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Crunch Wrap: The offense shows up

Not a bad way to start the busiest stretch of the season

Scott Thomas Photography

“We have to make sure to play better than we did last week.”

Considering they lost three in a row, that shouldn’t have been too hard for the Syracuse Crunch as they kicked off a seven-game-in-ten-days stretch, one of their busiest two weeks two weeks of the season. The first two games went according to the script as the Crunch poured on the offense, scoring 11 goals over the weekend. Not bad for a team that was held to just 4 goals in three games the previous week.

Remi Elie had a nice homestand as he potted two goals and added an assist in the games against Laval and Rochester. Gabriel Dumont also scored twice and added two assists to give him a team-leading 37 points. He also reached the 20-goal mark for the second time in his career, matching his career-high he set back in 2014-15 with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Overall, it was a nice team effort as eight different players recorded at least one goal and the Crunch buried a lot of the chances that had been slipping by them throughout the season.

Game # 41

Crunch 5, Rocket 2

The Crunch took to the ice in their orange “SYR” sweaters (my personal favorite of their alternates) with the welcome sight of Hugo Alnefelt back in the net after he missed the last ten games due to injury. He was sharp in the first, stopping all eight shots that he faced.

Syracuse wasn’t exactly clicking in their own zone as they were occasionally hemmed in by Laval, which forced too many blind clearing attempts or wayward passes. The good news was that once they did get out of their zone, they were the better, faster team.

Their first goal came compliments off of an excellent read by Gabriel Fortier. He picked off a clearing attempt by Laval and quickly headed into the zone. Remi Elie was streaking down the middle of the ice and Fortier fed him the perfect pass for a one-timer that Elie smoked past Cayden Primeau.

A few minutes later, Charles Hudon tried to center a pass that was deflected, but the veteran bulled his way to the net to get the loose puck and slid it past Primeau.

After former Crunch forward Danick Martel rattled one off of the post, Gabriel Dumont made it 3-0. Anthony Richard won a race to a puck at the Laval endboards and backhanded a pass to Dumont in the left circle. The captain didn’t miss as he wristed it past Primeau.

The Crunch played a really good second period, for the most part. They held Laval to just five shots, unfortunately two of them went into the net. The first came less than a minute after Cole Koepke had a glorious chance in front of the net, but his stick failed him at the crucial moment, snapping in two as he tried to one-time a feed from Dumont.

As the play went back down the ice, Shawn St-Amant beat Hudon to the front of the Syracuse net and was able to slide the puck gently through Alnefelt’s pads to cut the score to 3-1. The Crunch pretty much dominated play from that point but couldn’t get another goal despite a few good chances.

The end of the period was a bit problematic. First Remi Elie went into the box for an offensive zone penalty. Then (after Darren Raddysh limped off after blocking a shot) Ryan Jones took a roughing penalty to make it a 5-on-3, which the Crunch came within a second of killing off, but Gabriel Dumont took high-sticked someone who wasn’t on his team and Xavier Ouellett scored on delayed penalty, effectively a 6-on-3 goal.

Raddysh was back on the ice for the third period to help kill off the rest of the 5-on-3, which was huge for a penalty kill squad that has been struggling. Fortier had a glorious chance with a takeaway just inside the blueline but his shot was stopped by Primeau. Syracuse did a really good job of grinding out the clock in the third period. They maintained the pressure up high and didn’t really allow Laval many chances on offense.

After missing a couple of chances throughout the period, the Crunch finally found their insurance goal, and it came on the power play. Darren Raddysh fired a shot from the point that was stopped. Remi Elie was in close but the rebound popped past him. Koepke cruised into the open ice and swatted it home, capping off a really good game by the rookie.

The goal not only gave the Crunch a little breathing room, but also forced Laval to pull their goaltender. After some tense moments in the Syracuse zone, Raddysh finally fired the puck into the empty net from his own zone. Not a bad way to score his first goal in a Crunch uniform as well as his first three-point night in a Syracuse uniform.

