The good news from Syracuse’s 5-3 loss on Monday was that they scored three goals. That’s equal to the amount on goals they scored in the previous four games combined. The bad news was that they couldn’t hold a two-goal lead and surrendered four goals in the third period. With the loss they are now 1-3-0-1 in their last five games. They get a chance to break out of the funk on Wednesday as they host the Laval Rocket (21-23-5-4).
Monday was a deflating loss for the Crunch simply because they just don’t blow third period leads this season. Coming into the game they were 22-0-1-0 when leading after two periods. They had only given up 29 third period goals on the season and had a +30 goal differential. They weren’t even playing that badly for the first ten minutes of the period. They had some chances in the offensive zone and they were forcing some turnovers and killing time off the clock.
Even after a Cal Foote penalty that led to a power play goal for the Marlies and cut the lead to 3-2, the Crunch were still playing fairly well. They weren’t pinned back in their zone the whole time. One thing they did have trouble with was defensive zone face-offs. Prior to some last minute wins when the game was already out of reach, the Crunch only won one in seven face-offs in their own zone. The game tying-goal came following a clean loss that allowed Toronto to move the puck down low and led to the deflection goal by Adam Brooks.
With the game tied they had a few chances, most notably Carter Verhaeghe alone in front of the net on a partial breakaway that was stopped by Michael Hutchinson. In all, it wasn’t the worst period that the Crunch have played in terms of being dominated in shots and zone time, they just weren’t able to capitalize on their chances. The Marlies were.
A small silver lining in the loss is that some of the Crunch’s big guns offensively found the scoresheet. Cory Conacher snapped a five-game goalless streak, Carter Verhaeghe snapped a six-game streak and Alex Barre-Boulet recorded his first goal since January 25th. If those three get back to their regular scoring habits, the wins will start piling up again.
While Wednesday is not a must-win game for the Crunch, it is an important one, not only for the team’s confidence, but because the race for the playoffs in the North Division has tightened up considerably in the last couple of weeks. Only four points separate the second place team (Syracuse with 64) and the fifth place team (Belleville - 60). The teams chasing the Crunch are red hot. Belleville has points in 13 straight games (9-0-0-4) while Utica, currently tied with Syracuse, has points in 7 straight (6-0-1-0).
The good news is that the Crunch still have a few games in hand among all of the teams they are bunched up with. But they’re going to have to start winning those games in order to keep their position in the standings. The game against Toronto was one of those opportunities to gain some ground on their rivals, and they came up just a little short.
While Laval is not currently in the playoff picture, they have played tough against the Crunch this season. This the fourth match-up between the two teams and the second meeting in Syracuse. The first time these two teams faced each other in the Onondaga War Memorial Arena it was an exciting 6-4 Crunch win that featured a season-high four power play goals for Syracuse. They’ve since split two games in Laval since then, with the Crunch picking up a 3-2 shootout win and then losing 4-0 the next day.
The Crunch will be dealing with a bit of a roster shake-up against the Rocket similar to the one they went through last week. Jan Rutta was once again recalled by the Lightning due to the injury suffered by Victor Hedman. In his place, Mathieu Joseph was returned to the Crunch on loan. Unlike last week, Joseph has physically returned to Syracuse but is unlikely to play in the game against Laval. In addition, rookie Otto Somppi was reassigned to Orlando.
With Troy Bourke cleared to return after missing the last four games, and Taylor Raddysh and Dennis Yan day-to-day, there aren’t enough roster spots for all of the forwards. Somppi has been scratched more times than not when the Crunch have had a fairly healthy roster and this reassignment will get him a chance to play regularly in Orlando. The Finnish forward picked up a goal and an assist in his first two games in a Syracuse uniform but hasn’t found the scoresheet since then, going pointless in his last nineteen games.
Rutta’s recall and Hubert Labrie’s undisclosed injury leaves the Crunch with just six defensemen on the roster. Hopefully both issues are just temporary, since Matthew Spencer wasn’t recalled in conjunction with Somppi’s reassignment
Not having Rutta in the line-up does hamper the Crunch in that they lose one of their better puck-moving defensemen. Building their play from the backend through the neutral zone is key to their offense, and that’s one thing that Rutta really helps them with. It’ll be up to Ben Thomas and Nolan Valleau to pick up the slack in that area with the Czech defenseman in Tampa.