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Crunch Corner: No wins this week for Syracuse

We slam the giant “Don’t Panic” button.

Scott Thomas Photography

It was a rough week for the Syracuse Crunch as they dropped two games in regulation and one in a shootout to pick up only one of a possible six points. Their offense, once so prolific, continues to struggle. They scored five total goals over the three games. While untimely turnovers have plagued them, the good news is that they haven’t played as badly as their recent record would indicate. If they keep grinding away, the goals should start showing up soon.

If you’re feeling down about the Crunch, here is a short video of them with puppies.

Standings

The Crunch dropped to third place this week, but only because Utica has played six more games than they have. Syracuse still has the second best points-percentage in the league. They’ve picked a good time to struggle as everyone in the North is kind of treading water a bit right now.

Injuries

Overall it was another healthy week for the Crunch. Alex Volkov missed a game as he was a “little banged up,” according to the coaching staff. Gabriel Dumont was held out of the same game due to illness, but he came back and played two of his better games following the scratched start, so he should be good going forward hopefully.

There was no real updates on the players who are still injured other than a vague description that they are “progressing”. With the offense struggling right now, they could use a boost from the return of Mitchell Stephens and Kevin Lynch. Newest member of the Crunch, Jan Ruuta, missed the last three Rockford IceHogs games with an undisclosed injury and did not suit up over the weekend for the Crunch. He is considered day-to-day.

Coming and Going

The biggest roster move for the Crunch was the addition of Rutta. The right-shooting defenseman will most likely slot into the regular rotation for Syracuse once he returns to full health. It will be interesting to see how Coach Ben Groulx works him into the line-up. Will he go 11/7 like he did when Slater Koekkoek was in town, or will he scratch one of the six defensemen he has relied on all season?

Cal Foote, Ben Thomas, and Nolan Valleau have recently been the blueliners lining up on the right side. There is no way Foote is losing his spot as he’s recently been paired up with Cameron Gaunce and is playing top-pair minutes. Both Thomas and Valleau have had their good stretches of play and their bad, but Coach Groulx hasn’t shown any inclination to bench either one of them. This is something to keep an eye on once Rutta is healthy.

The Games

Wednesday, January 9th - 4-0 loss to Binghamton (Box Score) (Highlights) (Recap)

Friday, January 11th - 4-3 (SO) loss to Cleveland (Box Score) (Highlights) (Recap)

Saturday, January 12th - 3-2 loss to Utica (Box Score) (Highlights) (Recap)

Thoughts

It’s not that bad

Yes, the Crunch have dropped four games in a row. Yes, their offense currently scores as often as often as a soccer team. Sure, they haven’t scored a power play goal since last week. Still, they aren’t playing that bad. All three games they had last week they could have won if some bounces went their way.

The Binghamton game was a prime example. The Crunch dominated vast stretches of that night, pumping 35 shots at Evan Cormier. The rookie netminder just had a phenomenal game. In the Cleveland game, they put two shots off the iron in the shootout. If those go in, they walk away with a win and the week looks a little better. The first-unit power play against Utica looked like their old lethal selves, but they just couldn’t find the net.

In short, the Crunch are doing a lot of good things. They are still doing too many bad things, and they are in a stretch where every mistake seems to land in the back of the net, but if they keep playing like they did this week the goals and the wins will start piling back up.

One of the things that they struggled with in the first two games of the week is their gap control. The forwards were getting a little too far ahead of the defense when they were breaking out. That led to the defenders either holding on to the puck too long and losing it to the opposition’s forecheck or trying stretch passes that were knocked away in the neutral zone. On Saturday, the forwards were staying back a little more and the transition game was a little smoother.

If they keep that going, they’ll be able to attack with more speed and get the other teams back on the heels a little more. Cory Conacher’s goal against Utica was a prime example of that. They moved into the zone quickly and he unleashed his shot before the defense and goaltender were ready.

Connor Ingram

Three weeks have now passed since Ingram suffered the lower-body injury against Lehigh Valley. The original prognosis was 2-4 weeks, so the time for panic hasn’t set in just yet. When he last talked about it, Coach Groulx mentioned that the big test was for Ingram to get back on the ice and start facing shots again. He vaguely indicated that could happen this week and he didn’t rule out the possibility that his young goaltender could be back in net soon.

It would be nice to see the All-Star back between the pipes this weekend, but the Crunch shouldn’t rush him back. Eddie Pasquale has been fine during the stretch of 10 consecutive starts. He hasn’t been great, but for the most part he’s made the stops he needs to make and has kept the team in every game. There hasn’t been a moment where you thought, “wow, maybe they should pull Pasquale.” If he needs to go three more games, that shouldn’t be a problem.

This is the first major injury Ingram has had to deal with as a professional. That can be hard for a young player who just wants to be on the ice, especially when his team is struggling. While he may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s best to proceed with caution. The impatience of youth can sometimes be harmful down the road, especially with leg injuries. He’ll be much more valuable to the team in March than he is in January. Now is the time to make sure he is fully healthy and eliminate the possibility of re-aggravating it and missing even more time.

Players of the Week

Cameron Gaunce - 3 games played, 3 assists (or 1 goal, 2 assists). I will go to my grave saying that he is the one who bounced the puck over Ivan Kulbakov, but the official scoresheet still has Boris Katchouk as the goal scorer. Even without the goal, it was a strong week for the veteran who skated in his 600th AHL game. He has moved over to the left side and paired with Cal Foote a lot more recently and hasn’t lost a step. He’s still out there 20+ minutes a game in all situations. He’s already tied a career high in goals with six and is working on his second best season points-wise with 30 in just 33 games. This was certainly a nice off-season signing by Julien BriseBois.

Gabriel Dumont - 2 games played, 2 assists. The AHL doesn’t officially track hits, but if they did Dumont would have racked up roughly 75 over the last two games. The loss against Cleveland may have been his best game of the season as he was all over the ice, disrupting the Monsters’ breakouts and creating turnover in the offensive zone (such as this one).

Upcoming Schedule

It’s another trip around the state of New York as the Crunch head back to Utica to kick things off, come back to Syracuse, and then head down to Binghamton for yet another game against the Devils. On the year the Crunch have a combined record of 10-4 against these three teams so hopefully they can get back to their winning ways.

Wednesday, January 16th at Utica Comets 7:00pm

Friday, January 18th vs. Belleville Senators 7:00pm

Saturday, January 19th at Binghamton Devils 7:05pm