Crunch Wrap: Syracuse fights their way to ending a small skid

The Crunch win one out of three.

Lots of teams are gearing up for the playoffs, and the Syracuse Crunch are among them. As they head down the stretch they’ve found themselves up against a lot of Atlantic Division teams. The Atlantic has been arguably the stronger division in the Eastern Conference this year, and every team seems to be playing like they still have a shot at the playoffs. It would be good for the Crunch to face that kind of hockey.

If you’re competing against teams that are hungry to win it’s only going to make you up the level of your play, right? Unfortunately, the Crunch hit a speed bump in terms of the mental aspects of play this week. Undisciplined play crept back into their game, compounded by poor special teams play, and their own offense disappearing. That led to them dropping their first two this week. They rebounded nicely Saturday, but let’s look at how they navigated a week filled with self-inflicted slides in their game.

Wednesday Night’s Game

Max Lagace was in net for the Crunch. Not much other movement in terms of skaters, and the Crunch will get a chance to get some consistency out of their regulars.

The Bruins struck first just three minutes into the game to make it 1-0. However, the Crunch had a strong few shifts after and immediately tied the score at 1-1.

The goal was from Rudolfs Balcers, and it was his 5th goal of the season for the Crunch. It started with captain Gabriel Dumont driving in and taking a Bruins player with him, dropping off the puck to Alex Barré-Boulet, who then passed it to a net-driving Balcers who buried the perfect pass.

The Crunch took a few penalties in the first period, and the Bruins made them pay for them scoring two power play goals on three penalties. The Syracuse penalty kill really wasn’t up for the challenge, and the sloppy, undisciplined play wasn’t helping things. If you’re getting a too many men penalty on the penalty kill, there’s really no one to blame but yourself.

Coach Ben Groulx must have thought it was time for a wake up call because he yanked Lagace in favor of Hugo Alnefelt to start the second period. The Crunch responded well enough by not allowing any goals, but they weren’t able to muster any goals of their own.

In the third period the Crunch did fight back to get within one within the first minute of the game. Trevor Carrick fired a bullet off a face-off draw to score his 11th goal of the season.

On paper it got the Crunch close, and they were within one goal of the Bruins for most of the third period. However, it never really felt like Providence lost control of the game. Eventually with four minutes left to play the Bruins scored to put the dagger in the Crunch’s chances and it was 4-2.

Friday Night’s Game

Max Lagace once again got the start for the second consecutive game for the Crunch. Ilya Usau found his way into the lineup, and Lucas Edmonds was the odd forward out.

Bridgeport took the first penalty of the game for cross checking, and Syracuse wasted no time making them pay for that infraction. The Crunch struck first in the first period with Trevor Carrick scoring his career-high 12th goal of the season.

The rest of the period was evenly matched and both goaltenders made some saves to keep the game close.

In the second period the Crunch kept pushing to score an insurance goal, and the home team Islanders took another penalty to give Syracuse a shot at a second goal. Unfortunately, the special teams wasn’t clicking as well this time around. A few shifts later Bridgeport was grinding out a shift in the Syracuse zone, when forward Chris Terry had a sneaky move to grab Rudolfs Balcers stick out of his hands and throw it to the ice. Balcers unable to play defense left Terry all alone in front of the net with the puck, and Terry eventually found Andy Andreoff for the game tying goal.

The Islanders wasted no time grabbing the lead. Off the face-off, Bridgeport sent the puck back to the point. The defenseman shot it in on Lagace, who made the initial save, but he couldn’t control the rebound and the Islanders were up 2-1.

The Crunch were given their third power play of the night a few minutes later when Andreoff went off for hooking, and they squandered it. There weren’t many high danger chances, and to make matters worse, they weren’t paying attention to Andreoff when he came out of the box. That left him all alone for a breakaway on Lagace, and he scored an insurance goal to make it 3-1.

In the third period there was some confusion as Trevor Carrick was high-sticked by a Bridgeport player, but the referees pointed at Phillipe Myers for what seemed like another infraction. They inevitably called Myers for a high-sticking call. Bridgeport got their first power play of the game, and they wouldn’t squander their gift. A cross-ice pass sent to Chris Terry was one-timed into the back of the net, and it was 4-1 Islanders. It didn’t seem like it was going to be the Crunch’s night after that.

The Crunch weren’t able to generate much offense 5-on-5, and while they did get a couple power play opportunities, it wasn’t enough to get them back in the game. At least on the second opportunity of the period Rudolfs Balcers was able to extend his scoring streak to three games and make it 4-2 with three minutes to go.

