Well, that didn’t go as planned.
After playing one of their best games of the season last Saturday, the Crunch followed up with six periods of absolutely disastrous hockey. They weren’t able to outscore their turnovers unlike in the past, and they lost both matches by healthy margins. In surrendering thirteen goals over two games the Crunch were a far cry from the number one defensive team that they were last season.
While it would be easy to say that the goaltenders need to play better, it was an overall team effort that led to the two losses. There may have been a goal or two that Louis Domingue and Scott Wedgewood would like back, but for the most part they did their job. Facing multiple breakaways and odd-man rushes is part of the job, but as a goaltender you kind of hope that once you make a save the players in front of you will clean up the puck and not turn it over right away.
That seemed to be the trend for the week. The goaltender would make a save, the defense would fail to clear the zone and then Utica or Charlotte would take advantage of their second chance and score. Then they would score again, and again. For the rest of the night the Crunch would be chasing the game instead of dictating play.
With a week off between matches the Crunch need to find a way to be better in their own zone so that they can be the ones forcing their opponents on their heels.
Coming and Going
It was another week with no roster movement between the affiliates. Frankly, with the amount of players in Syracuse right now, it’s kind of surprising that no one has been sent to Orlando. Perhaps the coaching staff is still sorting out who they want to rotate in the bottom six. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mikhail Shalagin get a start at some point this weekend.
The injury bug finally snuck up on the Crunch. Luckily it was in a position that they pretty well have covered. Backup goaltender Mike Condon suffered a lower body injury earlier this week and is out indefinitely. With Louis Domingue still on the roster the Crunch are still covered in net, but it’s a shame that Condon is sidelined once again as he attempts to work his way back to the NHL.
Cameron Gaunce missed Wednesday’s game with an ailment but was back in the line-up Saturday. Joining him in that dreadful game was Alex Volkov. The winger played in his first game of the season following his injury in pre-season.
As of right now, that just leaves Condon and Daniel Walcott on the injured side of the roster.
A General Malaise
Look, I don’t know what’s happening, either. If you remember, the one part of the team that I was unbelievably excited about was the defense. For the first three games it looked just fine, surrendering only seven goals (and zero power play goals). Then, this week, things definitely went askew.
In the past when this happened, they seemed to be able to right themselves and get their act together after a few big saves from their goaltenders. Last week, it was just mistake after mistake after mistake. Even on plays where they didn’t give up goals there were multiple turnovers.
If Utica or Charlotte pressed them with even a hint of a forecheck things got frantic in the defensive zone, which either led to a turnover or the puck flipping to the neutral zone without control. Offensive rushes were limited to a shot on goal from a distance. The rebound went to the boards, the Crunch often lost the battle for the puck, and the other team got an easy clear.
Following the Charlotte game, Coach Groulx talked about the team not being “desperate” enough. While October seems a bit early to be busting out the “d” word, what he’s saying is obvious. The Crunch have a tremendous amount of talent, but that doesn’t mean they can rely on skill alone.
Getting the puck out of the defensive zone, digging it out of corners when there are two forecheckers coming in, takes skill and hard work. Too often this season the Crunch are losing those battles and therefore possession of the puck. Quite frankly, they’re getting outworked by the other teams.
Now, don’t think this is a call for giving more playing time to the grit and grinder players. That’s not going to help, because you have to be able to actually score once you dig the puck out of the corner or away from the boards. The players on the roster can do it, God knows we’ve seen them prove that over the last two years.
Things have just been a little flat to start the season. That gets back to what Coach Groulx is referring to. The Crunch can’t have the “there’s plenty of time left in the period/game/season” mentality. If they want to get back on track, they have to start playing like they did at the end of the third period against Charlotte, with a hint of desperation. They have to get back to pushing the action instead of reacting to it.
Perhaps it’s something that will come with more game action. It is very hard to replicate that intensity in practice. The coaching staff seems to be trying their best to motivate the players despite the number of off days. The scratching of Boris Katchouk and Nolan Valleau shows that if the staff sees something in practice that they don’t like, there will be consequences.
After this week, the schedule kicks into a slightly more active phase, including their first three-in-three weekend of the season. [Writer’s note: those are always the best for recappers.] [Editor’s note: Have I thank you lately?] Hopefully that helps the players get back into the grind and activates their competitive spirits a bit.
If not, this could be a very long season for the Crunch.
No need to get too panicky
There is no sugar coating this: It was a bad week for the Crunch. However, it’s not time to write off the season just yet. Let’s just look back to last year. The last time the Crunch gave up six goals in a game was….last October and it happened twice. First against Rochester on October 10th and then against Charlotte (those darn Checkers) on October 27th. Things turned out just fine after that.
The Crunch gave up 10 goals in the two games on October 27th and November 2nd. After that they gave up just 7 goals in their next 5 games. Sometimes it takes a couple of tough games to get things going. That may be the case this year, as well.
The Crunch had a bad day on Saturday on special teams. Not only did the quest for a perfect season of killing penalties come to an end as they conceded two power play goals, they also surrendered two short handed goals.
Despite that, things are still pretty ok in this department. Their penalty kill is still at 91.3%, good for fifth in the league. Their power play (of which they picked up another goal on Saturday) is at 20.8% (12th in the league).
They have drawn more penalties than they’ve committed (57 penalty minutes served vs. 61 by their opponents). Their average of 11.40 penalty minutes per game is the 11th lowest amount in the league and more than two minutes below the league average. That’s good!
Sometimes the other team is on a roll
There were plenty of bad plays that led to goals against the Utica Comets on Wednesday. If you’re looking for a silver lining, the Crunch actually did the best in shutting Utica down last week. After putting up six against Syracuse on Wednesday, the Comets scored eight against Charlotte on Friday, and then put up seven against Rochester on Saturday. That’s a pretty good run. It may be a good thing that the Crunch don’t face them again until the middle of November.
Best Players of the Week
Chris Mueller - 2 games, 2 goals, 2 assists: The long time veteran forward looks to be fitting in with his new teammates. Both of his goals this week came from in close, one on a delightful two-on-one rush with Cory Conacher and the other on a rebound. Like the rest of his teammates he was also on the ice for his fair share of goals against, but unlike some of them he was at least able to find the back of the net on a couple of occasions.
The good news is that the Crunch have a week off to fix whatever is ailing them. They also have a chance to gain some ground in the standings as they take on two North Division rivals. They kick things off with a rematch against Rochester, a team they lost to in overtime to start the season. After that they welcome the currently undefeated Toronto Marlies to town.
Saturday, October 26th vs. Rochester Americans, 7:00pm
Sunday, October 27th vs. Toronto Marlies, 5:00pm