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Syracuse Crunch lose 4-2 to Charlotte Checkers

Special teams were the difference as the Checkers rode two power-play goals to victory.

Scott Thomas Photography

Syracuse Crunch center Brady Brassart was streaking towards the Charlotte Checkers’ net when teammate Hubert Labrie slid the puck towards him. There was about seven minutes to go in a one-goal game. The pass made it through and Alex Nedeljkovic slid over in desperation to stop Brassart’s shot. Instead of going in the net, the puck slid just wide of the right post and bounced harmlessly off of the end boards.

That was the story of the game for the Crunch as they lost 4-2 to the Checkers in the second game of their back-to-back meetings this week. It was another close, tough game, but this time it was Charlotte emerging victorious. Syracuse had 34 shots and Charlotte had 31 as the offenses had a little more room to operate then the night before.

Other than the loss on the scoreboard, the other big news for the Crunch was that Martin Ouellette left the game less than a minute in after Ross Colton and Julien Gauthier collided with him in the crease. The back-up netminder was in immediate distress following the collision and had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher with a possible right leg injury. His status was unknown as of publication.

Eddie Pasquale relieved him in net and faced 28 shots, stopping 25 of them. The big difference with this game came on special teams. Charlotte was able to convert on two of their three power plays, while Syracuse failed to tally a goal in their four opportunities. It was the last meeting between the two teams during the regular season, but they could meet again in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Turning Point:

Alex Nedeljkovic’s stop on Cory Conacher 20 seconds after Gabriel Dumont tied the game. The Crunch had brought the game within one goal and were pressing. They had a two-on-one and Alex Volkov slid the puck to Conacher between the circles. The veteran snapped a quick shot on net but the goaltender got his blocker on it and kept it out of the net.

Ninety seconds later the Checkers scored on the power play and the Crunch never get back into the game.

Crunch Goals:

1. Gabriel Dumont from Alex Barre-Boulet and Cal Foote (1-1)

Foote started it with a nice keep at the blue line, and then he threw it down low to Barre-Boulet. The rookie chipped a pass over a Checkers’ stick and Dumont snapped it home. It took a nice bit of stickwork by the veteran center, as the puck was in his skates and handcuffed him a bit. He was still able to get enough on it to beat Nedeljkovic.

2. Carter Verhaeghe (3-2 Charlotte)

Foote doesn’t get a point on the goal, but he did have a nice assist as he pinned Zach Nastasiuk away from the puck, allowing Verhaeghe to pick it up along the boards. Verhaeghe did the rest as he circled to the blue line, split between Andrew Poturalski and Clark Bishop, and then sniped a shot over Nedeljkovic’s glove for his 29th goal of the season and 70th point. It was a big goal at the time, coming just 16 seconds after the Checkers had taken a 3-1 lead.

Checkers Goals:

1. Roland McKeown from Nicolas Roy and Steven Lorentz (1-0 Checkers)

The puck was ricocheting around a bit in the Crunch zone and they kind of got out of sorts. That led to McKeown being wide open in the right circle and he just rifled it by Pasquale. It looked like the Crunch goaltender was set for the shot, but he might have been off his angle just a bit, giving McKeown just enough room to slide it past him.

2. Martin Necas from Jake Bean and Morgan Geekie - PP (2-1 Checkers)

Necas, who had not had a power play goal this season prior to the one he scored Tuesday night against the Crunch just blew this one past Pasquale. After winning a contested face-off, the Checkers just worked the puck around to the left circle, and Dumont was just a little bit slow in getting over to block the shot.

3. Martin Necas from Jake Bean and Morgan Geekie - PP (3-1 Checkers)

This is not a replay. Once again the Checkers had the puck on the perimeter and worked it around to Necas, who fired a one-timer from the left circle. Pasquale was a little slow in getting to the post and he might have lost track of the puck for just a second due to the screen in front of him set by Julien Gauthier.

4. Nicolas Roy from Dennis Robertson - EN (4-2 Checkers)

The dagger goal came on a not very smart shot attempt by Robertson. He was behind his own blueline when he let the puck go. It went wide of the Crunch net, but Roy beat Foote to the loose puck and slammed it home to seal the game.

