Crunch Corner: Week Three
The Crunch split the weekend, winning one game convincingly and losing another frustratingly.
A split of the two games this weekend has to feel like a bit of a victory in and of itself after the previous week. Despite losing to Utica on the back end of the weekend, the Crunch played well overall. Their special teams generated offense and their goaltending was solid. Rotating in some veteran players definitely seemed to stabilize their play a bit.
“That’s concerning for the Crunch,” uttered play-by-play announcer Lukas Favarle once he realized Gabriel Dumont had not been on the ice since early in the first period on Saturday. Dumont skated one shift and part of a power play shift before departing for the rest of the night. There was no apparent injury and he skated off on his own volition.
On Sunday, this paltry updated was offered by Lindsay Kramer of the Post Standard/Syracuse.com:
BriseBois said no update on Dumont yet other than lower body— Syracuse Hockey (@syrhockey) October 21, 2018
Hopefully it’s nothing major as the Crunch can ill afford to be without their captain.
The usual suspects (Olivier Archambault, Michael Bournival, Ben Thomas, Otto Somppi, Daniel Walcott) are still out, but it appears Kevin Lynch is close to returning as he has been skating in a non-contact jersey for most of the week. Troy Bourke returned from his day-today-injury to play one game.
Coming and Going:
Three players made their season debut with the Crunch after spending some time with the Tampa Bay Lightning to open the season. With the return of Ryan Callahan, Cory Conacher was placed on waivers, cleared, and was assigned to Syracuse. A familiar face for the Crunch faithful, Conacher’s addition means another valuable veteran voice in the young clubhouse.
Danick Martel also joined the team on a conditioning stint after being a healthy scratch for the first four Lightning games. His stay in Syracuse can’t last more than 14 consecutive days per the CBA (the Lightning plan on him staying through next weekend’s games), so for now he isn’t in the long-term plans for the Crunch. This assignment will give the organization a chance to see how he performs in game action to see if they want to keep him around.
Why add two forwards when you can add three? In addition to the two players from Tampa, the organization also acquired Mitch Hults from Anaheim for future considerations. A depth center, the 23-year-old has 61 games of AHL experience spread out over three seasons.
Friday, October 19th at Binghamton Devils - 4-0 Win (Box Score) (Highlights)
After two lackluster showings, Coach Ben Goulx challenged his veterans to be better. After a week of practice, it was the “old” guys that led the way to a 4-0 victory over the Binghamton Devils on Friday night. The best players on the ice were Dumont, Mitchell Stephens, Carter Verhaeghe and Andy Andreoff.
There were also a few line-up changes. Danick Martel made his Syracuse debut, Troy Bourke returned to the ice from injury, and Matthew Spencer made his season debut. Jonne Tammela, Brady Brasset and Oleg Sosunov found themselves in the press box as a result.
With Martel taking the ice next to Dumont and Alex Barre-Boulet, the Crunch got off to another solid start as they dominated play throughout most of the first period. They got the first goal of the game (the first time they’ve done it this season) short-handed.
With Martel in the box (hey look, he’s fitting in already!), Dumont created a little magic. Cameron Gaunce hit him with a nice pass off the boards that allowed the captain to enter the Devils zone with speed. He fired a shot that handcuffed Mackenzie Blackwood and the rebound dribbled to the side of the net. Dumont never stopped skating and forced a Binghamton defender to knock him into the goaltender. The puck ended up at Andy Andreoff’s feet and he fired it into the empty net for the goal.
A pretty okay PK. #SYRvsBNG pic.twitter.com/WczA6J47Zf— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) October 19, 2018
On a night where the Crunch committed six penalties, their maligned penalty kill thankfully looked much, much better. They pressured the puck when needed and repeatedly blocked shots and batted away passes to deny the Devils easy looks at the net. On the occasions when a shot got through, Connor Ingram made the stop.
Speaking of Ingram, the young netminder was at his best in the second period. Binghamton, in danger of being embarrassed on home ice, pushed the play early in the second period. Ingram stood tall, snapping his glove out several times to snag the puck. With the score still 1-0, the Devils had a prime opportunity to tie it when Cal Foote was called for a slash on a partial breakaway by Brent Seney. The result was a penalty shot, the second in as many games that Ingram had to face. He was equal to the task as he calmly blockered aside the attempt by Seney.
From there, the teams traded opportunities. Three of the four Crunch lines looked solid. The all-rookie line of Boris Katchouk, Ross Colton and Taylor Raddysh was the lone exception as they spent the majority of their limited time on ice pinned in their own zone. Raddysh was all but stapled to the bench in the third period.
