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Crunch Wrap: Syracuse takes six out of six points

There was a lot of extra hockey, but the Crunch ended up on the right side of the ledger in all three games

Scott Thomas Photography

The Syracuse Crunch took on Phantoms, Monsters, and Bears (oh my) in the lead up to Halloween. Unlike last week where they were left pointless despite a valiant effort, the Crunch did manage to collect all six points despite having to go into extra time in all three games.

Seven games into the season, can we draw any conclusions about the 2021-22 Syracuse Crunch? Maybe. This is a team that plays with a lot of compete. They don’t mind playing from behind, and while the offense isn’t setting the world on fire, it is spread out. Four players have multiple goals, led by Jimmy Huntington’s six tallies, while seven other players have potted one goal each.

This might actually be the ideal Ben Groulx team. When he speaks about team depth, he refers to being able to plug any player into any spot in the line-up and they are able to succeed. This version of the Crunch has a ton of similar players on it and Coach Groulx has mixed-and-matched his lines throughout the season so far.

One characteristic that is standing out early in the season is that they play with a high level of compete. They don’t mind trailing in games and have made a habit of pulling off some nice comebacks. In five of their games so far they’ve trailed after two periods. Their 2-2-1 record in those games is quite impressive. So is the fact that they like playing in close games. Five times this season (including their last four in a row) have ended in one-goal games. They have also gone to bonus hockey four times in seven games as well.

The Crunch are a tenacious team that has worked hard to pick up every one of their nine points. That’s good enough for fourth place in the North Division. In a weird quirk of the early season schedule, six of the seven teams in the North Division have four wins, but since the league separates the standings by points percentage, no one is actually tied. It’s going to be a tight race in the North this season.

The fact that the Crunch have recorded a points percentage of .643 over their first seven games is even more impressive considering their defense has been in shambles. They’ve already suited up ten different defenseman for at least one game. Only Sean Day, Alex Green, and Ryan Jones have played in all seven while injuries have knocked out two of their their top defenders (Darren Raddysh and Brandon Crawley). They have started two players that are currently on PTOs (Jesse Lees and Kevin Lohan) while two players they counted on having (Andrej Sustr and Fredrik Claesson) have spent most of the season in Tampa.

The good news is that they’ve somehow made it work. After allowing 14 goals in the first three games, they’ve only allowed eight in their last four. Their penalty kill has been especially stingy as they’ve only allowed one power play goal in twenty-three shorthanded opportunities. That’s pretty impressive, especially with two rookies in net.

They are still a work in progress, but the bones are there to make this a very special team.

Transactions

There were a couple of additions to the roster for the Crunch.

Remi Elie (F) - The off-season signing is finally fit to play and passed through waivers on Thursday to join the Crunch

Kevin Lohan (D) - Lohan was signed to a PTO prior to the game on Saturday. The blueliner was one of the last players cut from the Crunch roster in training camp,

Fredrik Claesson (D) - With Foote heading up to the Lightning, Claesson was returned to the Crunch and will likely pop up on the top pairing.

The subtractions:

Cal Foote (D) - He wrapped up his conditioning stint and was recalled by the Lightning on Sunday.

Gabriel Dumont (F) - With some forwards banged up in Tampa, the Lightning called up Dumont for some depth. Chances are he’ll be back in time for the games this weekend, but in the meantime he’ll get some practice time with the parent club.

Game Five

Crunch 3, Bears 2 (OT)

Starting Lines

Gabriel Fortier - Gabriel Dumont - Cole Koepke

Antoine Morand - Jimmy Huntington - Gage Goncalves

Charles Hudon - Simon Ryfors - Tyler Bird

Shawn Element - Tristan Langan - Max Cajkovic

Sean Day - Darren Raddysh

Ryan Jones - Cal Foote

Jesse Lees - Alex Green

Amir Miftakhov

Amir Miftakhov will likely remember his AHL debut for a long time because it was definitely a night of firsts for him. Not only did he pick up his first win but he also picked up his first point, an assist. Less memorable was the fact that he gave up a goal on the first shot he faced as a North American pro. He got much, much better from there.

It also got better for the Crunch as the game went along after they went down by two goals in the first period. The first goal came early as Cal Foote went for a poke check at the Syracuse blueline and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby (great name) wrong-footed him and then slid a shot past Miftakhov on the short side.

