The Syracuse opened the game with two goals and they closed the game with two goals. In between they allowed the Utica Comets little room to operate as they stifled them in a well-played 4-0 victory. Eddie Pasquale made 25 saves for his fourth shutout of the season.
It was a complete team defensive effort that led the Crunch to their third straight victory. After giving up over thirty shots in their previous three games, Syracuse limited the Comets offense throughout the game. Even though a large portion of the third period was spent in the Crunch’s zone, Utica rarely had a clear shot at Pasquale. The Crunch forced them to play along the boards and were quick to break up passes or knock pucks off of Comet players’ sticks.
Even the forwards were in on the defensive effort. Early in the first, Andy Andreoff made a nice backcheck on Cam Darcy who would have had a shot from a dangerous area on a two-on-one if Andreoff had not hustled back to break up the play. It was little plays like that all night long that led to the Crunch’s victory.
It was an odd game for the Crunch to have one of their better defensive performances considering they were playing a bit shorthanded on the blue line. Cameron Gaunce missed his second game with an upper body injury and Jan Rutta was a late scratch as he was recalled to the Tampa Bay Lightning prior to the game. Oleg Sosunov suited up for the first time since February 18th and played a decent game.
The only drawback with the focus on defense was that it hampered the Crunch’s offense a bit. The quick bursts through the neutral zone and sustained offense in their opponent’s zone that are hallmarks of their league-leading attack were noticeably lacking. Yet, somehow, they still ended up scoring four goals.
The first goal, just 52 seconds into the game, was the result of hard work in the offensive zone by Ross Colton. He outfought Jalen Chatfield along the boards behind the Utica net to keep control of the puck and then spied Taylor Raddysh cutting to the net. As Tom Pyatt drifted away from Raddysh, Colton was able to squeeze off a quick pass and the rookie snapped off an even quicker shot for his 15th goal of the season.
After only having one power play in their previous meeting with Utica on Wednesday, the Crunch skated with the man advantage five times. On their first attempt, with Alex Barre-Boulet back in the line-up, they struck gold.
Barre-Boulet started the play by keeping the puck in the zone on an attempted clear by the Comets. He quickly worked the puck back down low, which started the Comets scrambling in their zone. The Crunch moved the puck around quickly and confidently. It eventually ended up with Carter Verhaeghe in the left circle. He snapped a shot on a goal that Marek Mazanec stopped, but the rebound came to Andreoff who poked it across the crease. Barre-Boulet was there, as he usually is, and whipped it into the back of the net before Mazanec could dive across.
It was Barre-Boulet’s 28th goal of the season and league-leading 15th power play tally. With the assist, Verhaeghe picked up his 67th point of the season, which ties him with Jonathan Marchessault for most points in a season during the Crunch’s affiliation with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He will most likely break that record.
Despite the two goal lead, the Crunch were only able to muster four shots on net in the opening period. On the other hand, their defense held Utica to just five shots, so it was a bit of a wash. The action picked up a little in the second period where the teams combined for 19 shots. Again, a lot of the chances weren’t of high quality, especially for Utica. Their best chance came about five minutes in when Darcy and Carter Bancks had back-to-back shots turned aside by Pasquale.
The Crunch had back to back power plays midway through the period, and while they looked good and moved the puck well with the extra skater, they weren’t able to find the back of the net. Their best chance came from Barre-Boulet (of course) as he was open for a one-timer to Mazanec’s left, but his stick betrayed him, snapping in two as it made contact with the ice, and the puck fluttered weakly at the net.
Utica started the third period with a power play thanks to a careless line change by the Crunch at the end of the second period that left them with six skaters on the ice. The advantage lasted roughly 12 seconds before Brendan Gaunce tripped a guy in a Crunch uniform. During the ensuing four-on-four, Pasquale made his best save of the game. Tanner Kero was all alone in front of the goaltender as the Crunch had overcommitted to one side of the ice. Kero tried to pull the puck to his backhand and slide it by Pasquale, but the goaltender, spreadeagled on the ice, kept the puck out with his left pad.
The play settled into the Crunch’s zone for most of the rest of the game. Occasionally they would flip the puck out or dump it into the Utica zone, but for the most part they defended. It wasn’t the panicked scrambling that teams sometimes suffer from when they are pinned back. Instead they forced the play along the boards or harassed the Comets into turning the puck over. Any shots that did make it through were easily knocked aside by Pasquale.
It was on one of Syracuse’s brief forays outside of their zone that they increased the lead. They won a face-off in the neutral zone and Nolan Valleau carried it into the zone before he slid a pass to Alex Volkov. The Russian streaked in on net and had his first shot turned aside. Volkov quickly controlled the rebound and slid a backhander into a space between Mazanek and the post that was narrower than Ron DeSantis’ victory in the gubernatorial race last fall.
WIth just over eight minutes to go the game was all but over, but Utica gave it one last gasp. Following a penalty to Cal Foote with four minutes to go in the game, the Comets pulled the goalie for a 6-on-4 advantage. It didn’t help. Lukas Jasek kissed the outside of the post with a shot from the point, but that was the closest they came to scoring. Gabriel Dumont found the back of the empty net with a shot from just inside the redline and that was it. The Crunch finished off the penalty kill (their 33rd consecutive penalty defended) and the game to maintain their two point lead in the North Division. They are off to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to close out the week on Saturday.
3 Gabriel Dumont - 1 goal, 2 shots
2 Nolan Valleaux - 2 assists
1 Eddie Pasquale - 25 saves