Goaltenders:

Syracuse - Martin Ouellette - 2 saves on 2 shots. It was a tough outing for the backup netminder who looked sharp on his first two stops but was bowled over less than two minutes into the game. It would have been a nice test for him against one of the top teams in the league. Now the Crunch have to hope it’s not a long-term injury.

Eddie Pasquale - 25 stops on 28 shots. For a goalie who wasn’t expecting to play, Pasquale was fine. He had a couple of sparkling saves on odd-man rushes, his best being a right pad save on Jake Bean early in the third period with score still 2-1. Still, a couple of the goals that snuck by him felt like they were stoppable.

Charlotte - Alex Nedeljkovic - 32 saves on 34 shots. Starting his second game in as many nights, Nedeljkovic picked up his 30th win of the season. He was much busier than Tuesday night, but didn’t have to make too many ten-bell saves. He did make a ton of saves on quick shots from right in front of him, most notably on Cory Conacher early in the first period. There weren’t many second chance opportunities for the Crunch as the shots that did find there way on net were batted or kicked out of the dangerous areas.

Special Teams:

Crunch Power Play - 0 for 4. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. The Crunch looked pretty good on the power play once they got set up in the zone. Charlotte did give them some trouble in the neutral zone and forced Syracuse to bleed off some time getting the puck into the zone, but overall the Crunch had their chances. Colton blasted a rebound chance off of the post on their first opportunity, and Volkov and Andy Andreoff had shots stopped by Nedeljkovic from high danger areas.

Crunch Penalty Kill - 1 for 3. They gave up almost identical power play goals to Necas and have now conceded a power play goal in six straight games. When they are doing well on the penalty kill, they are aggressive and reading the play well, when they struggle they tend to collapse back in the zone and struggle to follow the puck. On both goals, the defender was slow to get out and challenge Necas, allowing him a clean shot at the net.

Notes:

  • The Crunch were without Cameron Gaunce who was, for the second time this week, recalled to the Lightning. Oleg Sosunov, recalled Tuesday night, started in Gaunce’s place. The big rookie played well, and he even made an appearance in the offensive zone, getting credit for one shot and firing a couple of other ones in the direction of the net. With Dan Girardi sidelined for awhile, it may be a few weeks before Gaunce returns to Syracuse. It’s not likely that Sosunov will play in all of the games that Gaunce is away; expect Matt Spencer to see some playing time as well.
  • Mitchell Stephens also missed the game after being banged up a little during Tuesday’s game. Hopefully it’s not a long term injury for the center who has struggled with some injuries already this season. The good news for the Crunch was that Ross Colton returned after missing Tuesday’s game with an illness.
  • The loss of Ouellette, should it be long term, may be the break Connor Ingram needs to get back onto the Crunch’s roster. Whatever the reason for his exile to Orlando, he may now have the chance to contribute to the Crunch’s playoff push once again.
  • Three Crunch players celebrated milestones in the loss. Hubert Labrie appeared in his 600th AHL game, Cory Conacher suited up for his 300th AHL game and Carter Verhaeghe played in his 200th AHL game. That’s quite a bit of experience on the roster.
  • The Crunch’s offense looked a little better in Wednesday night’s game. They spent more time in the Charlotte zone and were able to penetrate the blue line with a bit more speed. It didn’t lead to more goals, but they definitely had more opportunities. They did squander a few chances with errant passes, something that Coach Groulx will certainly remind them of in practice over the next couple of days.
  • Charlotte is a very, very good defensive team. They forced a few of those errant passes and did a great job of taking space away from the Crunch. On the penalty kill, they moved as one unit and cut off the cross ice passes that are a hallmark of the Syracuse power play. If a Crunch player fumbled with the puck for just a second, a Checker was on him immediately. They will be a tough team to beat in a seven game series.
  • Getting a split in Charlotte was pretty good for the Crunch. They maintain their lead over the Rochester Americans (who were idle) and stay in second place in the Eastern Conference.

Three Stars of the Game:

3. Carter Verhaeghe - 1 goal, 4 shots. His goal alone deserves a star, but he was also played with a lot of speed throughout the game.

2. Alex Nedeljkovic - 32 saves on 34 shots. He had few spectacular stops, but made all the ones he needed to.

1. Martin Necas - 2 goals, 4 shots. His power play goals were the difference in the game.

Box Score