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Crunch Wrap: Not a bad week

Syracuse picks up seven out of eight points against division rivals

Scott Thomas Photography

Well now, that’s how you bounce back from a bad week, isn’t it? The Syracuse Crunch had four games last week with eight possible points up for grabs. By Sunday evening they had grabbed seven of those points, narrowing the gap they must overcome in order to make the playoffs. They still sit in 6th place, on the outside looking in, but aren’t that far from vaulting up into 5th, or even 3rd, place in the North. That’s how tight things are.

If there is any drawback to the fact that they won three of four games last week, it’s that two of their wins went to bonus time, thus allowing teams they’re chasing (Utica and Rochester) a chance to gain a point. That being said, they did get their own parity point in a shootout loss to the Marlies. So I guess, in the end, it all kinds of works out.

They are starting to do what their NHL counterparts, the Tampa Bay Lighting, were adept at earlier in the season - finding a way to munch some points and claw their way back into contention with 22 games left in their season.

Boris Katchouk spent the weekend with the Crunch on his rehab assignment and played his first three-in-three in a long, long time. He was solid, picking up an assist while averaging 17:52 of ice time overall and 3:43 of power play time.

Having played sparingly with the Lightning recently it was good for Katchouk to get on the ice to knock some rust off of his game. He didn’t dominate the play, but looked solid on the ice spending time on a line with Alex Barre-Boulet and Charles Hudon.

Coming and Going

Additions -

Boris Katchouk (F) - With the Tampa Bay Lightning in Canda and Katchouk left behind due to a failed COVID test, he got some playing time over the weekend (after a negative re-test one would hope) on a conditioning loan to Syracuse.

Shawn Element (F) - There are some banged up players with the Crunch (Owen Headrick and Gemel Smith are top of mind) so they recalled Element to help with the depth.

Ty Taylor (G) - Speaking of injuries. Syracuse needed another goaltender for Sunday’s game after Hugo Alnefelt left Sunday’s game with and injury. Enter Ty Taylor on a PTO. The 22-year-old had appeared in one game with the Orlando Solar Bears before signing his try-out was a 7th round pick of the Lightning back in 2018.

Subtractions -

Amir Miftakhov (G) - With Max Lagace and Hugo Alnefelt healthy (at least for a little while) Miftakhov was re-assigned to Orlando for some playing time. The fact that he wasn’t recalled when Alnefelt went down might be a good sign that Alnefelt’s injury isn’t going to be long term.

Jason Garrison (D) - The veteran blueliner was released from his PTO on the 4th. After playing fairly well in 9 games in January, an injury has sidelined him since. With a full contingent of defensemen, Garrison was let go.

Game 51

Crunch 3, Comets 2 (Overtime)

After pretty much getting played off the ice by the Utica Comets in the prior week (13 goals surrendered in two games) the Crunch fought back from a one-goal deficit to pick up two points against the North Division leaders.

Ryan Schmelzer opened the scoring for the Comets in the first period with his 12th goal of the season. There wasn’t much action in the first as both teams combined for just 11 shots on goal total despite both teams having a power play. There was a little more action in the second as the Crunch directed 12 shots at Akira Schmid with two of them finding the back of the net.

Alex Barre-Boulet tied the game at 1 almost 8 minutes into the game with his 7th goal of the season as he deflected home a shot from Sean Day. Alex Green had the other assist. After a lengthy goalless stretch it appears BB has rediscovered his scoring touch.

Alexander Holz reestablished the Utica lead with 21st of the season five minutes later. The Crunch didn’t fade away through, as Remi Elie found the back of the net with two minutes left in the period to tie it up.

It was a really nice play by the Crunch started by Sean Day’s long pass from their own zone. Otto Somppi saw Elie had the inside track on the Comet who was covering him and put the puck in a spot for the veteran to chip it past Schmid. The quick transition play is a hallmark of Ben Groulx’s offense and it’s nice to see them execute plays like this.

The third period was another tight-checking affair as neither team could generate a lot of chances and both goaltenders turned aside the limited shots that made it on net. In overtime, the Crunch only managed one shot and it came with just .6 seconds left on the clock. Luckily for Syracuse that one shot, from Darren Raddysh, beat Schmid to give the Crunch the victory.

Raddysh took it all the way down the ice and finished it himself. You can’t blame the Comet player who played off of Raddysh. On a two-on-one rush like that, Barre-Boulet is definitely the bigger threat, especially when he’s cocked and loaded for the one-timer. Credit to Raddysh for putting the shot on net and finishing off the game.