The second tally came after the Crunch lost a face-off in their zone and weren’t able to clear the puck. Cody Franson flipped a shot in from the point that Matt Moulson tipped past the goaltender. The Crunch played alright at times in the period but didn’t sustain a lot of offense. Their best chance came when Max Cajkovic was all alone in front of the net, but took an extra second to settle down a centering pass and Pheonix Copley was able to slide over to make the save.

They spent a lot of the period in their own zone with the Hershey forecheck disrupting the breakouts and pinning the Crunch back. As the game wore on, Syracuse improved on that facet of the game and turned the tide of play.

It was the special teams play that led the way. Entering the game Hershey trailed only Texas in regards to penalty kill percentage. The Crunch, with their special teams units a little more set than in the previous two weeks, put two power play goals up in regulation. Both of them were scored in similar fashion.

The first goal came just five minutes into the second when the Crunch worked the puck back to Cole Koepke (back in the line-up after a weekend off). His shot made it to the front of the net and Jimmy Huntington swatted it home for his fifth goal of the season.

Later in the game, it was Gabriel Dumont in his customary spot right in front of the net who dug out a loose puck in his skates and shoveled it past Copley to tie the game just over a minute into the third period.

The Crunch really tightened up their defense over the final two-thirds of the game. After allowing 18 shots on goal in the first (welcome to the league, Amir) they only allowed 13 from the second period through overtime. That extended zone time Hershey was putting up early disappeared until late in the game as Syracuse was much cleaner in their breakouts.

Miftakhov was really good in his debut as he stopped 29 of 31 shots. He plays an agressive, but controlled style of the play, playing out at the top of his crease a lot. Late in the game the Bears had a semi-breakaway and the youngster came well out in front of his crease to force the attempt wide.

Syracuse had a power play to begin overtime and maintained possession well, but didn’t get a really good look on the 4-on-3. As the clock wound under a minute to go, Miftakhov made two nice saves, first sliding across the crease to stop Mike Sgarbossa and then a glove save on Garrett Pilon. After the save on Pilon he alerted Sean Day that Charles Hudon was open down the ice, and Day sent the free-agent signing in alone on Copley. A nice quick shot found the back of the net and the Crunch had the victory.

Goals

Jimmy ties his career high in goals just five games into the season.

Dumont just outworking the Bears in front of the net.

Day with the pass and Hudon with the finish for the win.

Game Six

Crunch 3, Monsters 2 (SO)

Remi Elie - Gabriel Dumont - Cole Koepke

Gabriel Fortier - Jimmy Huntington - Antoine Morand

Charles Hudon - Simon Ryfors - Gage Goncalves

Shawn Element - Tristin Langan - Tyler Bird

Sean Day - Cal Foote

Ryan Jones - Alex Green

Dmitry Semykin - Jesse Lees

Hugo Alnefelt

There were a couple of changes in the Crunch’s line-up on Friday night. Defensive stalwart Darren Raddysh was a little banged up earlier in the week so Dmitry Semykin drew in for his second game of the season (first as a defenseman). With Remi Elie healthy, he drew back in and Max Cajkovic sat out. As a hint of what the Crunch are expecting out of Elie, not only did he jump onto the top line with Dumont and Koepke, but he had an “A” on his sweater as well.

Syracuse mixed things up a bit this game as they actually jumped out to a first period lead. Sure it took almost the whole period, but Gage Goncalves followed up his own rebound to backhand home his third goal of the season. Alex Green had the initial shot from the point and Goncalves was stopped by the paddle of Daniil Tarasov’s stick, but a fortuitous bounce put the puck right back to Gage and he buried his second attempt.

There is something about playing Cleveland that brings out the edgier side of the Crunch. Throughout the night there were three fights and four more penalty kills for Syracuse. They were shorthanded three times in the first and it interrupted the flow of their offense a little.

In the second they were able to pile up 16 shots, but not a lot of extended zone time. They had some really good looks, Goncalves with probably the best as he saw an empty net on a backdoor pass, but his shot skittered just wide. Tarasov kept his team in it with several solid saves.

The Crunch entered the third period with the lead and a determination to close the game out. Unfortunately, the puck doesn’t always respect the hard work players put into the game. Cleveland tied the game early on when Tyler Bird failed to clear the puck. Jake Christiansen just flung the puck in the general direction of the net from the blue line, but it found Kevin Stenlund’s stick and deflected past Alnefelt.

