This weekend saw the end of a short winning streak for Syracuse, but the Crunch earned their first win in front of a home crowd since January. The Crunch had to battle adversity again as they were without their head coach for the entire weekend, and without their star player against one of the best teams in the AHL. They keep getting depth scoring, and were introduced to their newest forward with an entertaining appearance. The Crunch addressed their discipline, with regards to taking penalties, and special teams came through for them with some timely kills and goals. That being said, the Crunch may not be consistent in all facets of the ice, but they keep managing to “munch points” in order to make the playoffs where anything can happen.
Friday Night’s Game
The Crunch took on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for the second time this season. The last time these two teams met the Crunch won 3-2. The Penguins are sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic Division standings, but they’re still technically in the race for the playoffs.
For the Crunch, Max Lagace was in net. Declan Carlile was out of the lineup, and Ryan Jones slots in. Lucas Edmonds continues to be rewarded for his hattrick by getting another crack in the lineup.
Our projected lines on this Friday night ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/864r30uCEr— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 24, 2023
This game had an endless flow of gameplay and not a lot of whistles or stoppage. It was the style of game that seemed to feed Syracuse’s system. To show you just how fast this game was played, it was 2 hours and 11 minutes according to the statsheet. It was the fastest game of the night in the AHL by 10 minutes. That may not seem like a lot, but then you factor in that the game had 8 penalties. This was another back and forth game from these two teams.
In the first, Syracuse’s middling power play had a chance when the Penguins took a tripping call. It didn’t take long for Syracuse to score, and Alex Barré-Boulet scored his 17th goal of the season. It was 1-0 Crunch.
The most impressive thing about this goal is the passing. Gabriel Dumont found Simon Ryfors past a few Penguins players, and then Ryfors backhanded a perfect pass to Barré-Boulet on the doorstep. Ryfors pass had to go through the sprawling defender, and Dustin Tokarski’s goalie stick.
That passing is almost as good looking as those jerseys pic.twitter.com/iuWM82Vlrm— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 25, 2023
Syracuse has struggled with discipline this year, and, like it or not, hockey officials play game management. If a team gets a power play goal on the lone penalty of the game, expect a penalty to go the other way. A few minutes later, that’s exactly what happened. Darren Raddysh took a slashing penalty, and Wilkes-Barre Scranton got its chance on special teams. Both teams were dead even in the league in special teams statistics. They did not waste this opportunity, and they evened up the score at 1-1.
The first period ended and the score was as even as these teams in the standings.
In the second period Rudolf Balcers put himself in the statsheet and scored his third goal in 16 games played and it was 2-1 Crunch.
This was a bit of a fluke goal, but hey, look what happens when you shoot the puck. Veteran defenceman Trevor Carrick threw the puck on net, and it caromed off a Penguins defender right to Balcers who roofed it.
What good guests the Pens are! They're even helping with our goals. pic.twitter.com/X4LkK6mP1a— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 25, 2023
Later on in the second period, Lucas Edmonds continued his hot streak and rewarded the coaches for putting him in to make it 3-1. It was Edmonds 7th goal of the season, and his 5th goal in his last 10 games. He has 7 points in that span.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Edmonds during this hot streak it’s that he has a heckuva shot. Teams should never leave a forward alone in front of the goalie like this, but Edmonds has made himself available to his teammates and invisible to the other team.
February 25, 2023
The pace of play was quick, and just like that, the second period was over and the Crunch were up 3-1. It’s been their identity all year when they control the game and get to play their style. What style might that be? Controlled chaos. It’s going down into the offensive zone as quickly as possible and getting as many shots on net as possible. Then trying to counter the other team’s offensive rush.
The third period was a lot like that, and the Crunch felt comfortable letting the clock tick down. The Penguins didn’t have too many dangerous offensive opportunities, and the Crunch only had one penalty to kill off in the third period. Not quite the kind of discipline that’s going to usher in a new era of penalty-free Crunch hockey, but it was good enough to help them hold the lead.
They needed the discipline too because with a few minutes left the Penguins pulled the goalie and scored with a minute left. The Crunch held on, and they got their first win in front of a home crowd in more than a month.