Game 52

Crunch 3, Americans 2

It seemed like the Crunch were going to have another day full of struggles as Nick Pastujov opened the scoring for the Americans less than three minutes into the game. However, from that point Syracuse took over as they threw 43 shots at Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen over the course of three periods with three of them finding the back of the net.

Alex Green (Boris Katchouk, Sean Day) 1-1

Alex Barre-Boulet (Sean Day, Alex Green) Power Play 2-1 Crunch

Charles Hudon (Alex Barre-Boulet, Frank Hora) 3-1 Crunch

Rochester got one back in the second when Brett Murray scored midway through, but both goaltenders locked it down the rest of the way. Luukkonen had another 40-save night against the Crunch while Max Lagace stopped 14 of 16 in a relatively relaxing night.

Game 53

Marlies 3, Crunch 2 (SO)

There were a few good moments in the game. There was definitely a bad moment. But for most of the night it was generally a blah kind of game. Yes, once again the Crunch outshot their opponents by a healthy margin (37-27) but way too many of those shots were from distance and unscreened. There weren’t too many opportunities where Marlies goaltender Michael Hutchinson was really challenged.

Let’s start with the very bad. Just two minutes into the third period a collision at the Crunch net, not a violent one, just one of those instances where bodies fall on top of each, left starting goaltender Hugo Alnefelt on the ice in obvious distress. Up until that point, the young netminder had a strong night, stopping 14 of the 15 shots he had faced. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to continue after being helped off the ice and Max Lagace (10 saves on 11 shots) finished out the game.

The Crunch showed solid composure after losing their young goalie as Daniel Walcott tipped home a shot from Fredrik Claesson just a few minutes later. The goal, Walcott’s 5th of the season) gave the Crunch a 2-1 lead.

The other good moment was Remi Elie’s highlight goal earlier in the night where he stepped around a Marlie’s defender and finished it off on the backhand.

Outside of those two goals, there was a lot of frustration for the offense as Toronto did a pretty good job of shutting down their passing lanes and not allowing the Crunch to control the area in front of Hutchinson.

Defensively, the Crunch matched the Marlies defensive prowess allowing just the two regulation goals. The first came as the result of Syracuse losing track of Joey Anderson while on the power play. The 20-goal scorer was able to slip behind the defense and received a bank pass that sent him in on a breakaway that he finished off nicely.

The second goal came off a rebound that Joseph Duszak was able to corral and put past Lagace before the Crunch could recover. Not much happened in the final 8 minutes of the third. Both teams had chances in overtime, but couldn’t find the back of the net. Toronto scored on both of their skill competition chances to take the extra point.

Game 54

Crunch 4, Americans 3 (OT)

Sunday’s game started off a lot like Saturday’s game - a bit listless with some disjointed rushes highlighting the offense. Unlike the game against the Marlies, the Crunch found themselves down two goals after the first period thanks to goals from Oskari Laaksonen and Linus Weissbach.

However, a couple of power plays in the middle frame seemed to spark the offense. The Crunch didn’t score on either opportunity, but it did help them generate 15 shots in the period while keeping Rochester at a meager 5. The offense looked way more synced with their entries and were able to keep pressure on Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.

That pressure paid off quickly in the third period as they scored before the fans were back in their seats from intermission. Fifteen seconds in Ryan Jones unleashed a big shot from the left circle that beat UPL:

Next up it was the two big rookies finding the back back of the net just three minutes apart. Gage Goncalves took a nifty pass from Charles Hudon and deeked Luukkonen with a little shoulder fake.

Then it was their rookie points leader, Cole Koepke giving the Crunch the lead with his 14th of the season. It was really nice hustle by Anthony Richard to cause the quick, blind clearing pass that Charles Hudon picked off. That’s Crunch hockey right there.

Having trouble holding late leads has also been part of Crunch hockey this season and Sunday was no different as JJ Peterka tied things up at 3 just 39 seconds later. They are going to have to find a way to preserve leads and finish games out if they want to make it to the playoffs this season.

Luckily they have Darren Raddysh in overtime. For the second time in a week, the veteran blueline found the back of the net in the bonus session. No coast-to-coast rush this time, but another solid forecheck, this time by Alex Barre-Boulet, created a turnover and BB found Raddysh crashing the back side of the net.

Playing in his third straight game in three days, Max Lagace stopped 22 of 25 shots for the win.

Upcoming Schedule

It’s another busy week for the Crunch as they have their second three-in-three weekend in a row. Three of the four games are outside of the division, a rare break during a month filled with North Division rivals.

Wednesday March 16th vs. Hartford Wolfpack, 7:00 PM EST

Friday March 18th at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 7:05 PM EST

Saturday March 19th at Bridgeport Islanders, 7:00 PM EST

Sunday March 20th vs. Belleville Senators, 7:00 PM EST