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Crunch Wrap: Some thoughts on the season so far

Could be better, could be worse

Scott Thomas Photography

The Syracuse Crunch are twelve games into their 2021-22 AHL seasons so it’s a good opportunity to do a little check on their season. They currently sit in a tie for 5th place (based on points percentage) in the North Division with a 5-5-1-1 record. A recent three-game losing streak has soured the record a bit, but for the most part they’ve been aggressively okay.

They’ve also played a lot of hockey in their twelve games. Five times they’ve gone to bonus hockey and have emerged victorious three times (two overtime wins and one shoot-out win). The Crunch have also lost one overtime game and one shoot-out (that was in their most recent game against Hershey). Unfortunately, their two regulation wins are tied for the fewest in the entire league.

The fact that they’ve managed a .500 record despite falling behind early in half of their games. They’ve allowed the first goal in six of their twelve games, but have managed a 3-1-1 record in those games. That’s pretty impressive. Not so impressive is the 2-4 record in games where they have managed the first goal.

One of the main reasons they’ve struggled to maintain leads is that they rarely build upon them. Only twice have they led by more than two goals in a game: opening night against Cleveland and the 4-0 shutout against Laval. That’s a tough way to go through the season as they’ve had almost no time to let up during a game. They’re either tied, chasing a lead, or defending a slim-margin.

Offense in general has been an issue as they’ve only averaged three goals per game through their first dozen which is good for thirteenth in the league. The only problem is that it is fifth in a very competitive North Division. As Coach Groulx has said on a few occasions, they don’t have a lot of high-octane offensive players. They have to grind out their goals and that can also wear on a team.

It would help if they could find some consistency on the power play. After a decent start, they’ve run into a bit of a rut, scoring just once in their last fourteen times with the extra skater. In their loss on Wednesday, they even failed to convert at the end of the game on a rare 6-on-3 power play. Trouble getting into the zone and puck retrieval have been their two biggest issues. On a few occasions, the power play has actually killed their offensive momentum in games. Which is the exact opposite of what you’re hoping for with the skater advantage.

On the other side of the special teams coin, the Crunch have been pretty good killing penalties. That probably shouldn’t come as a surprise due to the grind-it-out identity they have been developing so far, but it’s nice to see. Heading into Sunday’s games they were tops in the league with an 87.8 kill percentage.

They’ve also been one of the least penalized teams in the league as they’ve only been shorthanded 41 times (tied for 23rd in the league). While it’s nice that they haven’t been Conga-lining their way to the Sin Bin, it’s also an indication that they haven’t been as agressive on the forecheck as Crunch teams in the past have been. Picking up a few more penalties in the opponent’s zone may not be a bad thing moving forward.

Ben Groulx teams do tend to take awhile to gel so it’s not time to panic just yet. Also, with the amount of roster turnover from last year to this, it’s not unexpected that the team chemistry has yet to show itself. Hopefully, with their regulars starting to come back into the line-up, a more consistant effort will appear the rest of the way.

Blaming injuries is a bit of a cop-out, after all every team has to deal with them, but it has been pretty annoying as to who has been hurt for the Crunch. Both of their starting goaltenders (Max Lagace and Hugo Alenefelt) have been off of the ice along with their top defenseman, Darren Raddysh. Otto Somppi was expected to play a big role on the offense and he’s missed a lot of time. The call-ups of Fredrik Claesson and Andrej Sustr added even more chaos, especially on the blueline.

Having six skaters on PTO or ATO contracts (and two goaltenders) this early in the season makes it rough for the coaching staff to truly evaluate the players that are in town on a more permanent basis. Forwards have been rotated in and out of the line-up on a daily basis which increases the difficulty of keeping any kind of coherence on the ice. Hopefully, as the regulars return we’ll see more consistant lines and an increase in the on-ice chemistry.

Some players that have stood out so far:

Amir Miftakhov - 3-2-1, 2.30 GAA, .920 SV%, 1 shut out

Scott Thomas Photography

The young netminder is probably the MVP of the team over the last month. He’s looked pretty impressive in net despite his relative inexperience on North American ice. The goals against have ticked up a bit over the last few games, but there have been quite a few deflections and bad bounces. There aren’t too many goals allowed that he would like to have back.

It sounds like Legace is skating again and hopefully he should be back in net soon. If that happens, Miftakhov has earned the back-up position with Alnefelt likely to see some work in Orlando.

