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Crunch Wrap: ‘We deserved better’

Syracuse drops two games despite playing well

Scott Thomas Photography

Sometimes, no matter how well you play, you don’t win. The Syracuse Crunch played pretty well for two games this past weekend but ended up with zero points to show for it. Following Saturday night’s loss to Utica, Coach Ben Groulx summed it up pretty well when he said, “We deserved better”. In both games their opponents found ways to score the go-ahead goals while Syracuse piled up chances, but couldn’t finish them off.

Injuries and call-ups affected their line-up a bit as they were missing veterans Otto Somppi (injury), Daniel Walcott (injury), and Fredrik Claesson (call-up). Still, the replacement players showed well, but a struggling power play and some untimely goals against were the difference.

Transactions:

There were a few moves as the Crunch added to their depth and the Lightning sent a player down for some conditioning.

Cal Foote - the big defender was loaned to the Crunch prior to Friday’s game as he works his way back from the hand surgery he underwent this summer.

Jaydon Dureau - Dureau was banged up in the Crunch’s pre-season game and missed out last weekend. On Thursday, they signed him to an ATO and he appeared in the line-up on Friday.

Taylor Bird (RW), Tristin Langan (C), and Jesse Lees (D) - Bird and Langan were signed to PTO’s from Orlando and Lees was signed from Wheeling. All three were brought in to help with the teams’s depth as they still recover from the opening weekend injuries. Bird and Langan were on a line with Dureau on Friday.

Fredrik Claesson - On Saturday. Claesson was called up to Tampa for insurance reasons in case someone got hurt in the pre-game skate. The Lightning only had six healthy defenseman on the roster, so they definitely needed some protection. He did not appear in the game an will likely by back in Syracuse by the weekend.

Game Three

5-3 loss to Rochester Americans

Starting Lines

Charles Hudon - Gabriel Dumont - Max Cajkolvic

Gabriel Fortier - Jimmy Huntington - Antoine Morand

Shawn Element - Simon Ryfors - Gabe Goncalves

Jaydon Dureau - Tristin Langan - Tyler Bird

Sean Day - Cal Foote

Fredrik Claesson - Darren Raddysh

Alex Green - Ryan Jones

Hugo Alnefelt

The Recap

Look. Any time a team gives up five goals (even though only four went in the net) it’s not a great night. That being said, I can’t be mad at the Crunch for the loss on Friday night to Rochester. Outside of the final score, I thought they played pretty well for the majority of the game. Sometimes, the puck just doesn’t go in for you and you end up on the wrong side of the ledger.

The turning point in the game really came in the second period. Down 2-1, but on the power play, the Crunch had two golden opportunities to tie the game. First it was Simon Ryfors all alone inside the left circle with the puck on his stick and a yawning cage in front of him. His shot, though, skittered through the blue paint and out the far side. He grabbed his head in disbelief after missing the chip-in goal. Then, not even a minute later, Tristin Langan drilled one off of the iron from in front of the net.

If either one of those two opportunities (or Charles Hudon scores on a breakaway two minutes later) goes in, then it’s a tie game and things might have progressed differently. Of course, Rochester scored the next goal, a nice play by Jack Quinn who wristed a nice shot over an off-balance Hugo Alnefelt for the 3-1 lead and the Crunch were never able to get closer.

Syracuse did get off to a nice start as the fourth line, featuring three players who weren’t technically on the team on Thursday, were able to generate some zone time and Jaydon Dureau was able to slide in the puck after Langan’s wraparound attempt squirted through the crease.

The Crunch’s first first-period lead lasted until their was less than five minutes to go in the opening frame when Ethan Prow made a nice play off of the right-side boards. He saw an opening in front of the net after Ryfors follwed the player he was marking off to Alnefelt’s right. There was enough space for Prow to slip in before Shawn Element could check him and the Amerks forward slid a backhander underneath Alnefelt’s pads.

Syracuse played really well in the middle frame, allowing just six shots on net, but somehow ended up down by two goals. The go-ahead goal started off rather innocuously as Josh Teves fired the puck off of the endboards. For some reason, Alnefelt didn’t cover the puck as it came out right in front of him and Teves beat Cal Foote to it and chipped a shot over the goaltender’s glove and under the bar.

Alnefelt had a mixed outing. He ended up with 17 saves on 21 shots including a few nice stops on deflections down low. The first-year starter also turned aside a couple of breakaways. Still, there were some moments where he looked like a rookie. It looked like he was anticipating shots before they came off of the sticks and was a little too quick to drop into the butterfly which left him off balance on more than one occasion.

On the fourth Rochester goal, Sean Malone cut in front of the net and he had an open net as Alnefelt went down on his belly well after Malone had moved from in front of him. It looked like the goalie had thought about poke-checking the veteran as he cut in front of him, but didn’t and was leaning too far forward to stay up.

Down 4-1 with time bleeding away, the Crunch kept things going and despite being short-handed, injected some interest in the game when Antoine Morand sped away from his backcheckers and slid a nifty backhand through Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen’s pads. Gabe Fortier made a nice little bump pass to him to spring Morand free.

That would be the closest the Crunch could get as J.J. Peterka was awarded an empty net goal with 2:20 left in the game. He was in on a breakaway with Alnefelt watching from the bench when Hudon slashed him on the hands preventing a shot. Hudon also gave him an extra shot along the boards that touched off one of the few scrums of the day.

Syracuse finally converted on a power play (they were 1-for-6 on the night) when Simon Ryfors poked a loose puck past UPL with just 30 seconds left in the game. It was the first AHL goal for Ryfors and he actually had a pretty good game despite missing the open net in the first.

