Crunch Wrap: Syracuse still playing Checkers

Crunch beat Utica but lose to Charlotte twice

The Syracuse Crunch are still trying to finding multiple ways to win games. They can win footraces, when they have a healthy roster they can win physical grinding games, and when they commit to team defense and their goalies are hot they can win shutdown games. Unfortunately, they’re still learning how to not cause self-inflicted wounds. When the Crunch are on their game, not making mistakes, very few teams in this league can compete with them. However, when there are mental lapses, turnovers, and poor discipline this team has to play catch up in games. Team chemistry plays a huge factor in that, but they’re also still trying to find their stride.

This week was a mixed bag in Crunch Land. It could have been worse, and the Crunch still have a lot of growth to do if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs. The resiliency of this team, the health of their forwards coming out of the All-Star Weekend, and a rested tandem in net may be just the thing Syracuse needs to get the momentum churning for the second half of the season.

Wednesday Night’s Game

Daniel Walcott was a scratch again, and he hasn’t seen game action since the previous Saturday’s action against Hartford. With Rudolfs Balcers out because he’d been recalled to the Tampa Bay Lightning and then placed on waivers, Jaydon Dureau cycled back into the line-up. The team also went with 11 defenseman and 7 forwards. Hugo Alnefelt got the nod in net, and Gabriel Dumont was skating in his 200th game as a member of the Syracuse Crunch.

This one started out much like the previous game between Utica and Syracuse, just not a lot of room to move. The Crunch skaters would bring the puck into the zone and be converged on by multiple Utica players. They absolutely clog the ice when they don’t have the puck and do everything they can to keep the puck to the outside of their goaltender.

Later on in the first, Gage Goncalves clipped a Comets player with a high stick, and it was bad enough to merit a four-minute penalty. (The gamesheet listed this incorrectly Ilya Usau’s penalty)

The Comets didn’t waste much time and they scored a power play goal a few seconds later to get on the board first. It was 1-0 Utica.

There was a little bit more daylight on the ice in the second, and both teams got more attempts at the power play. Neither team was able to convert, and the period was without a goal leaving Utica still on top.

In the third period, Syracuse All-Star Darren Raddysh fired a puck from a wonky angle and got the game tied 1-1.

A few minutes later at 5:11 another of Syracuse’s All-Stars scored on a power play to give the Crunch the lead. It was his 13th goal of the season.

A minute later, Trevor Carrick slapshotted his way into the conversation, and his goal made it 3-1 Crunch. It was Carrick’s 6th of the season.

Just when it seemed like Syracuse was going to cruise to a victory, Jack Thompson took a slashing penalty, and while the special teams did kill it off, moments after the PP time expired Utica scored to make it 3-2 with 3:21 left to go in the game.

The Crunch fell back into a shell after that. They tried to play prevent defense in their own zone, and they were doing a decent job suppressing shots, but a clearing play resulted in an icing. Utica won the puck off the face-off, and continued their pressure and finally prevailed to tie the game.

After neither team could find the back of the net in overtime, the game went to be decided in a shootout. In the shootout Jaydon Dureau had a spectacular goal that put the Crunch ahead, but the Comets followed it up with a goal to keep it going. After a few rounds of no one scoring, in the 7th round rookie Lucas Edmonds scored to put the Crunch ahead, and Alnefelt made the save to get them the win.

Friday Night’s Game

Syracuse welcomed Rudolfs Balcers back to the lineup after he cleared waivers, and they went back to 12 forwards and 6 defenseman. Max Lagace came in between the pipes to get the start, and Sean Day skated in his 200th AHL game.

The Checkers got on the board first in this game at 6:11 of the game they won a face-off back to the blueline, and the Charlotte defenceman flung the puck on net. With a bunch of traffic in front, the puck hit the back of the net and the Crunch were down 1-0.

The Crunch came right back, and had a blue line goal of their own. After a takeaway in the neutral zone, Darren Raddysh came in and shot the puck off the goaltender. The rebound came to the Crunch, and Alex Barré-Boulet found Phillipe Myers at the blueline who fired the puck home to tie it up 1-1.

Undeterred, Charlotte immediately won the face-off, and got the puck deep into the Syracuse defensive zone. A poor clearing attempt allowed Charlotte to keep it in, and a wraparound attempt led to a go ahead goal just 19 seconds after the Crunch goal. It was 2-1 Checkers.

Both teams exchanged chances the rest of the period, but a bad giveaway from Balcers gave the Checkers a breakaway goal to make it 3-1 going into the first intermission.

The second period saw both teams exchanging shots on goal and penalties, but there no red lights going off in this period.

