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Crunch Corner: Things are getting busy for Syracuse

With eight games in two weeks the Crunch have a chance to move up in the standings.

Scott Thomas Photography

It was a busy week for the Syracuse Crunch with four games on the schedule. Syracuse was able to pick up five of a possible eight points to edge a bit closer to Rochester and hold off the charging Toronto Marlies and Utica Comets. The offense is slowly re-engaging while the defense, with the exception of the third period in Monday’s game, is continuing its impressive run.

Standings

Coming and Going

For the second straight week, Jan Rutta and Mathieu Joseph swapped spots. While Joseph actually physically appeared in Syracuse this time, he didn’t get into a game. Neither did Rutta with Tampa. The Czech defenseman was able to make it back to Syracuse in time for the game against Laval on Wednesday.

Injuries

There were no new injuries to deal with this week and a couple of the banged-up forwards were able to return. Taylor Raddysh and Troy Bourke returned from their day-to-day injuries, while Dennis Yan is still out. Kevin Lynch is still out for at least a few more weeks as he continues to deal with a setback to his rehab. For the first time all year Daniel Walcott’s name popped up, and it looks like he may be ready to play in a couple of weeks.

Hubert Labrie missed all four games this week with an undisclosed injury and has only appeared once since February 8th.

The Games

Monday, February 18th at Toronto - 5-3 loss (Recap) (Highlights) (Box Score)

Wednesday, February 20th vs. Laval - 4-2 win (Recap) (Highlights) (Box Score)

Friday, February 22nd vs. Toronto - 1-0 OT win (Recap) (Highlights) (Box Score)

Saturday, February 23rd vs. Toronto - 3-2 OT loss (Recap) (Highlights) (Box Score)

Thoughts

12/6 vs. 11/7

Since Slater Koekkoek was loaned to the Crunch in the middle of January for his conditioning assignment, Syracuse has been in and out of the 11/7 rotation as Coach Ben Groulx had to find playing time for all of his blueliners. With Hubert Labrie on the shelf and Oleg Sosunov as a healthy scratch, Coach Goulx has been able to return to his preferred 12/6 line-up.

The return of Mitchell Stephens has helped, as well. Now the Crunch can roll four effective lines all game long instead of double shifting forwards to cobble together a makeshift fourth line. Syracuse played with same line-up two nights in a row, and having the lines set allows the forwards to get comfortable with each other instead of having to adjust to rotating linemates all game long.

It also looks like after a few months of tinkering, Coach Groulx has settled on a couple of lines. Carter Verhaeghe, Gabriel Dumont and Alex Barre-Boulet have skated as the top line the last couple of games, with Alex Volkov joining Andre Andreoff and Cory Conacher on the second line. An all-rookie line of Boris Katchouk, Ross Colton and Taylor Raddysh provides a third scoring line. Stephens, normally a center, has been on the right wing with Brady Brassart in the middle and Troy Bourke on the other wing for the Crunch’s best defensive/grind line.

With the number of young players on the team, it’s no surprise that it took the coaching staff a little while to see which combinations work the best together. How long they stick with it is another story, but for now these combinations seem to make the best sense. They are fairly well balanced and all four of them feature at least one player that is a threat to score.

Stephens has been playing as a wing since his return, with Andreoff continuing to play out of position in center. Perhaps the chemistry Andreoff has displayed with Conacher (both players are among the Crunch’s top scorers) trumps positioning. Also, it’s not like the Lightning and the Crunch don’t have fluid ideas when it comes to positioning.

Face-offs

The AHL doesn’t provide the public with face-off stats (or time on ice or shot attempts). So, it isn’t easy to figure out if what the eyes tell us is true, but it certainly appears that the Crunch aren’t great at winning face-offs. To prove this, we’ve started tracking face-offs here at Raw Charge, at least to the best of our abilities. In the three games since we’ve started, the result is clear: the Crunch aren’t great at face-offs.

Our calculations have them at 45% overall (69 for 154). Gabriel Dumont has taken the most (43) and is at 47%. Of the usual centers, Ross Colton has the lowest winning percentage (38%) while Andreoff (46%) and Brassart (47%) are in the same range as Dumont. Mitchell Stephens, taking draws mostly when his centerman has been kicked out, is a perfect five for five.

Not winning face-offs isn’t the be-all/end-all for a team like the Crunch. They still have enough skill to overcome a lost face-off, but it does make their lives a lot more difficult, especially when killing penalties. When their penalty kill struggles, it’s usually because they’re getting pinned in their zone. Winning a draw and being able to clear the puck is key to them killing off penalties.

The reverse is true for their power play. When they’re racking up two or three power play goals a game, it’s because they are keeping the puck in the zone and moving it around. They aren’t wasting time bringing the puck up the ice. In their three recent games they are 2-for-10 in offensive zone face-offs on the power play. When they lose a draw it gives their opponents a chance to clear the puck, reset their defense, and force the Crunch to bring the puck back into the zone, which can be challenging for Syracuse from time to time.

This is still a very small sample size and the results of one game can drastically affect the numbers. For instance, prior to going 5-for-19 on Saturday’s game, Dumont was hovering around a 62% winning percentage. However, it is something to keep an eye on as the season moves on.

Players of the Week

Eddie Pasquale - 3 games, 2 wins, 1 shutout, .939 Save Percentage, 1.62 Goals Against - The veteran was in net for three straight games this week and helped the Crunch pick up points in each game. He was fantastic in the 1-0 OT win and merely really, really good for the other two starts. After a rough stretch, he is playing his best hockey of the season.

Alex Barre-Boulet - 4 games played, 5 goals, 2 assists - After going nine games without a goal, Barre-Boulet put together a four-game (and counting) goal streak. With 26 goals, he now has the record for most goals by a rookie during the Lightning affiliation and is fourth all-time among Crunch rookies. He’s getting it done at even strength as only one goal came with man advantage.

Upcoming Games

It’s another busy week for the Crunch as they have four games on the slate, including three in three days. On Tuesday, they make up the postponed game from the middle of January. Then it’s an all-weekend hockey as they play Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Saturday and Sunday are key match-ups against the Rochester Americans as the two teams continue their season-long battle for first place.

Tuesday, February 26th at Binghamton Devils, 7:05pm

Friday, March 1st vs. LeHigh Valley Phantoms, 7:00pm

Saturday, March 2nd vs. Rochester Americans, 7:00pm

Sunday, March 3rd at Rochester Americans, 3:05pm