A week of practice paid off for the Crunch’s power play later in the period. The second goal of the game was so clean it might as well have been a drill in practice. Dumont won the faceoff and got it back to Cernak, who immediately sent it over to Mitchell Stephens on a tee. The second-year forward blasted the one-time right past Blackwood from the top of the circle and the Crunch had a two-goal lead.
A rocket, man. 🚀#SYRvsBNG pic.twitter.com/UPIhBGPuFb— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) October 20, 2018
The second power play goal, coming in the third period, was of a more improvisational variety. It actually came after a turnover by Foote in the offensive zone. Binghamton cleared it down the ice, and as the penalty clock was winding down, it looked like the power play was going to be unsuccessful for the Crunch.
Carter Verhaeghe casually backhanded it down the ice where Martel took it in the offensive zone. He then sent a screamer of a pass across the ice and Andreoff, who was charging into the zone. He batted it out of midair past the goaltender for his second goal of the night. The Devils had relaxed for a brief moment and the Crunch took advantage of it.
Out. Of. Mid. Air. 😲#SYRvsBNG pic.twitter.com/kOaO8JSqMV— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) October 20, 2018
Capping off the night of special teams, Boris Katchouk scored short-handed to record his first career goal. While an empty net goal might not be the most dramatic way to do it, the play he made to score the goal was crafty. After Stephens got him the puck, Katchouk was pressured by two Devils as he skated through the neutral zone. Instead of forcing a bad shot at the empty net or stickhandle through traffic, he bounced it off the boards and skated around the defender. He ended up with the puck and a clear path to the net.
See kids, that’s why you study geometry in school.
A first pro goal is a first pro goal.— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) October 20, 2018
Congratulations, @RussianRocket13! 🚨 pic.twitter.com/Y3CFqdBOI8
Saturday, October 20th vs. Utica Comets - 4-3 Loss (Box Score) (Highlights)
The Crunch were right back on the ice as they returned home to take on the Utica Comets in the first of their twelve meetings this season. Two more players made their debut for Syracuse as Conacher and Hults suited up for the first time this season. That meant two more players joined the growing crowd in the press box. Rookies Ross Colton and Raddysh both had their first healthy scratches of the year. Coach Groulx swapped Bourke and Jonne Tammela once again, with the Finnish forward returning to the line-up after missing Friday’s game.
The one player that didn’t dress for the Crunch on Saturday night was luck. It seems all of the bounces went the way of the Comets. Case in point, 30 seconds into the game Danick Martel rung a shot off the post. Alex Barre-Boulet also found iron in the first period. Two inches either way and the Crunch have a 2-0 lead instead of a 1-0 deficit.
The first of Utica goals came on the power play, with Dumont, one of the Crunch’s most talented penalty killers, out of the game. As stated earlier, the Crunch captain left after a shift on an early power play for Syracuse and didn’t return for the rest of the night.
The goal was a bit of a fluke. A shot from the point was popped up in the air and Zack MacEwen swatted it out of the air past Connor Ingram. Four the fourth time in five games, the Crunch trailed early.
As expected for a Syracuse/Utica tilt, the game turned into a bit of a chippy affair. There was a lot of pushing and shoving after whistles, some extra jabs at goaltenders and all of the other nonsense that goes when two teams that don’t like each other meet up.
Can’t wait to see what happens over the next 11 meetings. (I can - Alex)
As for the action on the ice, Utica controlled a lot of the early action, pressing the Crunch in their own zone and working the puck quickly when they had possession. Syracuse looked a little disoriented right after Dumont left the game and that seemed to linger for most of the first period. Luckily, Ingram had another strong game and kept them close.
The second period was a bit back and forth. Despite some strong moments by the Crunch, such as when Barre-Boulet was robbed by a goaltender at point blank range for the second game in a row, Utica was able to increase their lead by two more goals, with luck playing a bit of a role for the Comets.
Six minutes into the period, as Cameron Gaunce attempted a shot on net, his stick exploded and the puck trickled to a Utica forward. The Comets took off to the races on a two-on-one-and-a-half break. Gaunce tried his best but wasn’t able to contain Darren Archibald, who skated around him threaded a pass past a sliding Cal Foote. Lukas Jasek chipped the puck over Ingram and into the net. Two minutes later, Archibald picked up his own goal as he deflected a shot from Michael Carcone past Ingram.
However, being down three goals is apparently a bit of a spark for the Crunch, as they dictated play for the next ten minutes or so. Less then two minutes after Archibald’s goal, Gaunce wristed another shot at the net. This time his stick didn’t fail him and the shot eluded Ivan Kulbakov. It found the back of the net for the free agent signing’s first goal in a Syracuse uniform.
