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Syracuse Crunch embarrassed by Utica Comets in 6-2 defeat

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The Crunch lost by four and probably should have lost by more.

Scott Thomas Photography

The beauty of a long season is that certain games can be buried and forgotten over the course of six long months. Wednesday’s game against Utica will hopefully be nothing but a mere footnote once the season wraps up next spring. The Syracuse Crunch were outplayed in every aspect of the game as they fell to the Comets 6-2 in Utica’s home opener.

Cory Conacher and Chris Mueller provided the offense for the Crunch while Scott Wedgewood was hung out to dry, knocked off the clothesline, and ground into the dirt by his teammates and still managed to make 32 saves. Unfortunately, Utica had 38 shots, so six of them found the back of the net.

The Crunch did manage to kill off all five of the power plays that Utica had (all of them in the first two periods) and, at points, played better shorthanded than they did at even strength. The penalty kill was the highlight of the game for Crunch fans.

Speaking of playing shorthanded, Syracuse was without their top defenseman as Cameron Gaunce was sidelined due to not feeling well. Oleg Sosunov took his spot in the line-up. Jimmy Huntington also returned to the ice after a few games off, slotting in for Peter Abbadonato in what will likely be a reoccuring theme for the Crunch throughout the season as Coach Groulx works his rookies in and out of the line-up.

Whether it was the shakeup in defense, or just a general malaise, the Crunch were flat from the first whistle to the last. Pucks bounced over sticks, clearing attempts were half-hearted and often knocked down by the Comets, and there was little or no pressure in the offensive zone. Utica started Michael DiPietro in net. The 20-year-old netminder was starting his very first AHL game and he faced all of 11 shots in the first two periods. That’s just not enough for a team like the Crunch that should have been launching shots from all angles at the rookie.

It’s a shame that the Crunch laid such an egg on Wednesday night. They had been progressively playing better as the season was warming up, with their best game coming last Saturday against Cleveland. The coaching staff will most likely be running the team ragged over the next couple of days as they prepare for the defending AHL champs, the Charlotte Checkers, on Saturday. Hopefully it produces a better effort in front of the home crowd.

Goals

(To save fans the distaste of watching the Utica goals, the links have not been provided. Feel free to go to the Utica Comets Twitter feed for the dismal details)

Cory Conacher (Dominik Masin) 1-0 Crunch

The Crunch were not playing well at all. Utica had them hemmed up for most of the first ten minutes of the game, and Syracuse was shorthanded. Leave it to Cory Conacher to do Cory Conacher things. He gathered the puck at his own blue line, raced down (up?) the ice along the left boards, beat Olli Juolevi to the inside and roofed a shot short side on rookie Michael DiPietro for the short handed goal. It was very nice.

Jonah Gadjovich (Wacey Hamilton) 1-1

Not so nice was the Crunch play after the goal. Utica kept up the pressure that they had established over the first half of the period. On what should have been an easy clear, Ben Thomas tried to feather a short pass to Mueller that was knocked askew by Vincent Arseneau. The puck trickled to Wacey Hamilton at the far boards. He whipped a shot on net and Gadjovich tipped it past Wedgewood to tie the game just 1:34 after the Crunch took the lead.

Chris Mueller (Alex Barre-Boulet, Luke Schenn) 2-1 Crunch

Mueller scored 16 power play goals last season. This one wasn’t a power play goal, but it might as well have been. Just as the Crunch’s man advantage expired, Alex Barre-Boulet let a shot go from in front of the net. The puck trickled to Mueller, who was off to DiPietro’s left. The veteran center easily swatted it into the net for his first goal as a member of the Crunch. It looked like Syracuse would not only survive the period, but lead after twenty minutes.

That didn’t happen.

Dylan Blujus (Sven Baertschi, Nikolay Goldobin)

Apparently, after scoring with just 18 seconds left in the period, the Crunch thought they’d head into the locker room with a 2-1 lead. The Comets had other plans. Wedgewood made a nice initial save on Baertschi, but no one picked up Blujus, who was hanging out all by himself in the left circle. The ex-Crunch defenseman got the puck and blasted it by Wedgewood with three seconds left on the clock to tie the game.

Second Period

Francis Perron (Zach MacEwen, Justin Bailey)

The puck can’t always be counted on to do things you want it to do, especially during a goalmouth scramble. Wedgewood stopped the first shot, but it bounced in front of him into a crowd. Mueller whacked at it once, it hit a Comet player, he whacked at it again and it hit a skate. The puck ended up with Perron, who got just enough of a shot off to get it over the goal line before Wedgewood could snatch it back.

Reid Boucher (Kole Lind)

Boucher is the leading goal scorer in the league. So, it’s probably not a great idea to give him a breakaway. Yet that’s exactly what happened. Ross Colton started the play by ringing a shot off the post. He followed the puck into the corner and fed it back to Cal Foote for a one-timer. This was all good and positive. Unfortunately the puck felt the need to bobble on Foote and it got past him. Kole Lind tapped it to Boucher and he was off to the races. He beat Wedgewood to double up the Comets lead.

Zack MacEwen (Nikolay Goldobin, Brogan Rafferty)

Even after watching this goal a few times, it’s still a bit of a mystery as to what the Crunch were doing on this play. Ben Thomas skated to the red line, dumped the puck in and peeled off. It could have been better, but Rafferty was well in his own zone along the boards when he gets it. He looked up and saw absolutely no one in a blue uniform between him and Goldobin. Rafferty passed it up and the Comets had a two-on-none. Goldobin held the puck until Luke Schenn slid into the picture (and into his goaltender), then fed the puck over to a wide-open MacEwen who slammed the puck into the wide open net.

Third Period

Vincent Arseneau (Nikolay Goldobin, Josh Teves)

Sure, why not one more goal. Even with the Crunch showing a little bit of life in the offensive zone, they couldn’t keep Utica off of the scoreboard. The play started with Oleg Sosunov making a halfway decent move in the Comets’ zone and getting a quality shot off. The problem was that he was trapped back in the zone when Utica broke out. Aresenaeu had a step on Gemel Smith, fired the puck at Wedgewood, gathered his own rebound and flicked it into the net for the sixth goal.

The Hester Prynne Memorial Turning Point of the Game:

It wasn’t just one point in time tonight, rather the stretch of 11 minutes and 20 seconds that the Crunch went without a shot on net in the second period that decided this game. Prior to the 5:25 mark of the second, when Mueller had a shot stopped by DiPietro, the Crunch were playing badly but still hanging with the Comets. By the time Foote had a shot find the goaltender at the 16:45 mark of the middle frame, the wheels had come off and the Crunch were down three goals and floundering on the ice.

Their offense couldn’t sustain any possession time in the zone, their forecheck was virtually nonexistent and their defensive coverage was abysmal. Coach Groulx shuffled up their pairings for a bit, but that just led to more breakdowns and open ice for the Comets.

The Three Best Players for the Syracuse Crunch:

Initially it was going to be Otto Somppi, Jimmy Huntington, and Danick Martel because they seemed to spend the least amount of time on the ice, but after a little bit of reflection this was a total team letdown and no one on the squad deserved to have their name anywhere near the word “best.”

Next Game:

Saturday, October 19th vs. Charlotte Checkers, 7:00 p.m.

The Crunch finally play in front of a home crowd as they host Charlotte on Saturday in the first game of the season in the War Memorial Arena. Hopefully, they put forth a better effort lest they be subject to a mighty booing from their own fans.

Box Score