The Crunch ended up emptying the net right after this, and the Islanders scored just 30 seconds after.

Saturday Night’s Game

Hugo Alnefelt got the start in this game. Alnefelt was 2-3 in his last five starts going into this game. He last saw action Wednesday night in the third period versus Providence. He had a .912 save percentage and a 2.53 goals against average. Cole Koepke was the odd man out, and Lucas Edmonds took his spot in the forward bunch.

The Penguins scored first. 1-0 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Lucas Edmonds scored to tie the game. It was his 12th of the season, and it was a nice deflection for someone that has been scoring a lot of pretty goals from the slot. It’s good to see Edmonds figuring out how to get on the stat sheet in a greasy manner.

These two evenly matched teams went back to their respective dressing rooms and came back ready to fight in the second period.

Early on in the period, Penguins defenseman Andrew Nielsen took a run at Gabriel Fortier. The puck was very close to being well away from the play, but the officials deemed it close enough to Fortier to not merit an interference penalty. Still, Captain Dumont did not like the hit, and spoke with Nielsen about dropping the gloves. Nielsen obliged and both men fought, but Nielsen at 6’4 225 pounds was a much bigger match than the 5’10 196 pounds Dumont. It showed too in the bout. Leave it to the captain to show up for his teammate, but this match wasn’t fair, and looking a Nielsen’s numbers from the ECHL, this looked to be another notch in his long list of PIM gained from fighting.

Daniel Walcott must have noticed this, and on his next few shifts was looking for someone that was willing to fight him. He thought he found one in defenseman Peter DeLiberatore who gave Walcott a few extra cracks at his ribs with his stick. Walcott said, “you want to go?” Dropped his gloves, but was met with an unwilling partner. DeLiberatore did get a roughing call for his involvement, but Walcott got the extra penalty, and the Crunch were essentially goaded into being shorthanded again.

While the penalty kill did kill off the penalty, the Crunch were chasing the Penguins around and reacting to the shenanigans a little bit too much to be playing to win the game. This ultimately gave the Penguins the edge in momentum, and it also led to them scoring the go ahead goal in the second to make it 2-1.

It was the only goal of the period, but the penalties kept piling up for both teams as Phillipe Myers and a Penguins player got into a scuffle. The Crunch took a high-sticking penalty, and killed that off. Then the Penguins took a delay of game penalty as time was essentially expired off the game clock for the period.

In the third period the Crunch found their game. First it was Félix Robert potting his 15th of the season.

Then Trevor Carrick found the back of the net 35 seconds later with his 13th goal of the season. It was his 4th straight game with a goal, and he’s had 6 goals in his last 10 games. This is a career year for Carrick for goals, and he’s 11 points away from his career high in that category.

From the lead the Crunch were able to fight off the Penguins for about 7 minutes before Wilkes-Barre/Scranton tied it. The rest of the game both teams timidly and cautiously worked to get the lead, but neither could manage it.

The game went into overtime, and from there the Crunch were given a chance at a power play. Unable to convert with the extra skater, the Crunch continued to push the play, and with the last minute of overtime play they converted to win the game.

Declan Carlile was the beneficiary of a netmouth scramble, and he picked the puck out of a mass of hockey players and scored.

It could be the exact kind of hotly contested game that the Crunch fought through that could allow them to break out of their funk from earlier this week.

Coming Up

The Crunch do not have a lot of time to mull over their play as Tuesday they have to play the Amerks in Rochester in a makeup game that was postponed from December 23. It’s quite possible that this game could be the thing that’s been a wrench in the wheel of progress for the Crunch this season. Their game has been pretty inconsistent since this moment of the season when they found their schedule cleared up due to weather. Rochester is chasing Syracuse in the standings, and is 4 points back. This will be a huge game in terms of momentum swinging for both teams. While both teams are in playoff positions, the expansion of the playoffs means that the 4th and 5th seeds of each division will play a best of 3 series, and right now Rochester is in that 4th seed.

They will then play Utica twice who they are chasing in the standings. The Crunch are only 2 points back from the Comets. The first game will take place at Utica on Friday, and the second game will be in Syracuse for a 5:00 P.M. puckdrop.

Sandwiched between those Galaxy Series games the Crunch will take on the Hershey Bears at home Saturday night. Hershey is near the top of the standings, and the Crunch lost a pretty close game the last time these two faced off in January.