Gabriel Dumont - 12 games, 6 goals, 4 assists, 19:15 TOI

Scott Thomas Photography

Dumont is the on-ice example that Coach Groulx wants his young forwards to follow. He does his best work down in front of the net and his compete level is at the top of the charts. While his 26 penalty minutes leads the team, 19 of those came in one game and he hasn’t spent a single minute in the box in the last 9 games. He’s walked the fine line between being agressive and hurting his team really, really well.

Sean Day - 12 games, 2 goals, 8 assists, 22:44 TOI

Scott Thomas Photography

Day has benefited the most from the injuries and call-ups on the blueline. He was expected to be on the second pairing and maybe see some time on the second power play unit. Instead, he’s been one of the top players for Coach Groulx so far. In fact, Coach Groulx is a little worried that he might be playing a little too much. With Raddysh and Sustr back in the fold, Day’s minutes will probably go down a bit, but his effectiveness could go up as Coach Groulx can spot him against some weaker match-ups going forward.

Gage Goncalves - 12 games, 4 goals, 2 assists, 14:53 TOI

Scott Thomas Photography

It came down to Goncalves or Cole Koepke as the top rookie so far, but I’m going to lean towards Goncalves as he has been a little more consistant at even strength than Koepke. Goncalves has recorded at least one point in six of his twelve games (he’s also the only rookie to play in every game) and hasn’t seemed out of place when he’s on the ice. He is giving off some Boris Katchouk vibes as a defensively responsible forward who can score as well.

He hasn’t spent much time killing penalties, mainly because the Crunch have more than enough forwards who are really good at that aspect of the game. That may change as the season goes on and Coach Goulx trusts him a little more in those situations.

Transactions:

Subtractions

Alexey Lipanov (F) - The Lightning prospect was re-assigned to Orlando after appearing in just one game for the Crunch. With the log-jam of forwards in Syracuse it’s better if the 22-year-old gets more ice time with the Solar Bears

Kevin Lohan (D) - Another one-and-done player, Lohan was released from his PTO with Andrej Sustr back in town.

Additions

Andrej Sustr (D) - Speaking of Sustr, the big blueliner was back in town (physically!) in time for the Crunch’s games this week. He played on both the right and left side of the defense and should see plenty of time on the ice in the near future (he averaged 26:21 in his first two games).

Alex Dubeau (G) - The Orlando goaltender signed a PTO early in the week, but has yet to appear in a game. With a relatively light schedule he probably won’t see much game action.

Return from injury

Otto Somppi (F) - After being stretchered off of the ice in the season-opening game, Somppi returned to the line-up to give the Crunch a little boost of offensive potential.

Darren Raddysh (D) - Raddysh missed the last few games with an undisclosed injury. Coach Groulx will be happy to have the stalwart back as he’s averaged over 26 minutes of ice time per game this season.

The Games:

Game 10

Bridgeport 3, Syracuse 1

Gabriel Dumont scored his sixth goal of the season in the first period. That was it, that was the highlight. The Crunch generated 36 shots on net, but few of the dangerous variety. Nor could they take advantage of three second period power plays. Once again, their special teams kind of sucked the joy out of the offense. Amir Miftakhov made 26 saves on 29 shots.

Game 11

Utica 3, Syracuse 1

Sometimes you run into a hot goaltender. Nico Daws stopped 30 of 31 shots, including 19 in the first period as the Crunch struggled to turn chances into goals against the Comets. Gabriel Fortier scored the lone goal for Crunch while Amir Miftakhov stopped 22 of 25. The game was tied heading into the third before Fabian Zetterlund and AJ Greer scored goals two minutes apart to secure the win for Utica.

Game 12

Hershey 5, Syracuse 4 (SO)

A very relisant game for the Crunch as they came back from three deficits to garner a point. Remi Elie scored twice while Sean Day and Andrej Sustr scored from the blue line. Amir Miftakhov made 31 saves on 35 shots.

A little let down in the second period led to two goals by the Bears in a 36-second span. Other than that it was a fairly solid outing. The third period was probably the best period they played all week and they finally scored on the power play!

Upcoming Schedule

The Crunch make their final trip to Cleveland as they take on the Monsters for two games.

Wednesday November 17th at Cleveland Monsters, 7:00 PM

Friday November 19th at Cleveland Monsters, 7:00 PM