There are some losses where a team plays really well and just doesn’t catch a break. This was not one of those losses for the Syracuse Crunch. They were thoroughly outplayed by the Rochester Americans in a 5-3 loss on Friday night in Syracuse. If it wasn’t for Eddie Pasquale’s strong play in the second period, the score could have been much worse.
Pasquale, in his sixth straight start, had to be sharp early. A shot off of a rush leaked through his right arm and sat dangerously in the crease. He was able to sweep it away just before a diving Sean Malone poked it into the net.
The Crunch goaltender wasn’t able to make the play a few minutes later when the Amerks took advantage of a fortuitous bounce on the penalty kill. The Crunch tried to keep a clearing attempt in the Rochester zone, but the puck deflected to Taylor Leier who had a head of steam. He quickly pulled away from everyone on the ice and finished off his breakaway by beating Pasquale cleanly.
The goal marked the seventh time in eight games that the Americans had scored first in the season series. At no point in regulation have they relinquished a lead to the Crunch so far this season. The Crunch have managed to come back and win in overtime and a shootout, but they’ve yet to fall behind and win in regulation. They wouldn’t break the streak on Saturday.
The Crunch had their chances in the first period, but Scott Wedgewood was the difference. He made several key stops, the biggest one coming on a two-on-one where Carter Verhaeghe fed the puck to Dominik Masin, but the defenseman’s shot was snagged by Wedgewood. His most impressive save in the period didn’t come off of a shot at all, it came off of a face-off. Rasmus Asplund won a clean defensive zone face-off that ricocheted off of teammate Danny O’Regan and onto the net. Wedgewood had to be quick to keep the puck out.
Things quickly fell apart for the Crunch in the second period. Just ten seconds into the frame, Nolan Valleau had trouble with the puck at his own blueline. Alex Nylander, celebrating his 21st birthday, picked up the puck, skated to the slot and beat Pasquale with a perfect shot over the goaltender’s blocker.
From there things got worse for the Crunch. Rochester proceeded to outshoot the Crunch 11-0 through the first half of the period, despite the Crunch having a power play. Pasquale was equal to the task, stopping 10 of the 11 shots as he kept Syracuse in the game despite their constant miscues with the puck.
While they did have their fair share of turnovers in the game, there were also other little moments that plagued them throughout the game and hampered their offense. It was little plays going wrong like Jan Rutta stepping on a puck and throwing a breakout off rhythm, or a pass back to the point when the defense was changing that negated a rather productive power play. There were cross-ice passes in the neutral zone were just out of reach of open teammates, and set-ups for one-timers that ended up in skates instead of in areas where a shot could be taken.
Despite all of these miscues, the Crunch pulled within a goal. They even did it with a power play goal. The Crunch were able to string some passes together. Cal Foote went point-to-point to Taylor Raddysh. The rookie quickly swung it down low to Ross Colton at the goal line and he touched it back to Mitchell Stephens who was open at the bottom the right circle. Stephens didn’t hesitate and snapped a shot home for his seventh goal of the season.
Syracuse was within a goal and head a little life to their game, but then came the turning point of the game. Ten seconds after the goal, the Crunch had a two-on-one. Carter Verhaeghe streaked down the left side of the ice and saucered a pass over to Nolan Valleau. The defenseman fired a one-timer on net but Wedgewood slid over to make the save. If that puck goes in, it’s a totally different game. Instead, just a few minutes later the Amerks regained their two goal lead when Leier tipped home a point shot from Lawrence Pilut.
Instead of a tie game, the Americans led 3-1.
It appeared the Crunch had pulled back within one goal on the power play late in the period when a Cory Conacher shot ended up in the back of the net. Unfortunately, prior to the shot, Andy Andreoff had cleared a path by blasting an Amerks defender in the back with his stick, and the whistle had already blown. The penalty nullified the goal and Rochester maintained their lead going into the third period.
The Crunch started the third period like a team desperate to tie things up (something they’ve done on a couple occasions this season already). They generated more shots in the first four minutes of the period then they had all of the second, but just couldn’t put it past Wedgewood.
Rochester survived the surge and evened the game back out. The Crunch helped them a bit by being careless with the puck. Ben Thomas quite simply gave the puck to Eric Cornel right in front of the Syracuse net, but Pasquale made the save.
Midway through the period, the Crunch crawled back within a goal on a nice entry play. Stephens picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and wheeled into Amerks’ territory. At the blue line he dropped a pass back to Verhaeghe. The Crunch’s leading scorer skated into a dangerous area and fired a shot on net. Wedgewood kicked it aside, but right to Stephens who roofed the rebound over him for the goal.
That would be as close as the Crunch would get. Rochester scored twice in just over a minute - the first goal a deflected shot that snuck by Pasquale on the near post and the second on a two-on-one that CJ Smith buried for his 20th goal of the season.
The Crunch would add one last goal late in the game on a 6-4 power play as Ross Colton put home a one-timer. Rutta made a nifty cross-ice pass to set it up. Down low along the boards he first faked a pass to the point that drew a defender out of position. Rutta then took a quick stride to get to the clear lane and sent a brisk pass straight across to Colton who one-timed it past Wedgewood.
It made the final score a little closer, but it really didn’t matter much. The Crunch were simply outplayed most of the game and Rochester walked away with a well-earned win that propels them back into first place by two points.
Ben Groulx’s mantra of “one game at a time” will be tested as the two teams are right back on the ice for a Sunday matinee in Rochester. The Crunch will have to put their poor play behind them and see if they can change the outcome or risk falling four points behind the Americans in the North Division.
3 Scott Wedgewood - 23 saves, several key ones early when the outcome was still undecided
2 Mitchell Stephens - 2 goals, came close to a hat trick, but Wedgewood made a glove save at the buzzer
1 Taylor Leier - 2 goals, the fastest player on the ice