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Crunch Corner: Syracuse heads into break on a losing streak

Still, it’s not all bad news.

Scott Thomas Photography

Since last we met the Syracuse Crunch did not win a game. Normally, that would be cause for a tremendous amount of concern. This week, however, it’s only a matter of slight concern. Yes, three games ended up with the Crunch on the wrong side of the score, but they did manage to pick up a couple of points.

With only 14 points separating first place and last place in the North Division, every point the Crunch can pick up will be important moving forward. So even though they probably played well enough to win at least one of the games (looking at you Binghamton), to walk away with two points keeps them in the race for another week.

Despite not finding the win column the Crunch only dropped a point in the playoff race. They are only three points out of the fourth and final spot for the playoffs. It helps that the teams they’re chasing didn’t have a great week. Rochester, Utica, and Toronto went a combined 0-8-1-2. Some solid play happening in the North.

The Crunch were able to shore up their defensive game a bit, only allowing nine actual goals (and a shootout one). Three goals a game isn’t great, but compared to the defensive effort they’ve displayed for most of the year it’s an improvement. Unfortunately they weren’t able to keep the offense going. That’s pretty much the story of the season. They just can’t get everything to click at the same time.

The All-Star break should act as a reset for the season. Things just seem to have been disjointed through the first few months, especially with their schedule. It seemed like they were either not playing enough or playing too much. With a couple of days to clear their heads and a pretty routine schedule for the rest of the season they need to find their groove and start turning the one point games into two point games.

Standings

Coming and Going:

What a run it was for Mitchell Stephens and Luke Schenn. With the Lightning’s break over both were “recalled” by Tampa Bay. As expected, neither actually played for the Crunch. They got a little bit of rest and the Bolts saved some money on the salary cap.

Syracuse also sent down a couple of players that didn’t suit up as Zach Fucale and Alexey Lipanov were returned to Orlando. Jimmy Huntington, who had been sent to Orlando (and actually played) was recalled.

Injuries:

Remember how excited we were when Scott Wedgewood made a surprise start at the end of last week? Those were good times, great times even. The euphoria lasted all of 84:05 as he suffered what appeared to be another lower body injury during the second period of Wednesday’s game against Laval. While this one doesn’t seem as bad as the last injury that kept him out for a few weeks (which also occurred in Laval), it was a shame that it happened so soon after his return.

Per reports he should only miss one or two weeks, which would put him in line to be ready again after the All Star break. Hopefully he is 100% ready to go and the Crunch can lean on him down the stretch. In those 84 minutes he looked really sharp and the team is going to need a reliable goaltender as they claw their way back into the playoff race. And maybe, just maybe he should miss that flight to Laval prior to the game on April 8th. It wouldn’t behoove the team for him to pick up a hat trick of lower body injuries in Canada, especially that close to the playoffs.

Another injury to keep an eye on would be Dominik Masin. He left the game against Rochester in the third after colliding with his net. He went to the dressing room and didn’t return to the game. Not much is out there on what happened so it is possible that he was removed as a precaution. A week off may be enough to get him back in the line-up.

The Games

Wednesday, January 22nd at Laval: 3-2 (OT) Loss (Recap) (Box Score) (Highlights)

Friday, January 24th vs. Binghamton: 4-3 (SO) Loss (Recap) (Box Score) (Highlights)

Saturday, January 25th vs. Rochester: 3-2 Loss (Recap) (Box Score) (Highlights)

Players of the Week:

Spencer Martin: 3 Games, .914 SV%, 3.06 GAA: Probably a little weird to bestow an honor on a goalie that appeared in three games and didn’t pick up at least one win and had a GAA above 3.00, but frankly Martin was one of the best players the Crunch had last week. Especially since he went into the week probably thinking he’d be lucky to see action in one game.

Subbing in for the injured Wedgewood he was greeted with shots early and often (93 in total) and made most of the saves. In all three games he gave the Crunch a chance to win and made big saves at key moments of the game. At this point, that’s all head coach Ben Groulx is looking for out of his goaltender.

Cal Foote: 3 games, 2 goals, 1 assist. In a week where the offense sputtered a little with only seven total scored the young defenseman had a hand in almost half of them. He scored in back-to-back games for the first time all season, both goals coming on well placed wristers. Foote doesn’t have a shot that’s going to blow the doors off of anyone, but his wrist shot is pretty quick and accurate, perfect for shooting through screens.

The Road

The Road is one of the desolate books I’ve ever read. It was good, but, oh my was it not full of sunshine and rainbows. It’s such a bleak post-apocalyptic novel, Cormac McCarthy didn’t even bother to give the protagonists (The Man and The Boy) names. While the Crunch haven’t had to battle roving marauders or travel through a world covered in dust and ash, they have struggled on the road.

In 22 games away from the War Memorial Arena they have compiled an 8-11-2-1 record and a -12 goal differential. Lack of offense is the number one cause of their less than pristine record. On the road they’ve scored 65 times (2.95 per game). At home (in 23 games) they’ve scored 87 times (3.78 per game). For a team that has its struggles keeping the puck out of the net, averaging less than three goals a night doesn’t allow them to outscore their defensive problems like they’ve been able to do at home.

Speaking of allowing goals, their home/road split has been pretty close. They are allowing 3.61 goals per game at home and 3.54 on the road. Since we’re being optimistic here, the numbers do indicate that they’ve been slightly better defensively away from the city of Syracuse. Which doesn’t really jibe with the next number that is wildly out of whack when it comes to their home/road splits.

Penalty killing.

Overall they are at 82.6% (12th in the league) and at home they are sixth in the league with an 86.3% kill rate. On the road they plummet to a pedestrian 79.0% (23rd). It’s not as if they are grouchy after their long bus rides and taking an obscene amount of penalties as compared to when they get to sleep in their own beds. On the road they average 4.55 times short handed per game as opposed to 4.13 at home.

Unfortunately, the AHL doesn’t breakdown shot totals by home and away categories so at this point it’s hard to tell if there is a drastic difference in that category depending on where the Crunch are playing. Nor can we tell save percentage by building to see if the goaltenders are struggling extra hard away from familiar goal creases.

Hopefully they can address whatever is ailing them because four of the next five games are on the road. If they want to have any hope of staying close, or god forbid, gaining ground in the playoff race they’re going to have to find a way to start winning in other team’s buildings.

Upcoming Games

After another long break (six days) the Crunch are back in action on Friday. Moving forward the schedule becomes a bit more regular and Syracuse should be able to get into a bit more of a rhythm. They finish off January, a month that started off with a promising 8-2 win against Toronto, with a chance to finish it at .500. Currently they are 4-5-1-2 in the twelve games they’ve played. A victory against Rochester would close the book on the month on a positive note as they would have picked up at least a point in five of the last six games. That’s not nothing in a division as close as the North.

Friday, January 31 at Rochester Americans, 7:05 pm

Saturday, February 1st vs. Providence Bruins, 7:00 pm