It was a pretty good week for the Syracuse Crunch. They had three games and they won all three. That’s six points added to the ledger during a week in which the Rochester Americans dropped two games. For the first time all year, the Crunch have a little breathing room in the standings. This is a good thing since they are headed to Charlotte for two games against the league-leading Checkers.
Timely offense and a staunch defense led the Crunch this week. They only allowed five goals in their wins against the Rocket, Wolfpack and Devils. It was a week where the Crunch had to run the table and, despite a few rough periods, they did it. It’s a good sign that this young team is focused on winning and didn’t look ahead to the big match-up against the Checkers.
Nothing new on the injury front. No one missed any significant time, and they didn’t get any players back. It sounds like Daniel Walcott is close, and has traveled with the team to Charlotte. Kevin Lynch did not travel, but the team is “hoping” he will be back before the end of the season.
Coming and Going
On Thursday the Crunch swapped the same two defensemen for the fourth time this season. Oleg Sosunov went back to Orlando and Matthew Spencer came back to Syracuse. Spencer has been with the Solar Bears since the end of January and has appeared in 36 total games in the ECHL this season. He has 2 goals and 13 assists with Orlando.
This move would indicate that Jan Rutta may be destined to stay in Tampa for a little longer. Spencer gives the Crunch a little more experience as their seventh defenseman and could pop into the line-up a lot easier than Sosunov. Syracuse’s season gets a lot tougher after this weekend and the time for learning on the job is over. They have to be able to ice the best possible line-up on a daily basis and Spencer gives them a little more depth.
For the big Russian, a loan to Orlando allows him to appear in game action on a daily basis as opposed to watching from the press box. He played pretty well in his latest recall, but in reality he would only be seeing action once every six or seven games at this point as the Crunch go back to a 12/6 rotation. It’s better that he goes down to Orlando and helps them with their playoff push as opposed to watching the Crunch make theirs from the press box.
Players of the Week
Mitchell Stephens - 3 games, 1 goal, 2 assists - After going three games without a point, Stephens was back on the scoresheet with a point in every game. His one goal ended up being the game winner against Hartford.
Eddie Pasquale - 2 games, 54 saves on 58 shots (.931 Save Percentage), 2.00 Goals Against Average, 2 wins - He’s adapting well to the role as the number one goalie. Both of his wins featured his usual steady play. Pasquale is doing an excellent job of limiting rebounds and second chances from his opponents. Oh, and he also had an assist.
Thoughts on Games
Lost in all of the online chatter about why Connor Ingram is in Orlando instead of Syracuse is the fact that this is an excellent opportunity for Martin Ouellette. The 27-year-old netminder was signed by the Lightning this past summer to provide the organization with some goaltending depth. With Ingram and Eddie Pasquale already under contract, it was obvious that the plan was for Ouellette to spend the bulk of his time with the Solar Bears and occasionally bounce up to Syracuse due to injury.
Based on Coach Groulx’s limited use of goaltenders from the ECHL, the chances of him actually getting into games were slim. For his first two call ups, that was the case. Then, whatever happened with Ingram happened, and Ouellette, a former Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick, was not only in Syracuse but also appearing in games.
It appears he isn’t letting this chance slide by. He’s made four starts this season (and one relief appearance) and is 3-0-1 with 1.62 GAA and .938 Save Percentage. In three of his starts his starts he’s allowed just one goal. Much like Louis Domingue in Tampa, he’s filled the dual role of backup goaltender nicely. In that position, his first job is to give the starter, Pasquale, a breather. Secondly, he’s expected to still give Syracuse a chance to win every time he steps on the ice. Fact is, the Crunch aren’t losing points when he’s in net.
So far, with the exception of one start against Rochester (where he stopped 36 of 37 shots), Coach Groulx has been able to fit him into games against teams that are a little further down in the standings. It will be interesting to see if Coach Groulx starts him against Utica on Saturday or if Pasquale gets a rest in one of the back-to-back games against Charlotte.
This is a big opportunity for Ouellette, not only to prove himself to the Lightning organization, but also to the rest of the teams in the league. A strong performance down the stretch could lead to a starting job in another city for him. He has a fairly solid resume, with a Kelly Cup appearance last season and over 100 games in the ECHL.
Sometimes a player with talent just needs an opportunity to advance to the next level. In his previous stop with the Philadelphia Flyers organization, there were a lot of young goaltenders in their system. Jumping over to the the Lightning may have seemed like a lateral move with Andrei Vasilevsky a young 24 and Ingram only 21. However, the actual depth chart for the Lightning as a whole isn’t that great in net.
Pasquale, for as good as he has been with the Crunch, isn’t very likely to be in the organization’s long term plans. The same with Domingue. Other than Ingram, there really isn’t a touted goaltending prospect already in the fold. Magnus Chrona is still just 18-years-old and playing in Sweden. Ty Taylor is 19 and finishing up his first year at the University of New Hampshire. Neither of those players, both drafted in 2018, are headed for the pros anytimes soon.
Khris Oldham, drafted all the way back in 2015, transferred to Clarkson University and sat out as a redshirt this season. He’s 21-years-old and had some lackluster seasons at University of Nebraska-Omaha. Even if he decides to forgo the remaining two years of eligibility that he has, it’s not likely that he has shown enough to warrant the Lightning signing him to a professional contract.
Ouellette is in that sweet spot between waves of prospects for the Lightning. If he performs well and the organization decides that Ingram can be used as a trade asset, then there is an opening on the roster next year for him. That could be just the opportunity he’s looking for.
In the meantime, he can keep playing like he has and make it difficult for the Lightning and Crunch to send him back to Orlando.
This could be the biggest week of the year for the Crunch. They start it off by taking on the only team ahead of them in the Eastern Conference: the Charlotte Checkers. The Carolina affiliate did them a favor last week by beating the Rochester Americans twice. Now, the Crunch have to make sure that they don’t give back the ground they gained.
Following those two games will be contests against Utica, who may have fallen out of playoff contention but always play hard against the Crunch, and Bridgeport, a team that is chasing Charlotte in the Atlantic. It’s going to be a slugfest the rest of the way, starting with this week.
Tuesday, March 19th at Charlotte Checkers, 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, March 20th at Charlotte Checker, 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, March 23rd vs. Utica Comets, 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, March 24th at Bridgeport Sound Tigers, 7:00 p.m.