Eddie Pasquale didn’t allow a puck to get behind him for the second consecutive appearance. On Tuesday against Binghamton, an illness prevented him from completing the game and getting credit for the shutout. On Friday that wasn’t a problem as he stuck around all game and made 29 saves for his third shutout of the season. Andy Andreoff scored twice as the Syracuse Crunch defeated the LeHigh Valley Phantoms 4-0. The win propelled the Crunch into a first place tie as they head into their home-and-home series with the Rochester Americans.
Pasquale has now been involved in shutouts in three of his last four starts. He stopped all 26 shots against Toronto on February 22nd in a 1-0 OT win, gave up three goals to them the next night, then had the abbreviated start against Binghamton where he stopped five shots in just over 13 minutes, and finally had the stellar outing tonight.
While many of his stops were on long distance shots (the Crunch as a team did a great job of keeping the Phantoms out of the high danger areas), he did have to contend with a few tricky deflections and rebounds. His best save of the night came late in the first period while the game was still scoreless. Forward Mike Vecchione managed to get behind the Crunch defense on a breakaway and cut in front of the net. He tried to beat Pasquale on the glove side, but the veteran goaltender kept his left pad down and deflected the shot away.
LeHigh Valley is dealing with a lot of injuries right now, and that is part of the reason they have fallen out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. It didn’t help when, on their first shot attempt of the game, forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel fell awkwardly into the end boards following a shot. He wasn’t pushed, he just lost his balance and his leg buckled under him. He slammed into the boards and his head hit the ice violently. He lay motionless on the ice for a few seconds and had to be attended to by the trainers. He was able to get up and was helped off the ice but did not return to the game.
The Crunch didn’t relax against the shorthanded Phantoms. They wore them down throughout the game. The game was relatively close in the first period as the two teams traded offensive chances. As the contest continued on, Syracuse proved to be the better skating team. In the second period, their skill took over.
Less than a minute into the period Ben Thomas had the puck in his own zone. He hit Alex Barre-Boulet with a perfect pass that allowed the rookie to zoom through the neutral zone with speed. Once in the Phantoms’ zone, he cut to the left and dropped a pass back to Carter Verhaeghe. The converted center took his time and drifted back to the center of the ice. With the Phantoms defense giving him space, Verhaeghe was able to pick his spot and rifled a shot just under the crossbar and in for his 25th goal of the season.
The Phantoms just gave the Crunch way too much space on that play. From the easy zone exit, to no one even being close to Barre-Boulet in the neutral zone, to backing off of Verhaeghe, it was all a poorly-defended play. Teams that give the Crunch room to operate cause their own downfall.
The second goal of the night just happened to be serendipitous timing for the Crunch. Andy Andreoff was finishing up his mandatory two minute sentence for violating a rule of hockey when former Crunch Byron Froese lost the puck between his skates. Barre-Boulet picked his pocket and skated out of the zone. He spied Andreoff leaving the box and hit him with a perfect tape-to-tape pass.
Andreoff was well behind every Phantom except for goaltender Alex Lyon. The savvy veteran faked a forehand shot and pulled the puck to his backhand and roofed it over the pad and glove of Lyon.
It was Andreoff’s 20th goal of the season and the Crunch became the first team in the AHL to have three 20 goal scorers on their roster this year (Verhaeghe, Andreoff and Barre-Boulet). Last year, only Alex Volkov reached the 20 goal mark for the Crunch. The offense this year is clearly much more dynamic.
Lehigh Valley tried to get back in the game by mounting some pressure, but Pasquale and the defense withstood the push. The Phantoms best chance was once again on the stick of Vecchione as he had a point-blank chance once again turned aside by Pasquale’s left pad.
The third period started with the Crunch’s only full two-minute power play (they had a brief and unsuccessful 30 second one in the first period), and despite not scoring they had several good looks. With a 2-0 lead, the Crunch didn’t sit back as they dictated much of the play for the first half of the period. Their forecheck was aggressive and, if the Phantoms managed to get the puck in the zone, Syracuse won the battles along the boards and cleared the puck out.
If the first two goals of the game were testaments to the Crunch’s transition game, then the third was a prime example of their ability to grind a goal out. Cory Conacher scored his 19th goal of the season on a wicked one-timer from the slot at the 14:29 mark.
That was just the end result of more than 30 seconds of outstanding play in the Phantoms’ zone. It started with Conacher backhanding the puck into the zone. Mitchell Stephens grabbed the loose puck to set up a shot by Andreoff that was blocked to the corner. He retrieved it and got it Conacher down low. Cal Foote eventually sent a puck down low that Phantoms Colin McDonald possessed. His clearance was kept in by Cameron Gaunce.
Gaunce rushed the net but his shot was blocked to the far corner. Foote stepped up to keep it in and sent it down low. Andreoff fended off a Phantoms’ defender that allowed Stephens to get the puck behind the net. He sent a pass to Gaunce who quick-fed it to Conacher for the one-time blast from between the circles. Hard work, heads up play by the defense and excellent board work led to that goal.
The Crunch also worked hard for the final four minutes of the game. This time it was in their own zone. Trailing by three, the Phantoms pulled the goaltender with over four minutes to go. While they kept the puck in the zone for most of that time, they didn’t generate any dangerous shots. Syracuse iced the puck a couple of times, but for the most part they kept the play along the perimeter and prevented LeHigh Valley from even sniffing a goal.
In the final minute, the Phantoms won an offensive zone face-off. Andreoff read the play perfectly. Knowing that LeHigh Valley was going to work the puck from defenseman to defenseman he stepped up and deflected the pass to the neutral zone. He gathered it in and skated it into the Phantoms’ zone before burying it into the back of the empty net to seal the game.
The Crunch have now won two in a row and have picked up at least one point in their last five.
3 Alex Barre-Boulet - 2 assists
2 Eddie Pasquale - 29 saves, 1 shutout
1 Andy Andreoff - 2 goals, 4 shots, 2/4 from the face-off dot.