Coach Ben Groulx wasn’t behind the bench at all this weekend because he was dealing with an illness. After the game Assistant Coach Eric Veilleux talked about Crunch compete level.
"We needed to come back to Crunch hockey – getting back to our habits, our compete level."— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 25, 2023
Assistant Coach Eric Veilleux comments on the Crunch defeating the Penguins in Syracuse after a drought on home ice. pic.twitter.com/nrls6pUKhl
Here’s Lucas Edmonds on what the Crunch needed to do to clean up their game.
"I'm really fortunate to play with two really good players and they tend to find me when I'm open."— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 25, 2023
Lucas Edmonds comments on winning in front of the home crowd, playing on a line with Daniel Walcott and Jack Finley and where the team can clean up their game. pic.twitter.com/8JSFWyVaxE
Saturday Night’s Game
The Crunch took on the Hartford Wolf Pack. Hartford is battling it out in the middle of the standings of an incredibly competitive Atlantic Division. The last time these two teams met was in January in Hartford and the Crunch won handily 7-3.
Daniel Walker gets his first game as a member of the Crunch since signing his first professional contract a week ago. Declan Carlile comes back into the lineup, and Ryan Jones goes out. Hugo Alnefelt was in net, and received his first start in two weeks. Rumor has it that he’s been battling an injury, so it’s good to see him playing hockey again.
We've got a pro debut on tap ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/q31nYAs9A3— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 25, 2023
Captain Gabriel Dumont tied the game 1-1. It was Dumont’s 14th of the season, and it would be the last goal the Crunch scored for the game.
A long clapper from the Captain pic.twitter.com/szT5tPQs3k— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 26, 2023
Halfway through the period, Félix Robert took a boarding call, and the Wolf Pack made the Crunch pay by scoring a power play goal and making it 2-1. Hartford would not relinquish the lead after this, and there would be no high-scoring game for Syracuse fans in this one.
That being said, this game wasn’t as lopsided as the final score would indicate. The Crunch were competitive, they kept Hartford to 25 shots on goal, and aside from Daniel Walker’s coming out party, they stayed out of the box. They were only shorthanded 3 times. One of those shorthanded was a statement, and it deserves a closer look.
Daniel Walker is a big bodied forward. The University of Waterloo, where he last played, had him listed at 6 foot 6 230 pounds. He was signed around the time the Crunch loaned Gemel Smith, and at the time, it seemed like he could have been a diamond in the rough style prospect for the Crunch organization. He was an NHL bodied forward that had some offensive upside, but was able to play a physical power forward style game similarly to Gemel Smith.
In the first period, at about the 4 minute mark team star Alex Barré-Boulet was on an extended shift in the offensive zone. As he was skating in the offensive zone he was taking some crosschecks, and when the puck came around the boards to him a Hartford player boarded Barré-Boulet and took him out of the play by holding him up against the glass.
The very next shift Daniel Walker came on the ice. The Crunch dumped the puck into the offensive zone, and Walker shrugged a Wolf Pack defender into the boards. The officials didn’t see the obvious size disparity, but instead saw a clear boarding. It was boarding, but it’s comical to see a player like Walker barely skate into a player and have it be such a brutal hit. Hartford certainly didn’t like the hit, and they immediately began a conversation of fists with Walker. Walker got 2 minutes for boarding and 5 for fighting, but it wasn’t much of a fight. It was more like a scuffle, and Hartford didn’t think he answered much for his reckless play.
In the second period, after the puck was cleared from the defensive zone, Walker and fellow heavyweight Matt Rempe dropped the gloves and circled around center ice. Rempe is no slouch at 6’8 240 pounds, and while he’s an AHL rookie himself, he’s got over 80 PIM in his 45 games this season. It was a spirited bout, and Hartford seemed content with forcing Walker to get a game misconduct for his second fighting major. Walker, on the other hand, relished his opportunity to get the crowd going. It was plain to see his smile as he skated to the box, and he even hammed it up for the crowd waving at them to get out of their seats and cheer.
That was about the only thing worth cheering for on Saturday for Crunch fans as Syracuse fell back into some bad habits. They gave up odd man rushes when they were on the power play and were too easy to turnover the puck when trying to gain momentum.
