The Syracuse Crunch had their first of five three-in-three weekends of the season and they walked away with four of the possible six points that were available. More importantly they were the better team for the majority of the periods this weekend, something that hasn’t been the case for most of the season.
They only surrendered seven goals over the weekend (not bad considering they seven goals in back-to-back games a week ago), and for the most part were more the type of team we have been used to seeing over the Ben Groulx Era. It helped that they were facing a couple of teams in Bridgeport and Binghamton that aren’t off to the best of starts, but sometimes that’s what a team needs to get back on track.
Another good sign that this team is coming around is the fact that all three third periods were strong for the Crunch. One of the hallmarks of the team last season was that if they had a lead in the third period, the game was pretty much over. This season - not so much. The week prior they had blown two third period leads (luckily they won one of the games in overtime) and had frequently been outplayed in games in which they were behind (they are still winless when trailing after two periods). That changed this weekend. Even in Sunday’s loss against Hershey the third period was one of their better ones.
Coming and Going
It was a busy week for the equipment managers as players were shuffled all over the organization. The big one was the call up of Alex Volkov and Luke Schenn (and briefly Cory Conacher). Syracuse lost one of its top six forwards along with a top pairing defenseman.
To fill the holes in the line-up Oleg Sosunov and Jimmy Huntington were recalled from Orlando. Then Louis Domingue was traded (more on that later). Spencer Martin was recalled from Orlando.
To finish out the weekend, Luke Witkowski was placed on waivers by the Lightning and assigned to the Crunch. Syracuse made a couple of corresponding moves by sending Peter Abbadonato and Mikhail Shalagin to Orlando. Shalagin had yet to suit up in a game for the Crunch so it’ll be good for him to get some playing time with the Solar Bears. The same goes for Abbadonato, who had been a scratch for the last few games. By keeping Sosonov and Matthew Spencer in Syracuse, Witkowski could continue his role as a forward, although indications right now are that he’ll be at defense.
Roest also said Witkowski will be used at defense with the Crunch because he's a stabilizing factor back there— Syracuse Hockey (@syrhockey) November 4, 2019
On Monday, the team announced that Scott Wedgewood was recalled by the Lightning to serve as the third/emergency goaltender for the two games in Sweden. Zach Fucale was reassigned to the Crunch to serve as the back-up to Spencer Martin for the games this weekend. Guess it’s a good thing that the Crunch signed every AHL goalie that was available this weekend.
Solid week. No one missed any significant amount of time. In fact, the healthy roster was part of the reason a few players had to be sent down to Orlando. There just isn’t enough ice time available for all of the forwards.
A final thought on the Louis Domingue situation
It was funny to read some of the reactions to the trade. There were quite a few folks who didn’t agree with it and had somehow “done Louis dirty”. While the Louis Domingue redemption arc was a nice one for last season, it made for a rather awkward relationship for this season. It was clear that no one was happy with the situation. He didn’t want to be in the AHL and the organization had other plans for a solution in net in both Syracuse and Tampa.
Was it poorly handled by the Lightning at the beginning? Probably. General Manager Julien BriseBois misread the market a bit, thinking that more teams would be interested in acquiring a goaltender who had a strong season and could serve as a backup as well as a starter at the NHL level. Being so open with his intentions was nice, but didn’t exactly help his leverage in negotiations.
It’s understandable to see Domingue’s side as well. He did enough to at least earn a look as a backup at the NHL level. If he had been a free agent, chances are he would have signed a NHL deal on July 1st. Unfortunately, he wasn’t. It couldn’t have helped his confidence when he was placed on waivers and every team passed on him, as well.
So he was most likely grumpy to begin his season in Syracuse and that attitude could have spilled over into the locker room. We’ve all had that coworker that just didn’t want to be there. Even if they aren’t outwardly critical about the workplace, they give off a negative energy. In a locker room, that negativeness can be enhanced and spread out to other players.
With the trade, it was obvious that the organization wanted to move on. Let’s face it, the only thing lower on the trade scale than a conditional 7th round pick two drafts away is future considerations. New Jersey is an excellent spot for Domingue to land. While he started in Binghamton, a week of strong play could have him starting in New Jersey. Cory Schneider is a shell of his former self and Mackenzie Blackwood seems to be about a year or two away from NHL starter status.
For the Lightning and the Crunch, Domingue is completely off the books now and they can get back to the rotation they were planning on at the beginning of the summer. Wedgewood will get the bulk of the starts while Martin serves as an experienced back-up until Mike Condon is over whatever is ailing him.
The Penalty Kill
Syracuse was up to their old ways in the last two games of the weekend. They took way too many penalties (11) but somehow managed to kill them all off. Over the entire weekend they were a perfect 14-for-14 and overall have killed off 17 in a row. They are fifth in the league with a 90.8% success rate.
Not only have they been killing them off, but they haven’t been allowing many quality looks. Teams are not able to complete cross-ice passes and have to settle for shots from the points or outside the circles. Those shots are being blocked or tipped wide. The shots that have been getting through are being swallowed up or the rebound battles are being won by the Crunch.
One of the main reasons they’ve been so effective lately is that they’ve been maintaining their positioning in the defensive zone. They aren’t over committing to any one side or play. That keeps them from scrambling around and protects the dangerous parts of the ice.
Another reason they are able to stay strong on the kill is that they use almost everyone on the roster as a penalty killer. With a couple of exceptions (Spencer, Sosunov, and Huntington spring to mind) every is out there killing penalties. Seriously, next game track the number of players who line-up when they’re down a man and you’ll be surprised. That’s part and parcel for playing in the organization. If you’re going to get ice time for coach Goulx, you better be able to play at all ends of the ice and it’s great for the development of the players as well.
While it would be nice to cut down on the penalties per game, it’s reassuring to know that going down a player isn’t automatically going to lead to a goal.
Players of the Week
Otto Somppi - 2 games, 2 goals, 1 assist, 6 shots. It’s been a night and day difference for Somppi between this year and last. In the 27 games he appeared in last season he registered a total of four points with two of those coming in his first two games. There were too many games where he was invisible on the ice and on the scoresheet. This year he has been aggressive in the offensive zone, creating some havoc on the forecheck as well setting his teammates up for chances.It was a bit surprising that he was scratched against Hershey. While it’s understandable that Coach Groulx wants to rotate in some of the rookies, Somppi had earned the right to stay in the line-up with his play earlier in the weekend.
Scott Wedgewood - 2 games, 2 wins, 1.50 GAA, .932 SV%. As the Crunch’s defense has tightened up, so has Wedgewood. Coming off three kind of iffy starts, Wedgewood looked like the number one goaltender the Crunch were hoping they had signed to replace Eddie Pasquale. He was sharp despite a lack of action against Bridgeport and then kept the Crunch in the game in the first period against Binghamton (where he faced almost as many shots as he had against the Sound Tigers). He’s going to get a week off (and a trip to Stockholm) but when he returns he will likely get the bulk of the starts in the near future for the Crunch.
Friday, November 8th vs. Belleville Senators, 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, November 9th at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 7:05 p.m.
Monday, November 11th at Utica Comets 3:00pm est
Scheduling note: Due to a trip to Sweden to see the Lightning play the Sabres I will not be posting a Crunch Corner next week. We will still tackle any breaking news, but make sure to tune into Syracuse Speaks to hear Alex’s breakdown of the season so far.