Prior to Friday’s game, the Syracuse Crunch and the Rochester Americans had met five times this season. At no point in those five games have the Crunch had the lead, yet somehow they won two of those games (one in a shootout and one in overtime). On Friday night, the Crunch finally led thanks to a first period goal from Andy Andreoff. They then held on for forty minutes while Connor Ingram turned aside all 32 shots he faced. In the end, the one goal was enough as Syracuse emerged with the 1-0 victory.
With the win, the Crunch move into first place in the North Division for now. They also snapped a two-game losing streak and a 135:14 scoreless streak. They finished their five-game road trip with a 3-2 record and, more importantly, they pick up three out of four points against the Amerks. They won’t have long to celebrate, though, as the two teams travel up to Syracuse for a rematch on Saturday.
The Crunch started the night with some good news: Jan Rutta was back in the line-up. Unfortunately, they had to deal with the loss of Hubert Labrie. The veteran defenseman suited up for the 3-0 loss against Belleville on Wednesday after missing Sunday’s game against Providence with an injury. Cameron Gaunce was also out, as he was serving the second half of his two-game suspension.
They were also still without the services of Taylor Raddysh, Dennis Yan and Troy Bourke, who are still day-to-day with their own nagging injuries. It’s been a rough week injury-wise for the Crunc,h who were just turning the corner when it comes health before these new injuries popped up.
As noted in the preview, the Crunch needed a quick start, not only to get their confidence going, but because they have a pretty good record when scoring first. Despite some early pressure it was the Amerks that lit the goal lamp first. The good news for the Crunch was that it was the result of an overeager goal judge. Eric Cornell’s shot from the left circle did indeed beat Ingram, but it ricocheted off the post and out.
The Crunch then had their own bit of bad luck as Carter Verhaeghe stepped from behind the net and whistled a shot off of the crossbar. On the following face-off, Ross Colton also kissed a puck off the iron. Syracuse was generating chances, and with under seven minutes to go in the period it paid off. They finally found the back of the net.
Alex Volkov controlled the puck at mid-ice and fought off a stick check from Kevin Porter. The Russian carried the puck into the zone and forced defenseman Matt Tennyson to retreat. With an open lane, he dropped the puck back to Andy Andreoff who ripped a wrist shot over Scott Wedgewood’s blocker for his 18th goal of the season.
Following the goal, the Crunch went on the power play and almost made it 2-0. After a sustained amount of pressure, Alex Barre-Boulet had the puck in the slot. He heard Cory Conacher banging his stick on the ice to his right and deftly slid a pass over to the veteran forward. The quick shot was labeled for the back of the net but somehow Wedgewood slid over to make the stop.
The good news is that the Crunch took the lead and a 12-5 shot advantage into the locker room for the first intermission. Unfortunately, they left the crisp passing and clean zone breakouts in the locker room for the rest of the game.
The second period started roughly as Alex Volkov was decked by Andrew MacWilliam on the opening face-off.
Hello 2nd period!! Big Mac with the big hit. pic.twitter.com/Miej1wkc0s— Let's Go Amerks (@LetsGoAmerks) February 16, 2019
MacWilliam’s elbow came up after the hit and Andreoff took exception as he went after the Amerks’ defenseman. The two scuffled briefly and ended up with matching fighting penalties. Unfortunately for the Crunch Andreoff also picked up a two-minute instigator and a 10-minute misconduct.
Syracuse never seemed to get back on track following the hit.
The hitting picked up as the teams locked into a playoff-esque battle. Thanks to three power plays and an inability by the Crunch to cleanly exit their own zone, the battle was fought mostly in Syracuse’s zone. Their best player was by far Connor Ingram and he shone, stopping all 17 shots the Americans fired at him and off of him. Even a shot off of the helmet from Cornel couldn’t slow him down.
It was the same story for the Crunch. They struggled to get the puck out of their zone cleanly. Bad passes were picked off and Rochester won way too many battles along the boards. On the few chances they were able to get the puck out of the zone, the Crunch’s offense was limited at best. Their only prime scoring opportunity came shorthanded when Boris Katchouk broke up a pass at his own blueline and zoomed in on a semi-breakaway. He tried to cut in front of Wedgewood and slide the puck behind him a la Peter Forsberg, but the Rochester goaltender smothered it.
Thanks to Ingram’s stellar play, the Crunch entered the final frame with their 1-0 lead intact. For the first six minutes it was a continuation of the second period. The ice was tilted heavily in Rochester’s favor and Syracuse could only relieve the pressure by chipping the puck out of the zone. Their first rush through the neutral zone didn’t come until almost six minutes into the period. On that rush, Jonne Tammela managed to draw an interference penalty.
While they didn’t score with the extra man (they ended the road trip 0-for-16 on the power play), they did ease some of the pressure on Ingram. It also allowed the the Crunch to get their footing back and they were able to generate a little more offense. They didn’t score, but they also weren’t pinned back in their own zone for the entire 20 minutes. Ingram made another 10 saves in the period, including a nice glove save on Wayne Simpson with two minutes to go. The 32-save effort was his league-leading sixth shutout of the season.
It wasn’t the prettiest win of the season, but the Crunch look mighty fine atop the standings.
Coming back home with a Winfographic. pic.twitter.com/bUvfC3S0kJ— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 16, 2019
Three Stars of the Game:
3 Cory Conacher
2 Scott Wedgewood
1 Connor Ingram