Cameron Gaunce gets us on the board with his first in a #SyrCrunch sweater. #UTIvsSYR pic.twitter.com/UoBuiTpoWv— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) October 21, 2018
Midway through the period, Foote took a bad holding penalty well away from the play. Surprisingly, the next two minutes were quite fun. Boris Katchouk stole the puck at the point and zoomed into the Utica zone with Mitchell Stephens. His pass was in Stephens skate and Kulbakov was forced to make a stop.
A few moments later Alex Volkov made a similar play at the point, dispossessing Reid Boucher of the puck and leading an odd-man rush with Conacher trailing. A drop pass by the Russian led to Conacher driving behind the net. Kulbakov got his stick caught and it went spinning behind the net. The ref thought he threw it at Conacher (he didn’t), and awarded a penalty shot. Conacher converted and the Crunch were within one.
Welcome. Back. @conhockey19. 🚨 pic.twitter.com/bsXRiGawDx— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) October 21, 2018
The Comets came back and appeared to reestablish a two goal lead after Boucher buried one in the back of the net. There was just one problem: the net wasn’t where it was supposed to be as it was knocked off of its pegs prior to Boucher’s shot. The goal didn’t count.
With 50 seconds to go in the period, the Comets got one that did count with luck once again providing the assist. After a long, sustained shift in the Crunch zone, the puck squirted out to center ice. Syracuse was unable to change, and Utica went for it, although they did it badly. At one point, seven Comets had their skates on the ice. Unfortunately no one in stripes saw it and the too many men on the ice went uncalled. The Comets brought it into the zone and Jaime Sifers rocketed a shot past Ingram. The Crunch were displeased with the lack of a call, but their arguing changed nothing.
The pace of play did change in the third as the Crunch dictated play for most of the period. With the Comets on their heels for most of the frame, Syracuse drew several penalties in a row midway through the period. With nine minutes to go, coach Groulx took a chance and pulled Ingram for a six-on-four advantage. It didn’t quite work out, but it did lead to Utica taking another penalty when Conacher took a stick to the face.
Sadly, Groulx did not press his luck and ice six skaters against three. Instead he went with the traditional five-on-three. The two man advantage expired, but the Crunch did score on the traditional power play.
After bouncing consecutive shots off of the goaltender’s mask, the Crunch went low and Andy Andreoff redirected a pass from Barre-Boulet between Kulbakov’s wickets for the power play goal. That would be as close as the Crunch would get despite intense pressure and a flurry of shots (and punches as both Gaunce and Labrie dropped the gloves at various times in the third).
Despite the pressure they weren’t able to find the equalizer and Utica left Syracuse with a 4-3 victory.
Thoughts on the Games
The veteran forward had not played in the AHL since 2014-15, having appeared in 159 NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings. It could not have been easy for him to be reassigned to Syracuse to start the season. Yet, he has taken it like a true professional, leading the team with his play on the ice.
Even before this week where he scored three goals, he has been one of the better players for the Crunch, killing penalties and providing some solid play on the lower lines. He has the skill to move back and forth among the lines, which is important with the Syracuse/Tampa philosophy of line-mixing. It’s good to see him playing well, knowing that he is just a phone call away from rejoining the team in Tampa.
The Penalty Kill:
The Crunch’s penalty kill was perfect against the Devils and killed off three-of-five against a very good Utica team. They played with a lot more aggression (as witnessed by multiple odd man rushes and three short-handed goals). They were also more responsible in their own zone in terms of coverage and shot blocking. It also helped that Ingram allowed virtually no rebound opportunities when he was called on to make a save.
As a team that will take a lot of penalties due to their aggressive nature on the forecheck and in the neutral zone, it is imperative that they play well shorthanded. Whatever was plaquing them last week seemed to be fixed with their week of practice. Hopefully that continues as the season progresses.
Players of the Week
Andy Andreoff - 2 games, 3 goals, 0 assists
Connor Ingram - 2 games, 1 win, 1 shutout, .930 Save Percentage,
Friday, October 26 at Toronto Marlies 7:00pm
The defending champions are scuffling a bit as they are off to a 2-4 start this season. Several of their key pieces have graduated to the NHL, leaving them with a new team that is struggling to keep pucks out of the net. Hopefully the Crunch can exact a little slice of revenge against the team that swept them out of the second round last spring.
Saturday, October 27 vs Charlotte Checkers 7:00pm
The Crunch return home and meet up with the Checkers for the second time this season. Charlotte ruined the Crunch’s home opener by outplaying them for fifty minutes on their way to a convincing 4-1 victory two weeks ago.