The Syracuse Crunch are a lot like Stella; they have to find a way to get their groove back. This is a team that thrives on the rhythm of their play, and they need their forwards hitting tape-to-tape passes and avoiding unforced errors if they are going to win games. This weekend was a series of self-inflicted plays that allowed Laval and Rochester to take over games, and their offense wasn’t capable of getting them back in it.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. The Crunch played decently, but the lack of puck luck combined with targeted lack of discipline doomed them to zero points. The good news is their roster is getting healthier, and they were able to welcome back some key forwards back into the lineup. It might be another reason they had such a stunted start to the second half. Let’s see how it all unfolded.
Friday Night’s Game
The Crunch got a major boost coming out of the All-Star break with Daniel Walcott, Felix Robert, and Shawn Element all coming back from injuries. Hugo Alnefelt got the start in the net.
Our projected lineup tonight in Laval ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/FJ53B9rmv7— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 10, 2023
The Crunch started off strong by controlling the puck and keeping Laval from getting anything going in the offensive zone.
At 7:53 Rudolfs Balcers scored a goal off a great forecheck by Alex Barré-Boulet and Gabriel Dumont. It was Balcers first goal this year as a member of the Crunch.
steal ➡️ pass ➡️ score pic.twitter.com/KcLQTGfXpa— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 11, 2023
After the opposition’s goal Laval seemed desperate to answer offensively, and they finally got their first shot on goal at 8:40.
Later in the period the Crunch got a power play opportunity when a Rocket defenseman shot the puck out of play for a delay of game. The Crunch power play was able to generate some shots on goal, but they weren’t able to convert.
A few minutes later Balcers sent Barré-Boulet in on a 2 on 1, and Barré-Boulet nearly scored. Ilya Usau followed it up with a shot on goal, and the Crunch were buzzing offensively.
Then Trevor Carrick got his stick chicken winged by a Laval forward, and all the boys in stripes saw was Carrick’s stick hooked on a Laval player. Carrick went to the box, and Laval had a power play in the last minute. After creating very little danger in the offensive zone, the Rocket scored to tie the game 1-1 at 19:16.
The second period was much the same for the Crunch. They continued to create chances offensively, and they kept Laval from doing anything dangerous. Then Syracuse took a couple of penalties, and that’s really where Laval put pressure on the Crunch goaltender.
At 14:40 the Rocket took a penalty for hooking, and the Crunch went to work on special teams. It took them a while to get going, but once they did they were creating so many chances that goaltender Cayden Primeau was flopping all around the blue paint. The puck just didn’t seem to want to go in, it was deflecting off of the pipes and off of the Rocket defenders laying in the crease to keep the puck out. The puck luck wasn’t there for the Crunch, but they were creating chances.
By the end of the second, the shots were 27-17 in favor of the Crunch, but the score was tied.
In the third, things seemed to be going about the same, and then a broken play in the offensive zone led to a Laval 3 on 2. Then at 5:06 former Crunch forward Mitchell Stephens took a cross ice pass and wristed it past Alnefelt’s shoulder for a goal. It was 2-1 Laval, and that seemed consistent with Syracuse’s luck in the Place Bell building where the Rocket play.
At 8:15 a Laval forward took a puck all alone against Alnefelt, knocked him over, and the Rocket seemed to score on an open net with Alnefelt laying on the ice. Upon further review, the on ice officials deemed it no goal due to goalie interference. Looking closer, it was Trevor Carrick with a bit of friendly fire who glanced off the back of Alnefelt’s head. Alnefelt remained in the game despite holding his head and the game continued.
The Crunch eventually pulled Alnefelt for an extra attacker, and the Rocket was able to score on the empty net. The game ended 3-1, and Laval got the win.
Saturday Night’s Game
The Crunch went with the same skaters on Saturday night. Max Lagace got the start in net, and Jack Lafontaine, back from suspension, was in the backup chair. The Crunch were in their Syracuse Orange home jerseys.
We're going same lines as last night. Max is in net. ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/ZZsTKoB1rP— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 11, 2023
Out of the gate Rochester looked like the hungrier team. They looked like a team that was out to prove something, and after looking at their game the night before where they were shutout 4-0, they were the team that wanted to prove something. It’s unfortunate too because Syracuse hasn’t played Rochester well at all this season. Games have been gritty, competitive, and aside from a couple of blowout wins from Syracuse, they’ve been tight games where Rochester refuses to give up much space on the ice.
It took a pair of penalties for someone to finally get on the scoreboard. The first penalty was a tripping penalty by Daniel Walcott that looked pretty standard. Then Phillipe Myers took a really bad hooking penalty that made it a 5-on-3 power play for the Amerks. The Crunch were doing OK keeping things to the outside, but then an Amerks player stole a puck away from a Crunch player as he was going to clear it. Then as the first penalty expired Rochester scored to make it 1-0.
Both teams took turns exchanging chances in the second period, and Max Lagace did a good job of keeping the Crunch in the game. Rarely does Lagace ever steal a win or make incredible saves that keep goals out of the net. When Lagace is at his best, he gives the Crunch a shot to win.
To start the 3rd period, the Crunch had a giveaway in the defensive zone that led to the Amerks getting the puck down low behind the red line. From there Vinnie Hostroza scored his second goal of the night on an impossible angle. He was easily two feet behind the goal, and he flung the puck in off of Lagace. That was not an example of Lagace at his best, and the Crunch had dug themselves a 2-0 hole. This goal was wild, and absolutely deserves another look.
VINNIE HINOSTROZA AGAIN...!? pic.twitter.com/iDGmYcnRlz— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) February 12, 2023
At about the 12 minute mark in the third period, the Crunch tried to break out of their defensive zone by once again sending the puck east-west and the play was disrupted by the Amerks. Both Friday and Saturday night they had limited success doing this, and it’s mostly because they telegraph their passes and it’s easy for the defense to throw a stick on the puck or just outright steal the puck. This time Rochester managed to deflect the puck to a Crunch player who creatively sent the puck backwards before getting a clean breakout. Once inside the offensive zone, Darren Raddysh fired a puck from the half boards, and Gabriel Fortier was there to backhand the rebound past Malcolm Subban to make it 2-1. It was Fortier’s 10th of the season, and the Crunch were only down by one goal.
Forts gets us going! pic.twitter.com/67bTFk5gyP— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 12, 2023
The backbreaking moment for the Crunch came a few minutes later. Jack Thompson was in neutral ice and he sent a pass to Rudolfs Balcers that he tried to kick down. Unfortunately, the puck careened off his pad and went right to an Amerks player whose momentum carried him into the offensive zone for a wide open slapshot past Lagace. It was 3-1 Amerks, but with the way Subban was playing it might as well have been double that.
Coach Groulx, realizing his team was struggling to get anything going, pulled Lagace with about 5 minutes left in the game, and it led to an empty net goal for Rochester to make it 4-1.
Syracuse has a handful of divisional opponents to look forward to this week in a trio of away games. First, the Crunch will be at Belleville on Wednesday. Both teams are tied 2-2 this season when facing one another. Belleville is at the bottom of the North Division, and recently fired their head coach.
On Friday the Crunch will head back to Utica to continue their heavy play against their Galaxy Cup rivals. The Crunch have had lots of success against the Comets with a 5-2 record on the season. That said, Syracuse is still behind Utica in the North Division standings.
Finally, next Saturday the Crunch will be in Rochester to take on the Amerks. The Amerks have had most of the success in this series thus far with 4 wins and 2 losses against the Crunch. Rochester is still battling in the middle of the North Division pack.