The Syracuse Crunch would rather be playing competitive games, but if there was a time to have an unscheduled week of practice, last week was a good time. Due to their opponents, Rochester and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, entering COVID protocols, all three games for the Crunch were postponed until later in the season. Having lost 7 of their last 8 and struggling to find offense, a chance to reset things a bit was most welcome.
The AHL’s Eastern Conference teams have been scrambling a bit for the last couple of weeks as games have been postponed in both the Atlantic and North Divisions. Hartford, Springfield, Hershey, and Providence all had games rescheduled last week as the teams entered “enhanced protocols”. Schedule makers will have their hands full filling in the missed games later in the season.
Syracuse has yet to suit up for a game in December, and based on how November ended, that might not be a bad thing. They’ve only scored 10 goals in their last 5 games (with 4 of those goals coming in one game against Lehigh Valley. With no games until Wednesday they will have had ten days between games, a nice long break to clear the mind and get back to basics.
The most important thing they’re going to have to figure out is how to get goals from someone other than the top line. Outside of Gabriel Dumont (9 goals) and Charles Hudon (4 goals) there hasn’t been much going on. Yes, Jimmy Huntington has 6 goals, but they all came in October. It’s been 10 games since he’s put one back in the back of the net. The good news is that he does have 2 assists in the last 3 games so he is getting involved in the offense again.
Antoine Morand and Otto Somppi, two veterans the Crunch count on for offense, only have 2 goals combined. Somppi did miss a large chunk of the season following an opening night injury, but he has just the 1 goal (0 assists) in the 6 games since he’s come back. They need more out of him. After a hot start, 4 points in his first 3 games, Morand has gone ice cold, not having scored in his last 10. The team just doesn’t have enough depth to have their veterans not scoring.
On the defensive side, the rest can be an asset. So will the addition of Sean Day. The smooth-skating defenseman was a key piece of the blueline while Andrej Sustr and Fredrik Claesson were in Tampa. With that duo back in Syracuse he shouldn’t have to shoulder as big of a load and he slots in better as the point person on the power play. With Darren Raddysh’s health still in question, Day will be an important part of the defense.
Speaking of health, it’s been a carousel of players coming and going recently on both the offense and defense. Rookie Gage Goncalves has been out since before Thanksgiving and Remi Elie was out of the most recent game. With the call-up of Gabe Fortier, things were a little thin on the front lines. That necessitated the signing of two forwards to PTO’s just to have depth in practices. Although, Patrick Watling, who was leading the ECHL in scoring when the Crunch signed him, could be an intriguing player to keep an eye on.
Coach Groulx has been preaching patience so far this season, often commenting that there is plenty of time left in the season. At the same time, it’s hard to move up in the league. The North Division is pretty competitive this year (especially with Utica jumping out to a 16-1-1 start). The Crunch can’t wait too much longer to start stringing some wins together and maybe this little bye week will give them the reset they need.
Patrick Watling (F) - Signed to PTO. Watling has 29 games of AHL experience, all back in 2014-15 with the Toronto Marlies. The 28-year-old has been solid in the ECHL posting 161 points (57 goals, 104 assists) in 168 games with Orlando, Tulsa, and Wheeling. He was off to a hot start this year with 9 goals and 15 assists in 14 games. Any offense he can add would be most welcome.
Sean Day (D) - With the Tampa Bay Lightning defense mostly healthy, Day was returned to the Crunch at the beginning of the week. His presence will be most welcome, especially if Darren Raddysh can return. Day will eat up ice time, he’s currently averaging 22:44, which will take a lot of pressure off of the bottom two pairings.
Dmitry Semykin (D) - The big blueline has been the oddperson out on the defense this season. He’s appeared in 8 games (1 came as a forward) and picked up 0 points while averaging just over 7 minutes a night. The 2018 third-round pick is back with the Solar Bears (where he already has a goal) and should have plenty of ice time in Orlando.
The Crunch will wrap up what would have been a three-game homestand with a game against the Monsters before heading down to North Carolina for two against the Checkers. Hopefully there are no more alterations to the schedule.
Wednesday December 8th vs. Cleveland Monsters, 7:00 PM
Friday December 10th at Charlotte Checkers, 7:00 PM
Saturday December 11th at Charlotte Checkers, 6:00 PM