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Syracuse Crunch Wrap: Taylor Raddysh carries Crunch through shorthanded week

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Shorthanded in more ways than one.

It was a busy week for the Syracuse Crunch, filled with frustration but also growth by the end of it. After games on Tuesday and Wednesday, I was worried the theme of the week was going to be penalties. The Crunch took way too many and got punished for those mistakes hard, but credit to them as on Saturday and Monday, the team really clamped down on their lapses and played a much more “normal” game against WBS and Utica for back-to-back wins.

The dynamic duo of Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk combined for five goals in the four games. They were paired with young center Otto Somppi, who scored twice in each of his two games with his new linemates. For his efforts, Raddysh was given AHL Player of the Week honors.

In Short...

5-1 L @ Utica Comets (Tues)

It was a full-blown parade to the penalty box that killed the Crunch last Tuesday. Ironically, they started the game with a shorthanded goal in the first, but followed that up with six straight trips to the box for a total of nine in the game. The Comets were given a little under 10 minutes of ice time with the extra man in the second period. They used that to score twice and decimate the Crunch in shots 3-22. The third period was more of the same with another power play goal on two attempts for the eventual 5-1 loss.

Comets goalie Joel Hoefer was good when he had to be, but he was only really challenged in the first. It’s good to see the team improve their starts, but their achilles heel keeps knocking them down. Samuel Montembeault was way too busy, giving up five goals on 47 shots.

3-2 L @ Utica Comets (Wed)

Another loss thanks to playing the game with a hand tied behind their back. Two more power play goals for the Comets (they had lots of practice) put them in front and a third goal from Jet Woo kept them there in another lopsided shots loss.

I’ve done my rant on why the Crunch have struggled with shot share, one of the main reasons was penalties and that was extant in this game. When a team doesn’t have the puck for most of the game, it’s hard to re-energize the offense. In soccer, teams end up resorting to counter-attacking when they are rarely touching the ball, this is what happened with the Crunch. They stopped playing with the puck and that gave Utica confidence to not want to give it up. That’s a recipe for disaster. Spencer Martin did what he could, stopping 37 of 40, but he never should be asked to face such an onslaught.

4-1 W vs. WBS Penguins (Sat)

It was a better performance for the Crunch on Saturday against their favorite opponent. The new top line of Taylor Raddysh, Otto Somppi, and Boris Katchouk lit up the Penguins for all four goals spread across all three periods (one for Raddysh and Katchouk, two for Somppi). They also combined for eight shots, which ended up being half of the team’s total output in the game.

Jimmy Huntington left the game midway through it with a injury, which meant a lineup that already started with 11 forwards was down to 10. Despite that, it would’ve been good to get a little more more from the bottom three lines. In the first it felt like every line was stuck in their own zone until the first line came out got a chance at the other end. Spencer Martin stopped 24 of 25 for the win.

5-1 W vs. Utica Comets (Mon)

The Crunch built on their progress in Saturday’s game (and their mistakes from the week) to put together a positive performance in the first two periods. Before things fell apart in the third, Syracuse had a commanding lead in shots, 29-15. The game was scoreless after one, but the Crunch were playing with the puck a lot more and moving it well in the offensive zone. In the second, the team took advantage of goals from Antoine Morand, Otto Somppi, and Dmitri Denisenko on the power play to rightfully put them ahead. They almost gave it up in the third, with Martin having to stop 26 of 28 to get the win, but they closed out the game nonetheless.

I really liked Lucas Carlsson, who made his Crunch debut in this game. He’s a quality puck-moving defenseman that was used on the power play (along with Vladislav Kolyachonok) and worked really well with the top line. Carlsson was partnered with Andreas Borgman, who had six point shots in the game and a shorthanded empty-net goal while the Comets tried to claw back.

The Lineup

The Crunch have been been on the limit of roster players the last while as many players have been moved back and forth from Syracuse to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. As a result, the first two games of the week, the team was light on defensemen and had to run all 13 forwards on the roster. But on Saturday and Monday, the opposite was the case with the team losing Cole Schwindt and Scott Wilson to the Taxi Squad, while Jimmy Huntington was out with an injury suffered on Saturday.

