Rookie goaltenders signed out of college at the end of the season aren’t supposed to steal points for a division-leading hockey team. Yet, that’s exactly what happened Wednesday night in Belleville as Atte Tolvanen stopped 34 shots en route to his first career shutout in the Crunch’s 1-0 victory over the Senators.
Andy Andreoff provided the margin of victory with his 25th goal of the season as Syracuse increased their lead over the idle Rochester Americans to three points. Those two teams meet up for an important two game series this weekend. Should Louis Domingue not be ready to be the back-up in Tampa, there is a good chance that Tolvanen will be the goalie in net for both of those meetings.
A month ago, Atte Tolvanen was probably trying to figure out how much he could sell his Econ book back to the Northern Michigan University bookstore for. On Wednesday, he was the number one goaltender for the second-best team in the AHL’s Eastern Conference. He was also the best player on the Syracuse Crunch in the first period. He stopped all 13 shots he faced, including several that came during odd-man rushes.
With the Crunch racking up more turnovers than a pastry shop, the rookie netminder had to be sharp. His best save came on a Vitaly Abramov snapshot from the right circle. He also stopped Austin Fyten’s follow up shot. Syracuse, at least, were democratic with their turnovers. It seemed almost everyone had one. Ben Thomas coughed up a puck after he was harassed by the Belleville forecheck. That led to a blast from Jonathan Racine. An egregious drop pass in the neutral zone by Nolan Valleau led to breakaway for Joseph LaBate that Tolvanen stopped with his left pad. Even the usually steady Cal Foote turned over the puck at the Crunch’s blue line.
With all of that nonsense with the puck, the Crunch managed just 6 shots on net. There weren’t many that really challenged Marcus Hogberg, but he did have to be sharp in the last minute of play as Alex Barre-Boulet had the Crunch’s best two chances. The first was on a stuff attempt after a nice feed from Otto Somppi. Then he had a nice one-timer after Somppi kept the puck in at the blueline and the Senators were caught going the wrong way.
The Crunch gave Tolvanen a bit of a break at the beginning of the period as they racked up the first seven shots of the period and pushed the play through the first five minutes. Syracuse was skating much better with the puck (and holding onto it a little better, as well), as highlighted by Ben Thomas rushing end-to-end, weaving through the Belleville defense. He didn’t get a shot off, but the puck did come around to Carter Verhaeghe who snapped off a pretty good backhand chance that Hogberg stopped.
It was on another rush midway through the period that the Crunch finally found the back of the net. Cory Conacher busted the puck out of the defensive zone and through the neutral zone. His pass to Alex Volkov was clean and allowed the rush to continue. With the Belleville defense chasing the puck, Volkov fed it over to Andy Andreoff and the veteran snapped it past Hogberg for the game-opening goal.
The good had to be accompanied by the bad because that’s just the way the season is going for the Crunch. On the following shift, Ross Colton took a couple of big hits along the boards by Jack Rodewald. Following the second hit, Colton was shaken up, holding his right arm at an awkward angle. He finished his shift, but went to the dressing room with the trainer. He would return late in the period but did not take a shift.
Brady Brassart jumped into his spot and the Crunch finished off the period rather well. Belleville did get a few chances late and almost tied it on a partial breakaway by Jordan Murray. His shot went wide left as Thomas and Valleau were able to recover just in time to prevent him from having a clean look.
A late penalty by Dennis Yan gave the Senators another chance and Drake Batherson almost tied it with seven seconds left on the clock, but his shot hit the outside of the right post.
The offense was buzzing to begin the period. The Crunch, led by the Volkov/Andreoff/ Conacher line, stormed the Belleville net looking to extend the lead. Unfortunately Marcus Hogberg hates goals and he kept the game close. He did have some help from the post as Otto Somppi put a shot off the iron on a partial breakaway.
Conacher found himself wide open in the right circle and unleashed his patented hellacious one-timer. Somehow, Hogberg slid over and stopped the shot. He wasn’t done as he stopped Conacher again just seconds later. This time it was with a glove save.
The Crunch were pretty much cruising through the first half of the period and then Somppi took a high-stick penalty in the offensive zone. That breathed a little life into the Belleville offense. The ensuing power play was almost all in the Crunch zone. Luckily, Syracuse had their secret weapon - Tolvanen.
The Finnish netminder made a strong kicksave on a shot from the right circle. He also made a couple of routine saves as well and then watched as Dominik Masin blocked two shots at the end of the penalty kill. Belleville still had a little momentum and Tolvanen had to be sharp to stop Erik Burgdoerfer’s chance at the doorstep on a mini two-on-one. The veteran defender had stepped up on a neutral zone turnover and got the inside track on Oleg Sosunov. He had a clear rush to the net and his shot hit Tolvanen in the chest.
Coach Groulx kept rolling out the Andreoff line and they kept pinning the Senators back in their own zone. They had three chances, highlighted by a shot from the slot from Andreoff that hit Hogberg’s glove, arched high into the air, landed behind the goaltender but trickled just wide of the goal line.
With 90 seconds left Belleville pulled Hogberg (maybe they should have tried him on offense since he’s been so good in the series) for the extra skater, but to no avail. Another save or two for Tolvanen and the whistle sounded on his first career shutout. This wasn’t a cakewalk shutout, either, he earned it with 34 saves.
The Crunch head into their weekend home-and-home with Rochester with a three point lead on the Americans.
- Conacher’s assist on Andreoff’s goal gave him 164 career points with the Crunch. He moved into a tie with Mark Wotton for fifth all-time in franchise history.
- With the exception of his third-period penalty, Otto Somppi had a pretty good game. He was aggressive in the offensive zone and pretty solid on the forecheck. He was quick and showed some good instincts.
- Another solid performance from the defense. Cal Foote shook off some early turnovers and had a strong third period. Hubert Labrie was solid, threw a couple of big hits and didn’t turn the puck over. Ben Thomas did turn the puck over, but also had some good rushes out of the zone and some sneaky skating in the offensive zone. Dominik Masin was solid.
- The Logan Brown/Drake Batherson/Nick Paul line is not one the Crunch want to see in the playoffs. They had the bulk of the quality chances for the Senators and seemed to be on the ice for 75% of the game.
- The Crunch had two goals in regulation in Belleville during the regular season series. That’s not great.
- Syracuse’s penalty kill was three for three. The good news is that they only had three penalties to kill. It was one of the more disciplined games for the Crunch of late. Two of three penalties (Conacher’s hook on a breakaway and Dennis Yan’s holding) weren’t bad penalties either. Conacher probably saved a goal and Yan was doing a good job of trying to free the puck up in the neutral zone. Coach Groulx will take those types of penalties all season long.
3. Andy Andreoff - 1 goal, 4 shots. He had the difference making goal and centered the Crunch’s best line of the night.
2. Cory Conacher - 1 assist, 3 shots. He set up the game-winning goal and was all over the ice all night long. If not for a stunning save by Hogberg, he would have padded the lead in the third period.
1. Atte Tolvanen - 34 saves, 1st career shutout. It was simply a great outing by the rookie. He was solid all game long, but was simply outstanding in the first period. He looked a lot more relaxed in net as he picked up his second career win.