By the final buzzer, Hartford would go on to win 4-1. It was one you would’ve liked the Crunch to be a bit more competitive in for their goalie’s sake. Alnefelt being out for so long, and how many games he’s been able to steal for them. While he didn’t look like the comfortable world class goalie that he is capable of looking like when he’s on his game, he wouldn’t have to wait long to get a chance to prove just that.
Sunday Night’s Game
Syracuse was at Toronto for this game, and the Marlies are almost 20 points ahead of the next closest opponent in the North Division. They did lose a few players to a transaction that helped out the Leafs, but they’re still the team to beat. These two teams actually haven’t seen each other in a few months. The last time they played was December 9th, and Syracuse lost 5-2 at home. In Toronto, Syracuse has split both games with a win and a loss.
For the Crunch, Alnefelt got a second straight start. Ilya Usau is back in the lineup. Alex Barré-Boulet was noticeably out of this game, but Lukas Favale reported in game that Barré-Boulet was out because he was expecting the birth of his child.
Tonight's projected lines in Toronto ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/5sHq4XxbuO— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 26, 2023
As opposed to the throw-caution-to-the-wind style game that Syracuse played on Friday night against the Penguins, this game had a more tentative feel. The Crunch were playing their third straight game, without their star, against the division leading team they haven’t seen since December, and they had a goalie that was coming off an injury. It had the feeling of a grinding style game, but it seemed to work for the Crunch. The Marlies seemed to capitulate to this style of play, and didn’t mind the slower pace of play.
In the first period the Crunch, once again, got an early power play opportunity, and they didn’t miss. It was, of course, none other than their Captain Gabriel Dumont assisted by a point blast from one of their other all-stars Darren Raddysh that got the Crunch on the board first and made it 1-0 early. It was Dumont’s 15th of the year, and it put Raddysh at the 50 point mark for the year. Raddysh is second amongst defenseman in points, and second on the Crunch in points just behind Barre-Boulet.
Dumey gets the party started pic.twitter.com/FriySbiIff— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 26, 2023
Later on in the first period there was a moment that gave me some flashbacks to the 2012 Norfolk vs. Toronto Calder Cup Finals game where Mike Kostka scored a game OT winner off a center ice dump in to give the Admirals a 3-0 series lead.
This time it was the Marlies that threw a puck in the zone, and Hugo Alnefelt went to play the puck and the puck took a funny bounce in front of the net. This play happened again in favor of the Marlies later on in the game, and in a close game such as this, all it takes is one bad bounce to even things up.
That bad bounce never seemed to come against the Crunch, and they did a phenomenal job of staying out of the penalty box. Syracuse was only shorthanded twice, and they killed off both penalties. Toronto was playing like they were in quicksand, the longer the game went on the more the Marlies tried to make things happen the more it hampered their play.
Defensively, the Crunch had one of their strongest system games. They suppressed all of Toronto’s shots except for 16, and those shots on goal were handily saved by Alnefelt. Alnefelt earned his 3rd shutout of the year, and moved into a 5-way tie for second place in the entire AHL for most shutouts. It was a fitting end for a player that’s struggled to stay in the lineup due to injury, but when Alnefelt is on his game and the team in front of him is motivated there are few teams that can beat him.
Wednesday the Crunch will play the Cleveland Monsters for the first time since the start of the season. The Crunch lost both opening games to the Monsters 4-5 and 5-6 respectively. The Monsters will be without their stud prospect Kirill Marchenko. In December he was called up to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and since then he’s worked his way to a Top 6 role on the NHL club. Marchenko scored three times in both of those opening games, and added a shootout goal.
Friday night they will play the Lehigh Valley Phantoms who have managed to claw its way to the middle of the pack in the Atlantic Division. The last time these two teams played Syracuse won in Lehigh Valley 5-2.
Sunday they have an afternoon (3pm) game at Utica. As of this article, both teams are still tied for second in the North Division with the Crunch statistically ahead because of Win %. However, the Comets just lost a lot of players due to the New Jersey Devils trade that acquired Timo Meier. The Comets also have lost a few players to call-ups including their goaltender Akira Schmid who has been pretty good against the Crunch.