Devante Stephens ending up on the wing while the team dressed seven defensemen on Monday. I was slightly curious by that decision, especially after a pretty lacklustre performance from Stephens in that temporary spot (no points, no shots, one penalty). On the bright side, Huntington isn’t expected to be out too long so the team will be able to get back to a normal lineup soon.

About those Penalties...

This week was a tale of two halves when it came to the penalty kill — which indicated welcomed adjustments. The Crunch gave up 4 goals on 13 penalties against, but went spotless on 6 attempts in the last 2 games. In total, that came out to an 84% kill rate over the 4 games. On the season, the Crunch are second last only to the Chicago Wolves for the most penalties taken per game in the league (an average of over 4.6 each night). Alongside that, they have a kill percentage of 77%, good for fifth last in the league. To put it bluntly, the Crunch are a team that take a dangerously high number of penalties and can’t kill them off when they do.

Those are the numbers, what I saw last week was a lot of lost puck battles — and for some reason a lot of desperation when those mistakes are made. Ben Groulx talked about how, even after their wins, the Crunch players were getting careless and sloppy with the puck in their own zone. The moment he was referencing and the moments last Tuesday were both while carrying the lead. Obviously last night the team held their position with a good third period goaltending performance from Spencer Martin, but Tuesday the team let the game get away from them and it spiraled into an embarrassing loss.

I have to wonder if the game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton brought some confidence back in the team since they always seemed to play well against the Penguins. They looked a lot more composed and assured with the puck and it led to a much more “normal” game with fewer penalties and a much more reasonable shot clock (17-25). That said, even in that game the team completely turned off in the third. If a puck bounced had ever the wrong way, things could’ve gone downhill really fast.

Performances

Taylor Raddysh has been good on the penalty kill recently, and his line with Boris Katchouk and Otto Somppi provided a lot of oomph. On the ice, Raddysh was sharp on the puck and created two good shorthanded chances in the first game (one of which led to a goal). He’s found a way to play a consistent game every shift and he got rewarded for his efforts with an eight-point week and AHL Player of the Week honors.

After last night’s game, Groulx spoke about his center, Otto Somppi, making an insightful note that while the prospect is a creative and smart player, he can sometimes overcomplicate things, leading to mistakes and inconsistent play. For example, trying to make the special pass out of the zone when the simple play works just as well. He hopes that as Somppi matures, he can simplify his game when it’s necessary while still being creative when it counts. Finding that balance will take time. I think playing with Raddysh and Katchouk the last two games has given him both the linemates that can maximize on his creativity, but also give him the peace of mind to not have to force the play.

Highlights

5-1 L @ Utica Comets (Tues)

Taylor Raddysh (5) from Boris Katchouk (10)

3-2 L @ Utica Comets (Wed)

Taylor Raddysh (6) from Boris Katchouk (11)

Boris Katchouk (8) from Antoine Morand (7) and Taylor Raddysh (7)

4-1 W vs. WBS Penguins (Sat)

Taylor Raddysh (7) from Otto Somppi (9) and Sean Day (7)

Otto Somppi (5) from Henry Bowlby (1) and Gabriel Fortier (4)

Boris Katchouk (9) from Taylor Raddysh (8) and Otto Somppi (10)

Otto Somppi (6) from Taylor Raddysh (9) (EN)

5-1 W vs. Utica Comets (Mon)

Antoine Morand (4) from Declan McDonnell (2)

Otto Somppi (7) from Lucas Carlsson (3) and Taylor Raddysh (10)

Grigori Denisenko (5) from Vladislav Kolyachonok (1) and Boris Katchouk (12) (PP)

Otto Somppi (8) from Taylor Raddysh (11) and Boris Katchouk (13)

Andreas Borgman (1) from Boris Katchouk (14) (EN, SH)

Peter Abbandonato (2) from Aleksi Heponiemi (5) and Lucas Carlsson (4) (PP)