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Syracuse Crunch Wrap: defense decimated, but Crunch still find way to win

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Devante Stephens steps up as more defensemen fall to injury.

Syracuse Crunch Devante Stephens (14) celebrates his goal against the Rochester Americans in American Hockey League (AHL) action at the Upstate Medical University Arena in Syracuse, New York on Monday, March 1, 2021. Syracuse won 4-3.
Credit: Scott Thomas

The Syracuse Crunch started another week with a shootout win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, but couldn’t extend their winning streak to three following a 4-2 loss at the hands of the Rochester Americans. Cole Schwindt and Serron Noel each scored their first career AHL goals in Games 8 and 9, respectively. Both were 1-1 game-tying goals. Spencer Martin was busy, stopping 53 of 58 across both games for a .914 save percentage. He was good, but the power plays against really hurt the team in the second game. The team took ten penalties across both games (five each). They kept the Penguins from scoring with the man-advantage, but gave up two goals to Rochester in the loss.

The Crunch were fortunate to play a low-scoring/low-shot game against the WBS Penguins, because this team currently doesn’t have the offense to score three or four goals a game. They can play a good system and be cohesive, but they don’t have the shooting talent to get more than a couple goals a game.

Against Rochester, they Crunch had to play at a much quicker pace, and you could tell they weren’t all the way up to it. The Amerks have a good offense and they could make more with the chances they were given, no matter how closed up the (injured) Crunch defense tried to be. That forced the offense to try and push more, which caused breakdowns (in both chances against and in penalties), especially in the third period.

The Crunch may have also lost Ben Thomas, Brady Keeper, and Ryan Lohin to injury.

On that good news, let’s talk about the games.


Game Eight: (2-1 SOW at WBS Penguins)

Syracuse Crunch Lines

For the first time this season, the Crunch dressed the same 20 players in back-to-back games. No call ups, no injuries, and the team was coming off a win so there was little reason to chance the lineup. That said, the lines moved around a little bit, namely Schwindt moved down to the third line, Lohin took his spot, and Jimmy Huntington on the fourth line.

Schwindt was relied upon a lot in this game, on the penalty kill and on the energy line. Still just a junior, he was always one of those relentless skaters who always kept pressure on. This was a natural experiment considering his skills.

The defense was left unchanged, with Stephens and Thomas taking on the big load against the Penguins top line. I should also mention that on the penalty kill, Jimmy Huntington was taking shifts at left defense with Keeper in an effort to reduce the load on the other defensemen on the roster.

Following his game-winning goal last Monday, John Ludvig was starting to really come into his own away from the injured Chase Priskie. He was on the penalty kill and has started to do a better job there — the blocked shots have always been a positive. He’s become more confident with the puck and stepping up to stop attacks or join one with his teammates. For a big skater it’s good to see him moving. The lack of mobility, despite the obvious talent on the roster, was a big shortcoming for this team early on in the season.

Forwards

Scott Wilson - Ryan Lohin - Taylor Raddysh (A)
Boris Katchouk (A) - Otto Somppi - Serron Noel
Gabriel Fortier - Cole Schwindt - Peter Abbandonato
Jimmy Huntington - Nikita Pavlychev - Declan McDonnell

Defense

Devante Stephens - Ben Thomas
John Ludvig - Alex Green
Sean Day - Brady Keeper

Goalies

Spencer Martin
Samuel Montembeault

Power Play

Katchouk - Somppi - Wilson - Raddysh - Day
Abbandonato - Lohin - Noel - Huntington - Thomas

Penalty Kill

Wilson - Katchouk - Stephens - Thomas
Schwindt - Fortier - Huntington (on defense) - Keeper
Raddysh, Somppi, and Ludvig also mixed in.

First Period

The Penguins were mostly in control of the game in the first period. The Crunch were not the more-talented team here and it showed. They struggled to get in the offensive zone, or stay there when they did. Meanwhile the Penguins seemingly had cycles in the Crunch zone every few minutes.

The Penguins had two power plays in the period, but the Crunch did a really good job of keeping their opponents to the top of the zone and out into the neutral zone. Katchouk, Schwindt, Fortier, Raddysh, and Ludvig all did really well on those kills.

Second Period

0-1

The Crunch were caught focusing on the corner where a scrum was happening and didn’t pick up open players once the puck left that spot. The Penguins moved the puck really efficiently and got bodies in front of Jon Lizotte’s point shot that somehow got through Spencer Martin.

Martin was very strong in this game. The way the defense played in front of him allowed him to see most of the pucks that came his way. I might be showing my bias but I think he’s been the better goaltender lately.

Third Period

1-1

The Crunch slowly brought the shot share back to even as the game went on until eventually the dam broke and Cole Schwindt scored his first career AHL goal on a rush chance with Ludvig, who was sprung by Fortier. It was a sweet break following a defensive mistake from the Penguins that caused all the open space. It just about sums up the season that this goal came from the sticks of three rookies with a combined 24 games of AHL experience as of today. Just wild.

Shootout

Taylor Raddysh (scores)

Otto Somppi (wins it)


Game Nine: (2-4 L vs. Rochester Americans)

Ben Thomas was knocked into the bench door at one point in Wednesday’s win over the Penguins. He was scheduled to play following practice on Friday, but was ultimately had to miss the game with the injury to his back. A really tough blow. On top of that, Brady Keeper was a very late scratch after taking warm ups.

