Perhaps next season the Syracuse Crunch will make sure not to open their home schedule with the Charlotte Checkers. After dropping a 4-1 decision a year ago, the Crunch played even worse this year as they lost 7-3 to a team that had been throttled the night before by the Utica Comets. Four first period goals silenced a raucous, sold-out Syracuse crowd that was hoping for a much better outcome in the Crunch’s 26th home opener.
Charlotte, who lost 8-2 on Friday to Utica, scored two short handed goals and two power play goals in the victory. Syracuse’s supposed strength - it’s defense and goaltending - has been a major deficiency over the last two games as they’ve surrendered thirteen goals. That includes a stretch of ten straight goals conceded from the end of the first period against Utica on Wednesday through the second period of the match against Charlotte.
The hometown faithful were excited to see the team raise it’s 2018-19 North Division Champions banner and the return of forward Alex Volkov, who had missed the first four games due to an injury he suffered in a Tampa Bay Lightning preseason game against the Florida Panthers. Cameron Gaunce also returned to action after missing one game.
Rookie Peter Abbadonato found himself back in the line up as well, as Coach Groulx made some changes to the line-up. Line up mainstays Boris Katchouk and Nolan Valleau were scratched and had to watch the train wreck from the pressbox.
From the way the Crunch played as a team, their presence in the game probably would not have made a difference. There was almost a team-wide lack of effort on display for most of the night. Defense comes from outworking the other team, and the Crunch didn’t even come close to matching Charlotte’s effort. After the game, Coach Groulx commented that the team didn’t play with enough desperation.
Louis Domingue started the game but was pulled after the first period as four of the Checkers eleven shots found the back of the net. Scott Wedgewood replaced him in the second and stopped sixteen of the eighteen shots he faced.
Eetu Loustarinen (Steven Lorentz) Short Handed 3:47
The Crunch were off to a fairly quick start in this game as they pressured the Checkers right off the bat. A delay of game penalty gave them a power play and a chance for an early goal. Instead of scoring, they insisted on turning the puck over until Charlotte scored. First it was a turn over by Alex Barre-Boulet. Cal Foote broke up the ensuing two-on-one, but on a delayed offside Louis Domingue passed the puck to no one. On that rush Foote blocked the shot into the corner, but Gemel Smith turned the puck over in the defensive zone and Loustarinen buried a shot from the slot.
Morgan Geekie (Brian Gibbons, Chase Priskie) Power Play 9:17
There wasn’t much to this goal. Just a wrist shot from Geekie that eluded Domingue. Pretty sure the netminder would like to have this one back. The goal snapped the Crunch’s season-opening streak of 18 penalties killed off in a row.
Chase Priskie (Morgan Geekie, Fredrik Claesson) 11:27
The Crunch continued to struggle to clear the puck cleanly and kept allowing Charlotte to keep possession. Priskie released a little wrister from the right point that somehow found its way past Domingue. There was a little bit of traffic in front of him, but it was a shot that you expect him to stop.
Brian Gibbons (Chase Priskie, Morgan Geekie) Power Play 18:47
The Crunch had actually started to play a little bit better following the Priskie goal, but Cal Foote was whistled for an elbow in the neutral zone sending Charlotte back on the power play. A low shot from the point from Priskie was deflected in front by Gibbons and the Checkers had their second power play goal of the period.
Julien Gauthier (Chase Priskie, Brian Gibbons) 9:07
Syracuse had started the second period much, much better as they controlled the play for most of the first ten minutes. They did have one hiccup as Gauthier found a seam between three Crunch players (Chris Mueller, Cameron Gaunce, and Luke Schenn) and wristed a shot off the bar and past Scott Wedgewood to build the lead up to five goals.
Chris Mueller (Cory Conacher), Short Handed, 12:10
After finally killing a penalty, the Crunch immediately went back short handed. They not only managed to kill that one off thanks to some nice stops by Wedgewood, but cut into the lead after Conacher and Mueller combined on a two-on-one short handed. Chase Priskie tried to force a cross-ice pass through the Crunch’s zone that Mueller deflected to Conacher. The veteran Crunch forward streaked down the left side of the ice with Mueller in the middle. Conacher slowed, toe-dragged the puck around a sliding Priskie, and fed a pass over to Mueller who tapped it into a wide open net.