Because it’s Rochester and Syracuse, the game couldn’t end without a couple of major penalties. With 44 seconds left in the game, Ryan Scarfo trucked Max Cajkovic (who was down for a bit and left the ice holding his left shoulder). Sean Day tackled Scarfo and both were sent off for roughing. Scarfo also had an interference penalty for his hit on Cajkovic that led to the power play Ryfors scored on.

With the game all but settled, Gabriel Dumont squared off with Casey Fitzgerald (something that had been brewing since the first period after Fitzgerald laid Hudon out with a hit) and Hudon went after Ryan MacInnis. Hudon and MacInnis picked up misconduct penalties while Dumont and Fitzgerald just had fighting majors. The five minutes did allow Dumont to keep his lead in penalty minutes.

Despite the five goals allowed, there was a lot of good in the game and it pretty much came down to Luukkonen making the big saves and Alnefelt not able to.

The goals

Jaydon Dureau with his first professional goal. Go to the net and good things happen.

Antoine Morand showing some wheels as he pulls away from the defense.

Simon Ryfors just barely beats Gabriel Dumont to the loose puck for his first AHL goal.

Game Four

2-1 loss to Utica Comets

Starting Lines

Charles Hudon - Gabriel Dumont - Max Cajkovic

Gabriel Dumont - Jimmy Huntington - Antoine Morand

Shawn Element - Simon Ryfors - Gage Goncalves

Jaydon Dureau - Tristin Langan - Tyler Bird

Sean Day - Darren Raddysh

Ryan Jones - Cal Foote

Jesse Lees - Alex Green

(The pairings were switched around all night long)

Hugo Alnefelt

The Recap

Well, there was a lot of good things from this game. For one thing, it was by far Hugo Alnefelt’s best game in a Crunch uniform as he stopped 28 of 30 shots and kept his teammates in the game as they fought to overcome the one-goal deficit they chased for the entire third period. Things started off well for the Crunch in their home opener as Gage Goncalves deflected home a Sean Day shot less than three minutes into the game for the early lead.

Unfortunately, much like on Friday night, the Crunch couldn’t capitalize on a bevy of chances as goaltender Akira Schmid denied them time and time again throughout a middle frame that saw Syracuse control play, but their opponent score twice. Midway through the second period Alexander Holtz sniped a shot from the left circle just inside the far post to tie the game. Alnefelt might have been slightly off his mark, but it was an absolute perfect shot from Holtz that beat him. The goahead goal, scored with less than a minute to go in the period, came after Cal Foote turned the puck over not once buy twice. Syracuse defenseman Ryan Jones obstructed Alnefelt a bit as Nate Schnarr deflected the loose puck into the net.

The Crunch had their chances (especially with three power plays) to tie the game in the third period, but couldn’t find the back of the net. Their best sequence came with about three minutes left when both Day and Charlie Hudon had back-to-back open looks at the net from close range but both held onto the puck a bit too long and their efforts were left a bit wanting. Hudon had a breakaway chance earlier in the game, but for the second game in a row, he was denied by the goaltender.

The absolute best chance for the Crunch to score their second goal came right before the Holtz goal when Simon Ryfors was alone on the left side of the ice and fired a puck at an open net. Schmid dove across the crease to keep the puck out.

The Crunch seem to be just a tick off over the last two games and it’s cost them a couple of losses. With another long week of practice ahead of them perhaps they can find that extra gear they need to turn some of these close losses into wins.

The Goal

Gage Goncalves heads to the front of the net and is in the right spot to deflect the shot from Sean Day.

Thoughts

  • One part of the game that Coach Ben Groulx has to be happy about this season is the penalty kill. The Crunch are now at 92% (13 for 14) with two short-handed goals. Utica had a couple of chances on Saturday night, but aside from a 30-second spurt, couldn’t really generate quality chances. Dumont and Fortier in particular look like a strong duo up front as they are able to harass puck carriers throughout the neutral zone and deny easy entries.

Even more appealing is the fact that they’ve only been short-handed 14 times through 4 games which ranks them 23rd in the league. Crunch teams of late have tended to be at the top of the table when it comes to short-handed play and the lack of discipline often hurts their offensive flow.

  • Coach Groulx kept his forward lines fairly consistant through the weekend, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him mix things up by the time the next game rolls around. One change might be to bump Max Cajkovic off of the top line with Gabriel Dumont and Charles Hudon and replace him with Gage Goncalves. Cajkovic looked really good in his debut last weekend, but has had some long stretches of inactivity the last few games. After posting 4 shots on goal in his first game, he only has 3 over his next 3 games.

It would be nice to see him get some looks on the power play, but Coach Groulx has rolled with a pretty veteran unit so far with Dumont, Hudon, Fortier, and Raddysh seeing a lot of first unit action. Simon Ryfors has been on the unit as well, and while technically he is a rookie, he has quite a bit of experience at the pro level.

  • Some players stood out this weekend. Tyler Bird was one of those. He’s now appeared in 7 games for the Crunch over the last two seasons and has recorded 3 assists. He skated on a line with Dureau and Langan and they did a solid job of generating a few chances and working hard on the forecheck.

Gabriel Fortier has quietly put up 3 assists in 4 games and played really solid defense. He doesn’t light up the ice with exciting plays, but usually finds himself in the right spot to make the play. He’s also been a key to the strong start for the penalty kill.

Upcoming Schedule

Wednesday October 27th at Hershey Bears, 7:00 PM

Friday October 29th vs. Cleveland Monsters, 7:00 PM

Saturday October 30th at Lehigh Valley Phantoms, 7:05 PM