Game #42

Crunch 6, Americans 3

The Crunch, with Amir Miftakhov in net, got things going early as Gage Goncalves followed Gabriel Dumont into the Rochester zone and sent the puck towards the Americans net. It likely wasn’t a shot, but it was a goal as it ricocheted off of a body in front and past Aaron Dell.

Much like in their game against the Rocket the night before, the Crunch’s transition game was really strong early. Once they made it out of their zone, they were able to move through the neutral zone with speed and crisp passing. Remi Elie demonstrated their strong flow as he capitalized on a two-on-one to make it 2-0. The pass from Simon Ryfors to set him up was right in the spot it needed to be.

The Crunch had a chance to salt the game away in the first as Gabriel Dumont was awarded a penalty shot (while shorthanded) after he was hooked on a two-on-none with Anthony Richard. Dumont’s attempt was rather easily stopped by Dell and then, you guessed it, the Americans scored right after as Ryan Scarfo slammed home a cross-crease pass from Linus Weissbach to make it 2-1. Rochester continued to burn the Crunch on the power play.

There was no letdown to start the second period as the Crunch piled up eight shots in the first three minutes of the middle frame. The eighth shot was the one that restored the two-goal lead and it came compliments of the birthday boy - Daniel Walcott. Syracuse’s heart and soul set up in front of the crease and slid home a centering pass from Otto Somppi to make it 3-1.

What’s the one thing that could get the Americans back into the game? A power play. Five minutes into the period that’s exactly what they got when Charles Hudon went to the box for hooking. The Crunch did manage one clear, but a minute into it Oskari Laaksonen wristed a shot from distance that eluded everyone including Miftakhov and ended up in the back of the net and the lead was back to one for Syracuse.

This new-look Crunch have recently found a way to outscore their shorthanded issues and Gabriel Foriter was in the right spot to pot his eighth goal of the season. Remi Elie was jostling for the puck to the goaltender’s left and it just squirted it’s way over to Fortier right in front of the net and he beat Dell with a quick shot. Good things happen when you win puck battles in the offensive zone.

As seemed to be the case all night long, once the Crunch went up by two, they took a penalty. This time it was for having too many men on the ice at one time. Thanks to an offensive slash by Brett Murray the advantage only lasted for 12 seconds. Still, it counts as a kill and the Crunch will take that these days.

Late in the period the home team had their first full power play and despite deploying the five-forward unit for the second time in as many nights, they weren’t able to find the back of the net. Through 40 minutes, they took a 4-2 lead into the locker room thanks to a couple of sprawling saves by Miftakhov in the final seconds.

Because it’s a Saturday night North Division match-up you know there was going to be some fisticuffs at some point. Two-and-a-half minutes in, P.C. Labrie obliged Peter Tischke’s request for a tilt and quickly ended it. Meanwhile Daniel Walcott (who Tischke initially went after) induced Nick Boka to drop his gloves. Boka ended up with a double-minor for roughing so the Crunch ended up with a four-minute power play.

A hooking call on Gabriel Dumont wiped out a portion of the advantage, but once he was out of the box the Crunch capitalized as Charles Hudon wristed one from the point (they were rolling with the five forwards again) that Dell couldn’t corral. Dumont picked up an assist on the play.

The Crunch continued their trend of taking penalties after scoring goals, this time it was Andrej Sustr heading to the box for hooking. So Brandon Biro scored on the ensuing power play to make it 5-3. The penalty kill hasn’t been great for the Crunch lately and they struggled with it on Saturday night at Rochester went 3-for-5 with the extra skater (and if you remember one of those “kills” was only 12 seconds long).

That was one of the few dark clouds on a fairly strong night for the Crunch. Late in the game, Gabriel Dumont scored his 20th goal of the season as he found an empty net to make the final 6-3 (all three goals were scored on the power play for Rochester).

Coming and Going:

Additions:

Gemel Smith (F) - After a brief stop in the Detroit organization (where he did get to play a NHL game with his brother, Givani) Smith finally made it to Syracuse. He brings with him 173 points (76 goals, 97 assists) in 289 AHL games. After spending most of last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning on the taxi squad he will finally get a chance to get in some consistant game action.

