Heading into their five-game road trip, the big question for the Syracuse Crunch centered around their ability to score on the road. Through four games, the question still remains. Why can’t they score on the road?
On Wednesday night, they suffered their second straight defeat by shutout as they lost 3-0 to the Belleville Senators.
Through the first four games on the trip they have scored a total of seven regulation goals. That’s not great. What’s even worse is that six of them came in one game - a 6-0 win against Hartford last Friday night. In the other three games they’ve only been able to find the back of the net once, a third period goal by Cory Conacher last Wednesday in their 2-1 shoot out win against Rochester. With the back-to-back shutout losses, the Crunch’s scoreless drought is now sitting at 121:20. That’s also not great.
In the game against the Senators, they didn’t play badly. In fact, an impartial observer might even say they had the better of the play for most of the game. The Crunch had 31 shots on net and played an extremely solid defensive game. Their play on defense was even more impressive considering two of their top defenders, Cameron Gaunce (suspension) and Jan Rutta (inability to teleport from Tampa to Belleville), were unavailable to play.
So why were the Crunch, the top offense in the AHL, unable to find the back of the net against the Senators? Indeed, why have they been so unable to score at all on the road lately? If there was one reason, it would be easy to fix, but it isn’t just one reason.
In Wednesday night’s game, there was a host of issues that kept them from getting their offense flowing, from untimely offsides, to active stickwork by the Senators, to some nice saves by goaltender Marcus Hogberg. The most glaring problem, though, was their inability to string passes together in the offensive zone.
When the Crunch’s offense is clicking, they move the puck quickly and decisively, forcing their opponents to overcommit and opening up shooting lanes. When the Syracuse offense struggles, the phrase “errant pass” is uttered way too often by broadcaster Lukas Favale. That was the case against the Senators. Too many passes were thrown into areas where there were no players or put in places that were just a few inches out of reach or into a teammate’s skates.
When a team is shut out in back-to-back games it’s easy to say they need to shoot the puck more, and that they need to be passing the puck less. The thing is, no one ever says that about the same team when they put six goals on the board playing the same way. The Crunch, much like the Lightning, are always going to be a team that passes the puck a lot. On good nights those passes connect and lead to goals. On bad nights they don’t.
The Crunch may have been shut out, but there were multiple opportunities for them to score on Wednesday night. It just didn’t happen. Here are a few occasions in which had they puck bounced one way instead of the other it might have ended up in the back of the net.
(Timestamps indicate amount of time left in period)
17:11 Alex Volkov undresses a Belleville defenseman with a nice toe-drag and with Hogberg leaning the wrong way, flips a shot that goes just wide of the net.
7:41 Oleg Sosunov fires a shot from the blueline that is tipped on net. Hogberg makes the stop, but the puck comes to Alex Barre-Boulet streaking down the slot. The goaltender squares up just in time to see the rookie dish the puck off to Gabriel Dumont. Hogberg flails at the shot from the Crunch’s captain and gets just enough of it to deflect it wide.
This came less than a minute after Belleville took the lead on a rebound goal and would have swung momentum right back to the Crunch who had a very strong first period.
13:10 Down 2-0 following a goal that Eddie Pasquale most likely would like to have a back (it was a shot from the point that beat him shortside through traffic), Jonne Tammela is streaking down the right side of the ice. He draws the defender to him before sliding the puck over to Nolan Valleau. The defenseman runs out of space but feeds the puck back through the crease. Somehow it doesn’t hit Hogberg or Brady Brassart (who is camped out in front of the net)
5:02 The next 30 seconds will haunt Alex Volkov’s dreams for the next few nights. His first chance comes down low on a cross-crease feed from Conacher. With a good look at the net he feeds it just wide.
4:52 The Crunch keep possession and a shot from the point is stopped by Hogberg. The puck is on Volkov’s stick and the net is wide open. His shot is blocked away by a defender.
4:35 Volkov is in front of Hogberg and gets the puck from behind the net. He makes a nice play to kick the puck from his skates to his stick and stretches to wrap a backhand shot past the goaltender, but is denied by Hogberg’s left pad.
13:14 On the power play, Conacher is set up in the right circle and waiting for a chance to unload a one-timer. The puck comes but it’s just a little too far ahead and he has to reach for it. He doesn’t get a shot off, but he does get a stick in his face for his troubles. The Crunch have a 10-second 5-on-3 power play.
13:09 The Crunch win the face-off and work it over to Conacher. His shot is smothered but the puck comes to Barre-Boulet. His follow up shot, with Hogberg sprawled out, goes just wide of the net.
That’s eight very good chances for the Crunch to put it into the net. That doesn’t count the other 29 more routine shots that Hogberg stopped on his way to his first shutout of the year. On most nights, at least one of those opportunities goes into the net for Syracuse. It just didn’t happen for them.
That being said, they do have to find a way to score on the power play. Against the worst penalty kill in the league, they went 0-for-4 Wednesday night and are now 0-for-15 on the road trip. That’s not good. That’s not good at all. The first unit struggled to get any type of meaningful zone time or shots on net. The second unit fared a little better, but were still spending too much time retrieving the puck from their own zone and skating it up ice. Coach Groulx mixed the lines up a little early in the game, but it was too no avail.
Friday’s game against Rochester is looming large on the schedule. A win and the Crunch are tied for first place in the division. A loss would put them four points back. They have to find someway to capitalize with man advantage if they want to get the result they are looking for.
Three Stars of the Game:
3 Alex Volkov - 5 shots on net - the best offensive threat for the Crunch all game long
2 Marcus Hogberg - 31 saves, 1 shutout
1 Drake Batherson - 2 assists. Whenever the Batherson, Nick Paul, Logan Brown line was on the ice they dominated the play. When they were off the ice, the Crunch had the better run of play.