clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Syracuse Crunch Wrap: Crunch struggle defensively, lose back-to- back games in Week 2

New, comments

Alex Barre-Boulet had two goals in Saturday’s loss.

Syracuse Crunch Alex Barré-Boulet (12) with the puck against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defenders Jonathan Gruden (44) and Kyle Olson (39) in American Hockey League (AHL) action at the Upstate Medical University Arena in Syracuse, New York on Saturday, February 13, 2021. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton won 5-4.

It wasn’t the greatest week for the Syracuse Crunch as they lost both games this week, taking home only one point, and fell to last in the North Division. There is a lot of offense on this team, led by Alex Barre-Boulet, Gabriel Fortier, and newcomer Aleksi Heponiemi, but the team defense is lagging and at the moment mistakes are costing them mightily.

In the two games, the Crunch started slowly against Rochester and couldn’t find enough offense to make up for their mistakes, and then struggled lost a tight game against the Penguins on a power play goal in the third.

The AHL season already seems to be a heated one as there were multiple scrums between whistles, especially in the WBS game where Luke Witkowski, Jimmy Huntington, and Ross Colton both got into unofficial scraps after whistles.

There were also a lot of transactions this week, namely ABB and Colton being placed on the Lightning Taxi Squad last night, but we’ll get into those on Wednesday. We got this news on Sunday night so I just want to make sure these aren’t paper transactions.

Game Two (4-3 OTL vs. Rochester Americans)

Syracuse Crunch Lines

Huntington was taken out of the lineup for fellow H-longname Aleksi Heponiemi. The Finn from Florida spent the start of the season with the Panthers and then started his AHL season with the Crunch on the third line, keeping the top six intact. Ben Thomas replaced Alex Green on defense. The rookie defenseman struggled in his first game of the season, but to be fair so did Thomas in this game.

Forwards

Grigori Denisenko - Ross Colton (A) - Alex Barre-Boulet
Boris Katchouk - Otto Somppi - Taylor Raddysh
Daniel Walcott (A) - Aleksi Heponiemi - Gabriel Fortier
Henry Bowlby - Ryan Lohin - Peter Abbandonato

Defense

John Ludvig - Chase Priskie
Riley Stillman - Luke Witkowski (C)
Sean Day - Ben Thomas

Goalies

Samuel Montembeault
Clint Windsor

Power Play

Raddysh - Colton - Barre-Boulet - Denisenko - Priskie
Katchouk - Somppi - Heponiemi - Abbandonato - Day

Penalty Kill

Colton - Barre-Boulet - Stillman - Witkowski
Walcott - Fortier - Ludvig - Priskie
Katchouk and Bowlby also mixed in.

First Period

0-1

The Amerks got the scoring started early in the period after getting traffic to the front of the net and tipping a shot past Montembeault. Ludvig got beat to the front of the net (top corner) and Remi Elie was able to out-muscle him for stick position.

0-2

The Amerks spent the entire two minutes with Heponiemi in the penalty box for high-sticking before finally crashing the front of the net and beating Montembeault with a rebound.

Second Period

0-3

Remi Elie got his second of the game after tipping a lazy point shot from Oskari Laaksonen. Day and Thomas again struggled to disrupt sticks in front of the net. Elie is one of the best players in the AHL so it’s especially tough when he scores on two tips.

1-3

The Crunch got themselves back in the game with a goal from their second line. Thomas shot for the pass to the right side of the net where Heponiemi had snuck in from the corner. His shot was slowed by Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, but Katchouk was in front of the net to knock home the rebound. I like this line, they play well in front of the net.

Whatever happened in this game, I don’t think it was on Samuel Montembeault. He was outstanding. It’s hard to stop two tip shots from right in front of you.

Third Period

2-3

The Crunch got their second goal of the game with the same play created by Thomas and Heponiemi in the second. This time it was the first line; Ross Colton from Riley Stillman. This was a really well-timed goal at the start of the third that gave the Crunch life.

3-3

The Crunch then made it really interested after finally breaking through in the second half of the third. The Amerks were playing a very safe game trying to protect the lead. They weren’t pushing players forward. Despite this, Taylor Raddysh broke through the middle of the ice thanks to some great neutral zone board work from Katchouk and a great pass from Heponiemi, scoring on UPL with a snipe high glove. He’s still got it for his first goal of the season.

Overtime

3-4

The Crunch had gotten this game to overtime but couldn’t complete the comeback. Riley Stillman took a tripping penalty at the end of regulation and the Amerks scored on the power play that bled into overtime. With the increased space on the ice, Steven Fogarty was just able to wire an uncontested shot from the left faceoff dot past Montembeault. Game over.


Game Three (5-4 loss vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins)

Syracuse Crunch Lines

Forwards

Jimmy Huntington - Ross Colton (A) - Alex Barre-Boulet
Boris Katchouk - Aleksi Heponiemi - Taylor Raddysh
Gabriel Fortier - Otto Somppi - Grigori Denisenko
Daniel Walcott (A) - Peter Abbandonato - Ryan Lohin

Defense

Riley Stillman - Luke Witkowski (C)
John Ludvig - Chase Priskie
Sean Day - Ben Thomas

Goalies

Samuel Montembeault
Clint Windsor

Power Play

Raddysh - Colton - ABB - Denisenko - Priskie
Katchouk - Somppi - Heponiemi - Abbandonato - Day

Penalty Kill

Colton - Barre-Boulet - Stillman - Witkowski
Walcott - Fortier - Ludvig - Priskie
Somppi and Raddysh also mixed in.

First Period

0-1

This was an innocuous first goal as Radim Zohorna beat Ludvig wide (he was slow to turn) and awkwardly shovelled the puck at Montembeault. The goalie was unable to find the rebound and Jan Drozg knocked in the rebound for the opening goal. Drozg is from Maribor (Slovenia) for you Tolkien fans out there. There’s no real connection between the two, Maribor just sounds like a region in Middle Earth to me.

1-1

ABB got the Crunch back in the game with a quick goal from the left side of the slot. Jimmy Huntington was a really good lower-third player for the Crunch, retrieving rebounds and working with ABB and Colton to make plays, something they needed. Huntington got a chance in front of the net that caused the Penguins to sound red alert, that caused one of the defenders to over-extend himself, leaving ABB in a soft spot for one of his wicked shots. Witkowski came down from the point and made the heads-up pass for the primary assist.

Second Period

Near the end of one penalty kill, Daniel Walcott fell to his knees off camera and had to have the whistle stopped for him to go off to the locker room. It seemed to be some sort of knee/lower body injury that took him down for a minute. He didn’t return and Ben Groulx wasn’t optimistic that we’ll see him in the lineup next week. A tough blow.

1-2

On the next shift, the Penguins scored. Again, this was due to a turnover in the defensive zone. Day got muscled off the puck from behind, the puck came from right behind the net to Chase Berger for the goal. A gut-punch after losing Walcott.

1-3

On the penalty kill, the Penguins completed a wicked set play off the faceoff. The puck came to the right point to Will Reilly, he found Kyle Olsen through the seem at the left wing for a one-timer. To be honest, Colton was quite weak on the faceoff, and then missed completely the cross-seam pass when he got to Reilly. This goal came three seconds after Heponiemi came out of the box.

Third Period

2-3

Sean Day made a really poised move around the corner in the offensive zone after taking the puck. He paused as he saw a couple options, but eventually gave it to Grigori Denisenko for his first career AHL goal. Denisenko was demoted to the third line this week but did a great job of carrying the puck and working with his linemates. It seems to have begun to work out for him.

3-3

Gabriel Fortier tied the game in style with his third goal of the season. Heponiemi was 1-on-4 as his linemates were changing. Fortier was fresh off the bench and took a slick feed from the Finn, deked, and punched the puck into the back of the net. A true beauty. I loved this play from Heponiemi. This is what can happen when you decide to hold onto the puck and not just dump it in for a possession change.

3-4

Immediately after the Crunch tied the game, Will Reilly put the Penguins back on top. The Crunch were again slow picking up bodies on their way back, and especially missed Reilly coming down from the point as the second wave. Crunch players were on the bad side of all three Penguins counterparts as they came through the front of the net. Day also just completely missed Reilly coming down right in front of him and instead chased a player leaving the area.

4-4

And within a minute, we got our third goal of the period. ABB made up for the mistakes on the previous shift and tied the game again. Riley Stillman did a nice job getting into the zone and drawing bodies towards him. Colton picked up the remains and found ABB skulking into the zone away from the action for a beauty of a one-timer.

4-5

It was only a couple minutes later when Jordy Bellerive scored the eventual game-winning goal for the Penguins. This goal came on the penalty kill where the Crunch were unable to cover the middle of the ice after the first two players were checked. Katchouk needed to follow his guy, but didn’t.

The Crunch then put the next 11 of 13 shots in the game on Emil Larmi as they tried to tie the game. The Penguins kept the puck away from the net, even using their bodies when they had to. The Crunch couldn’t break through in the final 12 minutes of the game and that was it.

This Week in Thoughts

  • I’m growing concerned about the Crunch’s ability to exit the zone reliably. A few times each period across all three games this season I’ve seen either defensemen or wingers make a soft, careless pass, or be wholly unable to find an outlet, causing the puck to get turned over and the Crunch to be stuck in their own zone for a shift. This is hardly unique in the AHL, this is where young players unlearn tendencies like this, but the Crunch already don’t have a roster full of great puck-moving skaters so every time they get pushed deeper into their own zone, the more likely chances against will come within the next minute or so. Limiting the time the defenders spend doing a full line reset behind the net will help. The message here should be go go go. Don’t take too long with the puck and every pass in the defensive zone should be purposeful.
  • I liked how vocal Daniel Walcott was with Gabriel Fortier on the penalty kill. You can see him shouting and pointing, teaching the whole time. It’s a real shame Walcott got injured in the second period of the Penguins game, it sounds like he’ll be out for some time. The Crunch have had a reasonably good penalty kill this season. I think the forwards have been quite strong at covering passes at the top of the zone and chasing pucks in the neutral and offensive zone, the problem so far this season has been the net-front play by the defense.
  • For all the offensive good Sean Day can bring to the game, he also makes a lot of mistakes in his own zone and it cost the Crunch pretty badly a couple times in this game. It’s a quality that’s kind of followed him his entire career, I hope some time with the Crunch can iron out those mental lapses and keep him engaged all game. His pass for the Grigorenko goal is proof of what he can bring to the game. Unfortunately, the fourth goal against WBS is what can happen when it goes wrong.