It’s not the spot the Syracuse Crunch want to be in, but it’s the spot they’re in: Down two games to none in a five-game series and having to win the next three in a row (with two on enemy ice). They’ve played well enough to not be in this position, but they are. So, what are they going to do about it?
According to Carter Verhaeghe they’re going to:
“Take it one game at a time”
Per Andy Andreoff they’re going to:
“Erase that one from our memory and keep battling”
All season long, Coach Groulx has preached the “one game at a time” motto and now it will be put to the ultimate test. The Crunch can’t afford to look past Tuesday’s game, they have to focus one-hundred percent on winning that game.
After two games of making the same mistakes and getting the same result, what can they do to get back into this series? One thing all three of the folks quoted above can agree on is that they need to stop giving Cleveland so many chances. Two of the first three goals that the Crunch had scored against them they literally gave to the Monsters, as they were caused by turnovers. One was by Cameron Gaunce and one was by Dennis Yan, and both gifted goals to the Monsters.
That has to stop. It’s hard enough to win a playoff game as it is, and it becomes doubly so when you’re making it easy for your opponent. The Crunch have to find a way to beat the Cleveland forecheck. As important as the blocked shot has been to the Monsters, all it does is prevent goals. It’s the forecheck that has been leading to the offense for Cleveland.
How does Syracuse go about doing that? The main way is quicker decisions with the puck. They can’t afford to hesitate when they have control of it. Quick passes and support, that’s the key to getting the puck out of danger. If the pass isn’t there, send it up and off the boards. It’s better to surrender control of the puck at mid ice than cough it up in the defensive zone.
Cleveland might be up by two games, but they haven’t really scored by wearing down the Crunch with sustained offensive pressure. Their scoring has either been off of turnovers, on the rush, or on the power play. Syracuse has actually done a pretty good job limiting their set offense. They just have to stop turning it over and giving the Monsters second and third chances.
Another benefit of making quick, controlled passes out of the zone is that it can lead to offense. The Crunch are a fast team, but the only way they can turn their speed into offense is by building it through the neutral zone. If they can control the puck out of their zone and through the middle of the ice, they can attack the Cleveland defense before it has a chance to form it’s phalanx of shot blockers in front of Brad Thiessen.
The Crunch have to find a way to connect on the passes through the center of the ice that allows them to build up their speed. They have to overcome the forecheck, the bad ice, the bouncing puck, the whatever. If they hit those passes then they can take advantage of the fact that Cleveland doesn’t have the fastest defense.
Once they’re in the zone they have to get their initial shots on net and then get back to the puck retrieval skills that have worn down their opponents all season long. It’s not the first shot that is going to beat Thiessen. With the way the Monsters collapse around the net, the Crunch have to find a way to get to loose pucks after their blocked. Blocking shots is great, but it can get players out of position. The Crunch need to win those battles and work the puck around to the lanes that open up with the players strewn out on the ice.
Along the same lines, the Crunch’s forecheck has to be better. They have to start pinning the Monsters back into their zone and make it harder for them to exit the zone. In the third period of the second game, it was just way too easy for Cleveland to get the puck out of danger. If they didn’t carry it out, they just chipped it up and out and forced Syracuse to reenter the zone against a set defense.
Putting the Cleveland defenders under pressure will force more turnovers and more mistakes. Mistakes lead to penalties, and that’s one part of the game that has been relatively successful for Crunch so far.
In short, they have to get Cleveland reacting to their style of play. The Crunch have to be the aggressor for the rest of the series. Yes, they have to play with patience, but there also has to be a little desperate aggression mixed in as well.
Expect the lines to be juggled up a litte. Gabriel Dumont has been centering Carter Verhaeghe and Alex Barre-Boulet, but it wouldn’t be shocking if Verhaeghe is bumped down in place of Andreoff. That line was really clicking at the beginning of the season, and moving Verhaeghe down to Mitchell Stephen’s line spreads out the goal scoring a little more.