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Crunch Wrap: Luckless In Laval

Crunch lose both games in Laval to end the year

Scott Thomas Photography

Syracuse has not had much success in Laval the past couple of years, and that trend seemed to continue at the end of 2022. Syracuse was 0-2 in the 2019-2020 season, 1-5 in Laval in the 2021-2022 season, and so far in the 2022-2023 they are 0-2.

Let’s see how things transpired to get them to end the year on a losing streak.

Wednesday’s Game

Max Lagace was back in net for Syracuse. He saw his first action since December 7th.

The first period was not the start the Crunch were looking for. In the first few minutes the Crunch had a bunch of chances, and they were dangerously close to scoring. However, it seemed to be the theme of the game, the puck luck just wasn’t there for them. They outshot Laval 13-10, but for every mistake Syracuse made, the Rocket made them pay. After the first, the Rocket rushed out to a 3-0 lead.

In the second period, the Crunch started out on a power play, and despite having a chance against the worst penalty kill in the league (70.8%), they were unable to score. At 13:49 the Rocket took advantage of a situation where a Crunch player was missing their stick, and they took the puck into the zone and scored on an odd man rush to make it 4-0.

At 10:30 the Crunch were in the offensive zone, and they were continuing to be hard on the puck. The desperation was there for the Crunch to keep the puck in the zone. A nifty move by Declan Carlile where he deked around a Rocket player down low, made a move toward the net which got the goalie out of position, and swung around the net to find a waiting Alex Barré-Boulet who was there to bury it. The Crunch were finally on the board, but it was 4-1.

It’s not as if the Crunch weren’t trying. They continued their offensive push, and they continued to put quality chances on net. However, they were met with a brick wall, and Rocket goalie Kevin Poulin was determined not to let the Crunch back into the game. It was exactly what Laval needed because at 3:55 in the second they added another to make it 5-1. The puck wasn’t going Syracuse’s way, the opposing goalie was on his game, and they didn’t have the physicality or energy to seem to want to get back into the game.

To start the third period, Jack LaFontaine came in for Lagace. It was a last ditch effort by Benoit Groulx to inspire something in his team. However, it didn’t seem to matter who was in net, the puck was going in for Laval tonight. Laval pressured Jack Thompson behind the net, forced a turnover, and made it 6-1.

On the other end, and to further show how things were going for the Crunch, the Crunch were still creating chances as a shot fluttered past Poulin and started rolling toward the net in the crease, but it remained out of the net.

At the 8:55 mark, the Crunch drew a power play off an excellent grinding effort in the zone by Ilya Usau, and the power play went to work. Right off the draw, the Crunch were buzzing in the zone, and it only took them 30 seconds to find the back of the net to make it 6-2. Barré-Boulet took advantage of a screened Poulin, and found a window to score his second goal of the night.

Right off the immediate center ice face off, the Crunch won possession of the puck. They sent it right back into the offensive zone, and just 24 seconds after scoring, they scored again to make it 6-3. Gabe Fortier deflected a shot from the boards by Philipe Myers.

The Crunch couldn’t continue that scoring pace, and the comeback ended there. There was a brief moment where LaFontaine was pulled to give the Crunch 6 skaters, but it was ended when there was a scuffle that gave Laval a power play with a few minutes left.

Despite letting in the sixth goal, LaFontaine looked good in relief as he faced 14 shots in the third period.

Friday’s Game

Jack LaFontaine got the start in net. P.C. Labrie and Lucas Edmonds came into the lineup for Félix Robert and Ilya Usau.

As the first period got underway, the Crunch looked like a team that was ready to put Wednesday’s game behind them. They continued pushing into the offensive zone, and they had a majority of the chances through the first half of the period. If it weren’t for an overzealous cross checking penalty by Gemel Smith in the offensive zone, the Rocket wouldn’t have been much of a threat. Still, the Crunch went about their business and killed off the penalty, and went back on the attack. At the 10 minute mark, the Crunch stole a puck in the neutral zone, and threw it in deep. It would seem like Wednesday’s puck luck carried over into this period because Jack Thompson threw a shot on net that trickled past the goaltender, but stopped just short of going in. Immediately after, Declan Carlile kept a puck that was headed outside of the zone, and he fired a shot that seemed to go off the crossbar. He threw his hands up in the air as if he scored, but play continued. After a few minutes of play, Laval drew a penalty at the 6:57 mark, and after a long review by the on ice officials they determined Carlile’s shot did in fact go in. It was a good goal afterall. The penalty on the ice stood, but since the goal was scored at 9:37 they had to tack on a few more minutes.

