINALLY, GWAD - Alex). It’s going to be a tough game. The Checkers are off to a 2-2 start, but their 13 goals scored is tied for second in the league.
Wednesday, October 16th at Utica Comets, 7:00pm
Saturday, October 19th vs. Charlotte Checkers, 7:00pm