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Crunch Corner: Stuck in a rut

The Crunch just can’t get out of their own way.

Scott Thomas Photography

We’re going to shake things up a bit this week. I’m not going to lie, the losses this week were a bit of a downer and there was a small part of me that wanted to just skip this post completely. That’s not the Raw Charge way, though. We’re going to power through this together.

It wasn’t the fact that the Crunch lost both games they played last week and fell further off the playoff pace (that thud you heard was Syracuse landing in last place in the North Division). It was just that the losses were so familiar.

They got off to a slow start and were behind early. They righted their play for a little bit but still gave up a goal. Things get away from them in the second and then despite some decent play in the third, they can’t close the gap.

On too many nights, the same story has played out the same exact way. There will be a game or two where they snap out of it and play to their potential and it’ll look like they’re going to put a streak together. Then, they revert back to their bad habits and the losses come roaring back.

The only thing that has been consistent this season has been their inconsistency. The skill is there, the experience is there, and I’d like to think the desire to win is there. The biggest problem, and one that coach Ben Groulx has reiterated several times, is that on too many nights the best players haven’t been the best players.

It’s not just one or two players. Almost every top line player has had multiple off nights, games where they are just not visible. They are too talented to have nights where they’re getting skated off the ice by other teams. There are too many shifts where they are blindly throwing the puck around for no particular reason.

Perhaps they just think they can coast through the season and turn it on the last month or so and make it to the playoffs. The only problem is that the rest of the division has improved quite a bit and winning games has gotten a lot harder. The days of racking up points against Laval or Belleville at will are over. Every night is a challenge and the coaching staff is going to have to find a way to get the team to realize that they are running out of time.

One of the problems being an affiliate stocked with NHL assets is that it’s really, really hard to change personnel on the team. It’s not like Tampa Bay is going to let them trade one of their forwards under contract just to shake up the line-up. That’s probably one of the reasons Chris Mueller was dealt earlier in the season. He had no long term ties to the organization.

Now, they may have to make a trade out of necessity. The ECHL transaction page (which has been wonky in the past) is reporting that the Florida Everblades are loaning defenseman Logan Roe to the Crunch. That might mean one of their blueliners is banged up and the depth just isn’t there right now. Much like the trade for Patrick Sieloff earlier in the season, they may have to make a more permanent move.

If trading for the sake of motivation is out the door what else can the coaching staff do to shake things up? Limiting playing time is a time honored tradition, but can be a little tricky this time of year. The Crunch are basically in playoff mode for the rest of the season. They really can’t afford to bench one of their top players to set an example. They need every point they can scrounge up from now until the last game of the season.

At this point, the best action is probably to stay the course. Emphasize the positive and work to correct the negative. As frustrating as it is to hear Coach Groulx talk about “turning the page” after every loss, that is the message he needs to extol.

One of the supposed strengths of this team at the beginning of the season was their experience. With only a couple of rookies on the team, they should all know what to expect during the season and how to make it through successfully. However, many of the players haven’t dealt with much regular season adversity during their time in Syracuse.

Well, they’re knee deep in it now. Maybe the indignity of hitting the bottom of the division will be the wake up call they need to start playing a full sixty minutes, night in and night out. Changing the message now would just add to the instability. They need to trust in the team that they have. The pieces they need to make a run are all there, now they have to do it.

They have two months to close the gap (which surprisingly is still just four points) but they can’t afford to keep dropping games. With games against Utica and Rochester this week, they can go a long way to starting their run.

Upcoming Games:

Wednesday February 5th at Bridgeport Sound Tigers, 10:30 AM

Friday February 7th at Rochester Americans, 7:05 PM

Saturday February 8th at Utica Comets, 7:00 PM