The Crunch were able to kill off the penalty handily, and that was most of the extent of the danger Laval provided in the first period. The rest of the period was mostly spent in the Syracuse offensive zone. With exception to the heavyweight fight between P.C. Labrie (6’3” 223) and John Parker Jones (6’7” 230), the rest of the period was uneventful.

Toward the end of the period Jack Finley tried to find a loose puck in the crease, and he ended up being greeted by a Rocket player that took exception. Both players took matching roughing minors, and then Simon Ryfors a minute later tripped up a Laval skater. Laval went on the power play to end the period, and Jack LaFontaine was there to answer. He did make a point black sprawling save on a Rocket player right as the buzzer went off and the period ended.

As the second period got underway, the Crunch still had a little bit of the Ryfors penalty to kill off. They were able to kill off the penalty, but Laval kept it in the offensive zone and they eventually scored to tie it 1-1.

The period continued without much threat from either team, and about halfway through the period, Gabriel Fortier took an offensive zone penalty. As the refs arm went up in the air, a seemingly harmless carry into the Crunch zone from a Laval forward led to their second goal. Joel Teasdale was covered by three Crunch skaters, and he just made a really great play with the puck that LaFontaine couldn’t handle and it was 2-1 Laval.

After that, the ice seemed tilted in the Rocket’s favor, and the rest of the period ended without any threat from Syracuse.

In the third period, the lack of an offensive threat continued from Syracuse. Then about halfway through the period, Sean Day took an interference penalty. While killing the penalty, Fortier hit a Laval player into the boards and was immediately met by all the Laval skaters on the ice. After a line scrum ensued and the dust had settled, Fortier had a major, and Laval was on a 5 on 3. Laval buried the chance and made it 3-1. Laval has the 8th power play in the AHL at a 23.4% conversion rate. That power play goal took off the one penalty, and Syracuse still had 4 minutes and change left on the major penalty. Then the Crunch were given another penalty, and Laval went back on the 5 on 3 attack. To their credit, Laval did not let up, and they converted to make it 4-1.

Later on, the Rocket scored an empty net goal and made it 5-1 and that was the final score.

Final Thoughts

Did Syracuse end the year a little disjointed because of the schedule change from the weather, or is there reason to be concerned? There was nothing in the Crunch’s game that seemed worthy of concern just yet. They didn’t seem to lack offensive threat in both games, and a little bit of puck luck would have tilted the ice and the momentum in their favor. That said, they did lack some of the physical aggressiveness and tenacity that seemed to mark their ability to claw back into games earlier in the season. It seems they have a history of struggling in Laval, but you better believe the final 5 games versus the Rocket will be circled on their calendar after these losses.

Coming Up

The Crunch have their first consecutive Friday, Saturday, and Sunday games of the season this weekend. On Friday they will face Belleville at home. Belleville is at the bottom of the North Division, but they’re only separated from Syracuse by 3 points. On Saturday, the Crunch will take on Rochester who is now 6 points ahead of the Crunch and is in second place in the North Division. On Sunday, the Crunch will head on the road and face Hershey at 5pm. Hershey is number one in the entire league with 47 points. It will be quite the task to face the Bears after back to back division games, and I’m sure it’s a measuring stick for the Crunch to see how they’ll fare against the league’s best.

Notable Statistics

On Friday, Gage Goncalves and Simon Ryfors played in their 100th AHL game for the Crunch.

Gemel Smith’s AHL leading point streak ended on Friday. He had 14 straight games with a point.

Alex Barré-Boulet is now in sole possession of second place all time in scoring for the Crunch. He has 232 points, and he is 9 points behind Brad Moran who is first with 241 points. Barré-Boulet is also second to Moran in assists.

Crunch Corner

Syracuse is once again doing a really great job putting the personalities of the players on display.