In the third period, Alex Barré-Boulet brought the Crunch within one after he grabbed a rebound in the slot and buried it for his 14th goal of the season. It was 3-2 Charlotte, and there was plenty of game left to play.

Only the longer the game went on, the less likely it looked the Crunch were going to tie it. The Crunch hit posts, had open looks at the net, but they just couldn’t find the equalizer. Then Charlotte added on an insurance goal with less than 4 minutes left to play. It was 4-2 Checkers.

42 seconds later, the power play found a way to score, and Simon Ryfors scored his team leading 16th goal of the season. It was 4-3 Charlotte with 2:52 left to go in the game.

At 1:30 the Crunch pulled their goalie, and at :38 Gage Goncalves tied the game 4-4 and earned a point on their way to overtime.

In overtime Charlotte wasted no time scoring, as they got a goal at the 1:52 mark. It was a gritty effort to come back, but the Crunch fell just short.

Saturday Night’s Game

Hugo Alnefelt got the start in net, and with Dainiel Walcott out and Jaydon Dureau scratched the Crunch went with 11 forwards and 7 defenseman again.

The Crunch didn’t wait long to get on the board. At 2:05 in the first, off a face-off, Alex Barré-Boulet scored to make it 1-0. It was the 100th goal of Barré-Boulet’s AHL Career.

Charlotte didn’t seem to care about the feat, or about being down a goal. They kept pushing, and eventually they tied the game up at 9:56, and instead of resting on their laurels they scored again a little less than two minutes later. It was 2-1 Checkers, and it was just bad play in the defensive zone that led to the two goals against. The first goal had 4 Crunch players standing around, and the Checkers player made something happen. The second goal Alnefelt got a piece but not all of it, and it just squeaked by him to cross the line. The second period ended, and the Crunch were playing catch up.

No matter, the Crunch did what they always do, they put their working boots on and they got to work. In the second period, Rudolfs Balcers made a tremendous pass to Simon Ryfors who was all alone and he made a nifty poke of the puck past the Checkers goalie.

It took grit, it took hard work, but the Crunch had tied the game, and they were one period and one goal away from getting two points.

Charlotte seemed to want to help Syracuse’s cause too because in the third they had a mental lapse and took a Too Many Men penalty. The Crunch’s power play has been ineffective and inconsistent all season, but this particular performance deserves some attention.

The Checkers penalty killers managed to poke a backpass to a casual skating Crunch player. This led them to a 2-on-1 where the lead skater outskated Trevor Carrick who laid out in an attempt to poke the puck away. Carrick’s play did seem to block the pass across to the trailing Checkers player. However the puck made it back to the initial skater, and he flicked it off of Alnefelt’s skate and into the net. It was a deflating goal for a team that seemed to be embracing blue collar play in an attempt to grind out a win. Then things got worse.

With 30 seconds or so left on the penalty, the Crunch skaters got the puck in the zone but weren’t able to do anything meaningful with it. Meanwhile, as the power play expired, the Checkers players cleared the puck from their own end, brought it into the Crunch’s zone and forechecked the Crunch skaters into coughing up the puck. This led to a shot from a wide open Checkers player. Just like that, in the span of 39 seconds it was 4-2 Charlotte.

After being such a close game, Syracuse having such a hard time just keeping the score even, and not being able to deal with Charlotte’s offensive bursts, this game was over right then. Coach Ben Groulx tried to pull out all the tricks and pulled Alnefelt with 4 minutes and change to go, but the Checkers found the empty net to make it 5-2.

Jack Thompson was able to fire a slapshot for his 5th goal of the season and he made it 5-3, but that was the final score.

This is an interesting factoid the Syracuse Crunch tweeted out prior to Saturday’s game, Syracuse has not had a winning regular season record against Charlotte since the 2010-2011 season.

Barré-Boulet’s 100th career goal has him sitting third all time in Crunch goal scorer history. He is 7 goals behind Mark Hartigan’s record.

Coming Up

The AHL All-Star game will take place today at 7pm. Fans can watch for free at Watch as Syracuse stars Gabriel Dumont, Alex Barré-Boulet, and Darren Raddysh show off their skills amongst the rest of the elite talent in the AHL.

As for the Crunch, they will be joining their All-Stars in Laval Friday to take on the Rocket. The series is tied 2-2 with both teams winning their respective home games. The Rocket sit 5 points below the Crunch in the North Division standings. Hopefully Laval will have an All-Star weekend hangover and fire off a dud. The Crunch sure hope so because their record in Laval the past few seasons has been abysmal.

Saturday night Crunch will take on Rochester at Home. The Crunch are losing the series to the Amerks 2-4 so far this season, but because of a terrible January the Amerks are below the Crunch in the standings by 4 points.

Some AHL All-Star Skills highlights: