The Syracuse Crunch started the season off in style with a 6-1 win over the Utica Comets. Gabriel Fortier scored twice, while fourth liners Ryan Lohin and Peter Abbandonato each had two points. Fortier joined Lohin and Henry Bowlby as all three rookies got their first ever AHL goals. Samuel Montembeault stopped 32 of 33 for the win, he was outstanding, especially in the second period when the Crunch collapsed a bit.
In terms of performances, I was really impressed with Otto Somppi and Boris Katchouk, I expect both of them to be fighting for an NHL job next fall. They both looked so comfortable and efficient on the ice. Hopefully this form continues as we get through the season. Ross Colton, meanwhile, deserves to be in the NHL today. He was very impressive as the first line center.
On the Florida Panther side, they have really good defensive prospects in Chase Priskie and Riley Stillman (son of former Lighting forward Corey Stillman). Their forwards still seem to be finding their feet but they’re getting there.
Game One (6-1 win vs. Utica Comets)
Syracuse Crunch Lines
Grigori Denisenko - Ross Colton (A) - Alex Barre-Boulet
Boris Katchouk - Otto Somppi - Taylor Raddysh
Daniel Walcott (A) - Gabriel Fortier - Jimmy Huntington
Henry Bowlby - Ryan Lohin - Peter Abbandonato
John Ludvig - Chase Priskie
Riley Stillman - Luke Witkowski (C)
Sean Day - Alex Green
Raddysh - Colton - ABB - Denisenko - Priskie
Katchouk - Somppi - Huntington - Abbandonato - Day
Fortier - Katchouk - Stillman - Witkowski
Colton - Bowlby - Ludvig - Priskie
ABB, Walcott, and Green also got time
With Daniel Walcott in the box, the Comets set up for a faceoff in the Crunch zone. As the puck was dropped, Fortier shot out from his spot and rushed up with his center Boris Katchouk. The two gave the puck a quick give-and-go, forcing the Utica defender and goalie off balance, Katchouk made a terrific pass and Fortier smashed the puck into the open cage. It was a brilliant first goal exactly one minute into the new season.
After a shift where the Crunch were pinned in their own zone following a giveaway by the third pair, the second line and pair came out and got themselves into the offensive zone with some great work behind the net by Katchouk and Fortier. The puck soon slipped out to the top of the circle via Raddysh to Stillman, he wired the puck into the back of the net. Somppi claimed the goal as the puck went off him while he was causing mayhem in front of the net.
ABB, Fortier, Katchouk, and Priskie were my standout players in the first period. Somppi and Stillman, too. I saw a lot of great offensive chances from the top six, especially from those outside-in passes from the first line and the grinding low-high chances from the second line. Priskie commanded the ice when he was on the ice with the puck, and Stillman can make a heck of a pass and has an impressive shot.
To start the second, the Crunch got called for a couple of iffy penalties. First it was Witkowski for charging, even though he slowed to go for the puck as he arrived on scene, then his partner Stillman got penalized for cross-checking after he himself got tripped up on the penalty kill. The Crunch were down 5-on-3, but they killed off the initial attack as Colton out-skated the Comets in the neutral zone and drew a penalty while falling for a shot. It was a great effort play and it got the Crunch out of a bind.
It also led directly to ABB’s goal as the Crunch scored on the power play. Before the goal Priskie nearly roofed a goal off the offensive zone faceoff, before coming all the way back and stopping a 2-on-1 with his stick. He then released Denisenko for the 4-on-2 that resulted in the goal for ABB set up by Colton.
Once they got up 3-0, the Crunch had a handful of shifts in a row where it was a five-alarm blaze in the defensive zone. The skaters just missed their assignments and got beat to pucks. Montembeault had to be spectacular, but also received an insane amount of luck as no less than three pucks trickled just wide of each post during the melee. One even off the stick of Priskie while he was trying to deflect the pass (which, technically, he did).
The fourth line was the first trio that gave the Crunch some breathing space. They had a good shift in the offensive zone, especially Lohin and Bowlby who worked well together. They got a couple little chances, and were dangerous enough that the Comets had to focus on defense.
Bowlby and Lohin connect again, and this time for a goal! A sweet passing play between Lohin and Bowlby from the wing into the slot gave both players their first AHL assist and goal respectively. Abbandonato also made a great pass after entering the zone, pushing the puck all the way across the ice and getting the Comets out of position as they tried to focus on Lohin.
Tanner Kaspick got penalized for tripping Day, but it was the Crunch that got bit on the special teams as they gave up a shorthanded goal to Curtis McKenzie. It was Raddysh again who lost the puck while he was in the middle of the offensive zone, causing a 2-on-1 the other way. Jasek got the puck around Priskie (who had otherwise been great defending 2-on-1’s) and McKenzie buried the puck home.
Real Positivity: Lukas Jasek with a tremendous effort on the Comets penalty-kill to earn their lone goal of the night.— Cody Taxivertsquad (@CodySevertson) February 7, 2021
Picks off a point-shot then turns on the jets to create a two-on-one opportunity. Reaches around a sliding Chase Priskie to set-up Curtis McKenzie#Canucks pic.twitter.com/lmj5HBHX4J
Raddysh made a lot of clear mental mistakes in the second, which undid some of the good I saw in the first. I saw good things from the fourth line twice; the first time they saved the Crunch from a perpetual cycle in their own zone, the second they scored. Overall, pretty good outing for them. Fortier has been aggressive and useful down low in this game, which is very promising for a rookie. I’ve really liked Somppi, his goal was well-deserved. Katchouk deserves two points in this game.
A few minutes into the third, Walcott got pushed into the boards awkwardly to no call. He seemed to get up on his own but I couldn’t tell from the camera. He came back not too long after (and spoiler alert got a primary assist on the fifth goal!).
Oh, this was a gross goal. Poor Jake Kielly. The Crunch were in the offensive zone and Walcott had just tipped a point shot from Ludvig. It bounced to the side of the net, Fortier got to the puck first and shovelled it towards the net where Walcott was on the far side of. Luckily, Walcott wasn’t needed as Kielly shanked the shot and it bounced over his right arm and in. At the end of the day, they don’t ask how you scored your second AHL goal, they just ask how many.
Ryan Lohin scored a wicked goal for his first in the AHL and second point of the night! To put it succinctly, Abbandonato and Lohin won the puck battles right off the faceoff, got a step on everyone else, and Lohin stuck the puck into the top of the net to finish it off. This game was probably over before this goal, it was definitely over after this goal.
The Crunch struggled on breakouts in this game, unless it was a good vision pass from Stillman or Priskie taking it upon himself to skate it out. The Crunch have a lot of conservative defensemen, they don’t have many puck-moving defensemen. If this is where the limits of the Crunch lie, it’s important that the forwards come down into their own zone further and support the defense in forward transition. They won’t be able to stretch the ice as much, a tactic some forwards like to do. Credit should also go where it’s due, the Comet forecheck was aggressive and didn’t give the Crunch time and space to make plays (or get away with mistakes).
Post Game Thoughts
- First line: Ross Colton should be on the Lightning this year, full stop. He’s a perfect bottom-six forward for them. Mitchell Stephens-esque. ABB continues to hustle up the Crunch scoring records. He’s a great player, I worry the only thing holding him back is a lack of a role for an AHL scorer that can’t exactly play the grinding style of the Lightning bottom-six. Denisenko played his first AHL game and it looked like he’s still adjusting. He made a couple weird passes but wasn’t too bad overall. He got his first point of the season, at least. Overall, the line combined for 10 of the team’s 31 shots, so a pretty dominant effort from them in the end.
- Second line: I’ve really liked Katchouk and Somppi, one if not both should be on the Lightning next year. In this game, they were all over the front of the net in this game and it created some great chances Raddysh seems more this season, he got the praise from coach Groulx after practices this week for his focus every day. While I appreciate what Groulx said about Raddysh, I definitely didn’t see a more focused player on the ice. Too often he was the player high and wide in the zone, away from the action, and one time in the second on the power play he coasted back with a guy on him, Montembeault couldn’t get him the puck from behind the net, and it nearly resulted in a goal. Raddysh really needed to use his legs and his head a lot more rather than hope the guy who was on him would back off.
- Third line: Walcott got unlucky with both his penalties, not enough to worry about, yet. The third line was kind of invisible in this game. They played some good hockey and were in both ends of the ice, but they couldn’t find ways to get that last 10% that leads to a scoring chance, they seemed to be grinding to get the puck to no one (except the defensemen for a point shot). I wonder who can be added to this line, I assume it’ll be someone when Boo Nieves gets into the lineup.
- Fourth line: The Crunch have a great fourth line here. They work hard, they win battles, and they give their team good shifts so the coach doesn’t have to rely on only three lines. Plus, they scored! Twice! Lohin and Bowlby have a burgeoning partnership here, while Abbandonato works well with them. They pass and move and don’t take anything for granted. It’s a simple game, but it works.
- First Pair: Priskie is a smooth-skating defenseman showed some good ability breaking up plays in transitions against, he also jumped up into the play when the situations presented themselves. He has a good offensive eye and the Crunch are lucky to have him on a top offensive pair, there isn’t someone like him on the Lightning side of the Crunch roster. His partner Ludvig had a shaky game, he seemed a little nonchalant on some plays out of the zone. This is his first season out of the WHL where he likely got away with being a little light on his passes.
- Second pair: Witkowski got into a fight, so rah rah for him. This second pair is the team’s best shutdown duo. They’re relied on a lot and this game gave a lot of reasons why. Stillman can move the puck really well and he works well with Witkowski to get the puck away from forecheckers and to stop cycles. I like this pair a lot.
- Third pair: Green Day didn’t inspire confidence when it came to moving the puck out. On one shift in the first they were without pressure in their own zone, they passed the puck to each other, neither being able to send it out of the zone, backing onto their heels by the forecheckers before eventually turning over the puck and forcing Montembeault into an awkward save and the Crunch stuck in their zone for a shift.
- The Goalie: Montembeault was great when he needed to be (which sometimes was a lot). You could tell the goal against was coming from a long way with how the Crunch were coming back and defending. The Comets should’ve had a couple goals, but luck and Montembeault limited it to one. Good solid game from him.