Something may have happened during warm ups, forcing Keeper to be a scratch and the Crunch to run a 17-man roster for the game. The Crunch didn’t have an extra body ready before the game and were forced to play with one short. They took to the ice with 12 forwards, 5 defensemen. You could imagine it was a tough night for everyone.

Taking Thomas’ place, Dmitry Semykin was thrown right to the first pair with Devante Stephens. With Day left without a partner, he was cycled in as much as the coaches could manage. I was surprised to not see Huntington on defense after he played some shifts there on the penalty kill in the previous game.

At forward, Greg Meireles (newcomer from Florida’s ECHL team) slotted in on the fourth line, replacing Ryan Lohin — who may also be injured.. Young Gabe Fortier took on the responsibility as the first line centre (and did quite well, all things considered).

Syracuse Crunch Lines

Forwards

Scott Wilson - Gabriel Fortier - Taylor Raddysh (A)
Boris Katchouk (A) - Otto Somppi - Serron Noel
Jimmy Huntington - Cole Schwindt - Peter Abbandonato
Greg Meireles - Nikita Pavlychev - Declan McDonnell

Defense

Devante Stephens - Dmitry Semykin
John Ludvig - Alex Green
Sean Day

Goalies

Spencer Martin
Samuel Montembeault

Power Play

Katchouk - Somppi - Wilson - Raddysh - Day
Abbandonato - Schwindt - Noel - Huntington - Thomas

Penalty Kill

Wilson - Katchouk - Stephens - Thomas
Schwindt - Fortier - Huntington (on defense) - Keeper
Raddysh, Somppi, and Ludvig also mixed in.

First Period

0-1

The Amerks got a power play in the middle of the first and they just wore down the Crunch more and more until seams started showing up in the slot. That allowed Steven Fogarty to slip through and score.

1-1

Serron Noel scored his first career AHL goal with a great tip in front of the net on the power play. Noel had pushed his way to the inside of the Amerks defender and forced his stick clear so that he could tip home the seeing-eye pass from Abbandonato. Huntington had the other assist. This second unit has been getting more time together with the stable roster (mostly) and some chemistry here paid off.

Second Period

1-2

The Amerks got back to the lead after Arttu (Deetoo) Ruotsalainen found a loose puck at the back door and jammed it home. The Crunch had their fourth line out there with Day and Semykin and no one got the back door. McDonnell got a little away for himself there, scrambling around when the real problem was that he missed his man. He had numbers back with him, hopefully this is a learning opportunity.

1-3

The Amerks extended their lead with a very envious passing play from the top line that gave Andrew Oglevie almost a tap-in. Top prospect for the Sabres Jack Quinn really made that happen with his sharp pass that fooled Martin.

Third Period

2-3 (called back for goalie interference)

Nikita Pavlychev thought he had scored his first career AHL goal after tipping home a point shot from Ludvig, but it was determined by the referees that his butt interfered with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. To be honest, yeah, that was interference. Poor guy was so excited to score, too.

2-3 (real this time)

Taylor Raddysh made it count a few minutes later on the power play with a great effort to beat the Amerks defender to the back door and tap home an amazing heads-up pass from Scott Wilson for the goal. It’s these little things that Raddysh does now that I honestly hadn’t noticed before. He’s thinking the game a lot better this season.

2-4

Alas, it wasn’t enough as Jean-Sebastien Dea sealed the deal with a power play goal late in regulation. The Crunch were down two with Huntington and Somppi in the box for infractions while the team was pushing for a goal. Katchouk, Wilson, and a tired Day just couldn’t do anything to stop it.

This Week in Thoughts

Serron Noel

Noel plays with a thick skin and works really hard to get pucks to dangerous areas. Like most of the forwards on the team, he could really use a finisher to play with. Help us, Obi/Alex/Ross/Grigori/Aleksi/Boo/Wally, you’re my only hope!

Cole Schwindt

Speaking of Star Wars, the two rising suns shone on Cole Schwindt this week as he scored his first career AHL goal (yes, another one) to tie the Penguins game in the third, eventually leading to the shootout win. He was flying in this game offensively and was really diligent in the neutral and defensive zones. I thought he, as a teenager, was really impressive. The Crunch have leaned on him a lot these past few weeks and he’s met every challenge.

Nikita Pavlychev

Pavlychev has an impressive wingspan and uses it to great advantage in games. He didn’t get many meaningful minutes on the fourth line (most of them against the other team’s fourth line), but he played well in those minutes and was always hunting for chances and trying to keep the pressure on. I’ve found that in this season’s AHL, both teams tend to put their fourth lines on the ice at the same time and basically just run some ECHL hockey for the 8-10 minutes a game when the other lines need a rest. That’s just been the reality of the depth over here.

Devante Stephens

The coaches have raved over and over again how much they like Devante Stephens. After falling out with the Rochester Americans and Buffalo Sabres , he spent the year in Orlando, developed his game, and has legitimately played like a top pairing defensive defenseman for this team, and provided ample offensive to boot. He’s a smart defenseman who knows how to use his size, doesn’t do too much, and can break the puck out of the zone cleanly (you don’t know how often I long for those players while watching AHL games). He’s been great and deserves a full-time job if/when everyone is healthy. I would love him as a dependable partner for Luke Witkowski.