Brian Gibbons (Colin Markison), Short Handed, 2:48
Prior to the start of the third period, Mueller spoke about the Crunch needing to play well in the third and pull some positives out of this game. After four straight periods of bad play, any positive energy would have been greatly appreciated. Things started well as Syracuse pushed play and created a power play, but Things did not end well.
Barre-Boulet had the puck at the top of the left circle and tried to poke it through Colin Markison’s skates. The Checkers’ winger blocked it and poked it past Barre-Boulet sparking a two-on-one. He carried it into the zone and slid it over to Brian Gibbons who slotted it by Wedgewood for a 6-1 lead and dashed any realistic hopes of a comeback.
Alex Barre-Boulet (Dennis Yan, Chris Mueller), Power Play (5-on-3), 12:51
It took a 5-on-3 power play to keep the Checkers from scoring shorthanded, and for the Crunch to pull a little positive energy out of downtrodden night. The play opened up because of an errant pass. The puck jumped over Conacher’s stick at the top of the left circle. He was able to retrieve it and pass it down low to Mueller. At this point all three Charlotte defenders had overcommitted to that side. Yan threaded a pass across the ice to Barre-Boulet who buried the one-timer from the doorstep as he had done so many times last year.
Dennis Yan (Cameron Gaunce) 15:03
With a little bit of energy behind them, the Crunch stuck once again to cut the Charlotte lead to 6-3. Dennis Yan displayed the offense that he keeps hidden far too often as he weaved his way into the Checkers’ zone and snapped a wrister past Forsberg.
Julien Gauthier (Janne Kuokkanen, Fredrik Claesson) Empty Net 18:48
With two-and-a-half minutes to go and a glimmer of hope, Coach Groulx pulled Wedgewood from the net for an extra attacker. On a few rushes it looked like it would pay off as Abbadonato had a good look at the net snatched by Forsberg’s glove and then slid one just wide right off the heel of his stick thirty seconds later. The aggressiveness burned them in the end as Gauthier grabbed an outlet pass at center ice and skated in all alone to the unguarded Syracuse net for the final goal of the night.
The Sam Spade Memorial Turning Point of the Game
The multiple turnovers that led to the first shorthanded goal for the Checkers. Charlotte has a pretty good penalty kill unit, but the Crunch truly went out of their way to help them score that first goal. Three turnovers in a thirty second period (including two in their own zone) is inexcusable on the power play.
From that point on Syracuse was pretty much chasing the game and could not get out of their own way until the third period. By that time the deficit was just two large to overcome.
The Three Best Crunch Players of the Game
3. Ross Colton - This may have been his best games in regard of being the new physical center that he has developed into this year. He had several solid hits that actually caused turnovers rather than just getting the crowd excited.
2. Danick Martel - It was a short night for Martel as he didn’t return after serving a penalty for a first period fight. He did fall awkwardly at the end of the fight and hit the back of his head on the ice (with no helmet on). After the game Coach Groulx did confirm that he was hurt on that play, but had no update. Before that he was all over the ice, flatout skating by a Checker defender on a loose puck for an excellent chance on net as well as bouncing around like a wrecking ball on several shifts.
1. Dennis Yan - The third period was one of Yan’s best as he added a goal and an assist to his season totals. He’s kept pace with Smith and Conacher at even strength and earned his spot on the power play as well. Hopefully he can keep it up on a consistent basis throughout the season.
Saturday, October 26th vs the Rochester Americans, 7:00pm
The Crunch have a week off to figure out how to fix their defense. Thirteen goals allowed in two games is very un-Syracuse like. Expect a lot of hard practices and perhaps some combination changes. With the number of players they have in town (especially forwards), Coach Groulx will not hesitate to bench someone who he feels isn’t pulling his weight on the ice.