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Crunch Corner: Who is this team?

The Crunch played three games this week. They were all different,

Scott Thomas Photography

With another week in the books, do we know what kind of team the Syracuse Crunch are? Not really. They were outplayed but opportunistic in a win against Utica on Wednesday, played a solid game start to finish on Friday, and lost a third period lead to the Penguins on Saturday. In the end, they did pull five of a possible six points, so that was good. However, it’s a little troublesome that they are still wildly inconsistent on a game-by-game basis 60 games into the season.

The home stretch is here and the schedule is going to get tough. The Crunch need to make sure they are up to the task and don’t fade over the last month of the season. The North Division is too close for them to stumble.

Standings

Injuries

Cameron Gaunce missed a couple of games with an upper body injury early in the week. He was injured in a hit on Sunday that earned Remi Elie a one-game suspension. Coupled with Jan Rutta’s recall, the Crunch defense was a bit thin for a couple of games. Luckily, Gaunce was back on Saturday and looked to be fine. He logged his usual large amount of minutes and scored a goal against one of his former teams.

Daniel Walcott is traveling with the team this week, which means he’s inching closer to his season debut. It’s unlikely that he’ll return to his former position on the blueline. He’ll probably bring his energy and experience to one of the bottom two lines.

Coming and Going

Jan Rutta was recalled to the Lightning to fill in for some of their banged up blueliners. It’s possible that he spends the rest of the season in Tampa as they make sure their players are healthy heading into the postseason. There is no limitation on roster spots for NHL teams at this point, so it doesn’t hurt them to keep him on the roster.

It does make things a little tighter in Syracuse, where they have seven active defensemen on the roster right now. Oleg Sosunov looked fine in the games that he played. Should they need someone long-term, they can recall Matthew Spencer.

The other big news was that Connor Ingram was sent to Orlando, where he played in all three games this past weekend. The “why” he was sent down is up for debate and probably really only known by GM Julien BriseBois, his staff, Coach Groulx, and Ingram. Anything else is speculation. Groulx has admitted that it isn’t his call when the young netminder returns. For now he’s working with a team that has Eddie Pasquale as the number one starter and Martin Ouellette as the back-up. That means a lot of starts for Pasquale, which he seems just fine with.

The Games

Wednesday, March 6th - 5-3 victory over Utica (Recap) (Box Score) (Highlights)

Friday, March 8th - 4-0 victory over Utica (Recap) (Box Score) (Highlights)

Saturday, March 9th - 4-3 OT Loss vs Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Recap) (Box Score) (Highlights)

Stars of the Week

Ross Colton - 3 games, 3 goals, 1 assist - It’s been an up and down season for the Crunch rookie. He’s been scratched a few times throughout the season and went through a recent stretch where he only had one point in 10 games. Yet he still has 27 points on the season (13 goals, 14 assists), has seen time on the power play and killed some penalties. In the last couple of games he’s had Andy Andreoff on his left wing and that seems to have sparked some production for both of them.

Eddie Pasquale - 2 games, 2 wins, 1 shoutout, 1.50 GAA, .948 SV% - Not a bad week for the Crunch’s undisputed number one goaltender. Until the situation with Connor Ingram is resolved, Pasquale will be the horse the Crunch ride for the rest of the season. If he keeps putting up weeks like this, they will be in a good spot come playoff time.

Thoughts

Who are these Crunch?

“When you don’t practice, it’s tough to get your ‘A’’ game.”

So said head coach Ben Groulx following the win against Utica on Friday. He was bemoaning the fact that the Crunch had played 12 games in 22 days and haven’t had a chance to practice too much.

But what is the Crunch’s “A game”? In a perfect world, it’s a team that plays fast paced hockey and forces their opponents to make mistakes. They win battles along the boards and come away with the puck in 50/50 battles. That’s a team that can go far in the playoffs.

Are they there yet? Not quite, at least not on a consistent basis. There are flashes, there are periods, there are even entire games where they play that way. They just haven’t strung a long stretch together where they’ve been able to play that way.

Partly it’s having a team full of rookies and second year players. The lack of practice and the lack of correction of mistakes that work their way into games is also to blame. The Crunch have been able to overcome some of the issues due to solid defense as well timely goaltending.

Overall, this is a team that has a good—but not great—power play. They have really, really good goaltending (even if half of the duo is in Orlando). Their defense is really solid, and they have three lines that can score consistently. Those are the good things.

For all that they do well, though, they still have some bad things that that creep into their game. They take too many penalties. They turn the puck over way too much. Lately they’ve had some issues in the third period closing out games. Those can be fatal flaws in the playoffs, and need to be corrected. There is time to work on it, so hopefully the coaching staff can find a way to get it done.

Upcoming Games

It’s easy to look at the standings and think that this week should feature three easy wins for the Crunch, as the teams they are playing are currently ranked at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. To their credit, Syracuse is 12-2 against this trio so far this season, with 8 wins at the expense of Binghamton, but that just doesn’t mean they are going to coast through the week.

Laval has been especially frisky of late. They beat Utica in their last game and fired 69 shots on net in two games against Toronto. The Crunch have to keep their foot on the gas and not play down to their opponents if they want to have a continued shot at home ice. They need as many points as possible this week, because the schedule is much tougher the rest of the way.

Wednesday, March 13th 7:30pm at Laval Rocket

Friday, March 15th 7:00pm vs. Hartford Wolfpack

Saturday, March 16th 7:00pm vs. Binghamton Devils