A solid response by the Crunch led to them reclaiming the lead a minute later. Cal Foote won a puck battle in his own zone and sent the puck up to Antoine Morand. The forward streaked into the Cleveland zone and waited until a small seam in front of the net and he threaded the puck right onto Gabriel Fortier’s stick. Fortier slammed it home for the 2-1 lead.

Bad luck on a nice back-check led to Cleveland evening things up. Charles Hudon streaked back to break up a cross-ice pass, but the puck deflected into the crease, off of Sean Day, and right to Justin Danforth who poked it over a down-and-out Alnefelt.

From their the goaltenders took over as Alnefelt and Tarasov trading saves. Dumont snuck in behind the defense with about three-and-a-half minutes left in the game, but Tarasov blockered away the breakaway. Alnefelt saved his best for the very end of regulation as he made a full-stretch, right toe save on Danforth’s breakaway with under 30 seconds to go.

Overtime saw several more chances with defenseman Jesse Lees saving the game with his face. His noggin got in the way of a Danforth rebound shot that was heading for an empty net. The goalies continued their exhibition in the shootout as they made four saves on the six attempts. Gage Goncalves wristed home a forehand on the Crunch’s third attempt for the only goal and then watched as Justin Scott’s final attempt went wide.

The Crunch picked up their first win at home and their first win when scoring the opening goal.

Goals

Gage Gonvalves puts himself in a spot to score and follows up his own rebound.

An excellent pass by Antoine Morand and Gabriel Fortier buries it.

Game Seven

Crunch 3, Phantoms 2 (OT)

Gabe Fortier - Jimmy Huntington - Antoine Morand

Remi Elie - Simon Ryfors - Gabriel Dumont

Gage Goncalves - Charles Hudon - Cole Koepke

Jaydon Dureau - Tristan Langan - Shawn Element

Sean Day - Cal Foote

Ryan Jones - Jesse Lees

Kevin Lohan - Alex Green

Amir Miftahkov

Once again, there were changes in the line-up. Semykin was a late scratch and Kevin Lohan made his season debut on defense (but didn’t play a lot). Tyler Bird was out and Jayden Dureau was back in the line-up.

Look. Not every game can be a thriller. This is a game both teams will likely find a lot of things wrong with, but in the end, the Crunch found the goal they needed in overtime to pick up the extra point and make it a clean sweep for the week. Amir Miftakhov made his second start of the season and once again put in a strong performance as he made 24 saves on 26 saves. Unlike in his debut, he did not assist on the game winner.

He did give up a goal early, as Gerry Mayhew poked in a loose puck after a goal-mouth scramble left Miftakhov on his belly. The young netminder thought he had it covered long enough for a whistle at one point, but the ref disagreed and allowed the goal.

As has been the case over the last four or five games, the Crunch didn’t let being behind bother them and they tied it before the period ended. Simon Ryfors, on the power play, split the defense and while he couldn’t finish the play off, the puck ended up on Charles Hudon’s stick and he banged it home past Felix Sandstrom.

The second period didn’t start off well for the Crunch. They couldn’t get out of their own way in the defensive zone and had trouble clearing. Lehigh finally made them pay as Morgan Frost skated into their zone untouched, crossed in front of the net, and waited for a screen before snapping a shot between Jesse Lees’ legs and past Miftakhov.

Syracuse did turn things back on midway through the period and started generating some chances and rang a couple of pucks off the pipe in the final few minutes of the middle frame. Still, they went into the third period chasing a one-goal deficit.

Gabriel Dumont erased that four-and-a-half minutes into the third. After the team forced an icing, they won the face-off and Sean Day launched a shot towards the net. It hit traffic in front of the net and dropped right to Dumont. He collected it, spun and fired it into the top corner.

Both teams traded chances the rest of the period but the final horn sounded with the score deadlocked at 2. Once again the Crunch were heading into overtime. They didn’t make the Phantoms’ fans wait too long as Ryan Jones fired a shot on net and Jimmy Huntington batted the rebound out of midair into the back of the net.

Goals

I don’t think Simon Ryfors expected to make it that far into the zone with the puck, good job by Charles Hudon to follow up and put the puck in the net.

Nice patience here by Gabriel Dumont to control the puck, spin and find the top corner.

Jimmy Huntington seals the win by going to the front of the net. That’s where good things happen.

Upcoming Schedule

The Crunch will look to keep their streak rolling as they have a couple of home games (as well as some time off to hopefully heal up) this weekend.

Friday November 5th vs. Utica Comets, 7:00 P.M.

Saturday November 6th vs. Laval Rocket, 7:00 P.M.