Subtractions:

Shawn Element (F) - With Smith coming in the forward ranks are quite full so Element, who has played sparingly in February, was loaned to Orlando. Element has 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists) in 28 games with the Crunch, but only one point (an assist) since the calendar turned to 2022.

Corbin Kaczperski (G) - Now that Hugo Alnefelt is back in the line-up (hopefully for the rest of the year) Kaczperski was released from his PTO and will likely head back to the ECHL. The 26-year-old acquitted himself well during his brief time in Syracuse. He appeared in 3 games and posted a .920 SV% and 2.14 GAA while picking up a win and a loss.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chances

Look, this segment might land with more impact if the Crunch hadn’t scored 11 goals in 2 games, but here we are. One of the constant themes through the first 40+ games of the season is that the Crunch have generated plenty of chances offensively, but haven’t been able to convert.

With that in mind, I sat down to watch the game against Laval and see just how many chances they didn’t capitalize on throughout the game. Bear in mind, this isn’t every shot they took, just what I would personally consider Grade A chances that didn’t go into the net. In addition to the five goals they did score, there were at least ten chances I saw that should have had a better than average chance of finding the back of the net.

First Period

Chance #1 Just 90 seconds into the game Cole Koepke was sent in by Alex Barre-Boulet, but his shot from he slot kicked away by Primeau.

Chance #2 Gabriel Dumont fires one wide of an empty net after a nice feed from Gage Goncalves. Dumont looks to the roof in disbelief after missing the shot.

Chance #3 Goncalves speeds off the bench and fires a point-blank shot off the pad.

Chance #4 Anthony Richard is all alone in front of the net, has his chance is shouldered away by Primeau

Second Period

Chance #5 Daniel Walcott gets the puck on his backhand in the slot, can’t pull it to his forehand and doesn’t get a shot off as the puck trickles away.

Chance #6 The Crunch manage a two-on-none down low after a face-off and Koepke’s stick breaks right in front of the net as he unleashes the shot.

Chance #7 Remi Elie generated a shorthanded chance from between the circles that is kicked aside.

Chance #8 Walcott again is in front of the net but chipped one wide off a nice centering feed from behind the net by Otto Somppi

Third Period

Chance #9: Simon Ryfors on the criss cross with Elie gets a good look from the right circle, but is stoned.

Chance #10: Gabe Fortier tips a centering pass from Ryan Jones wide of the net from just in front of the crease.

I recognize the fact that the other team does have a goaltender and it is his job to make saves from time to time, but taken overall the Crunch’s inability to finish Grade A chances has probably been the biggest departure from previous squads coached by Ben Groulx.

It’s part of the reason that he has been hammering home the mantra that in order to be successful Syracuse has to outwork the other team night-in and night-out, something we saw against both Laval and Rochester this past weekend.

They are starting to develop some chemistry among the lines and with the injuries both in Syracuse and Tampa hopefully behind them, Coach Groulx can keep rolling a set line-up out every night and that bond can continue to grow among the forwards. The solid week of practice definitely seemed to help the cohesiveness of the forward units as their passing through the neutral zone was a lot crisper and allowed them to attack with speed and forcing the defense back, which gave them much more room to operate in the offensive zone then we’ve seen throughout the year.

The next step in this process is to be more consistant with it. There is still a pretty big hill for them to climb to get back into the playoffs and with their struggles on the penalty kill as well as the average goaltending they’ve been getting, they will need to continue to outscore their problems.

The Week Ahead:

It’s a busy week with five games, including their first three-in-three of the year

Monday February 21st at Belleville Senators, 3:00 PM EST

Tuesday February 22nd at Belleville Senators, 7:00 PM EST

Friday February 25th vs. Rochester Americans, 7:00 PM EST

Saturday February 26th vs. Utica Comets, 7:00 PM EST

Sunday February 27th at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 3:05 PM EST