Crunch Wrap: Jekyll and Hyde

The Crunch win two in impressive fashion and drop two in scary ways.

This week was bookended by a couple of wins with a couple of sloppy performances in the middle. The Syracuse Crunch are still not quite a lock for the playoffs, but they do sit comfortably in a playoff position. After this week’s games they only have 9 more games left in their season, and they still have a long way to go in improving their game [hey, just like the Lightning! —JG]. That said, they definitely found a switch against divisional opponents which is good because their last 8 games will be played against teams in their division.

Tuesday Night’s Game

Lucas Edmonds’ play seems to be making an impression on coaches. He’s being added into the lineup more and more, and he’s less of a healthy scratch daily. It will be interesting to see which players are in the lineup down the stretch going into the playoffs because that might be the rotation the coaches feel most confident in winning games. Max Lagace, for example, has been getting the nod in net more frequently over Huge Alnefelt. In the ten games prior to Tuesday, Lagace has had 7 starts to Alnefelt’s 3. There’s been a lot of chatter amongst the fans over who should be getting the starts. The fact that Lagace seems to be getting a bulk of the starts shows how confident the coaches are in Lagace’s ability to win the Crunch games. Is it the veteran presence factor?

This tightly contested game had all the machinations of a chess match between two coaches in a playoff series. The Crunch had the Amerks nipping at their heels in the standings, and they played the game that way too.

The Crunch got on the scoreboard first with Simon Ryfors scoring his team leading 21st goal of the season.

Rochester followed that up with a power play goal in the second period, and much like the race in the standings the game was neck and neck.

Halfway through the third period the Crunch scored to jump ahead when Jack Finley used his body to get position in front of the net and hammer home a goal on the doorstep. It was Finley’s 8th goal of the season.

Unfortunately, the Amerks wouldn’t go away quietly, and they got a nice deflection in front of Lagace to tie the game with 4 minutes left.

The third period ended, and overtime couldn’t determine a winner. In the shootout the Crunch sent out Gage Goncalves and Lucas Edmonds, the two players that lead the team with shootout goals, and they both scored once again. Lagace was able to stop two of the Amerks, and the Crunch were victorious.

Friday Night’s Game

Ilya Usau made his way back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch the last game. This put Félix Robert as a scratch. Max Lagace was in net once again.

A little past the halfway mark, Ryan Jones saved a 2-on-0 opportunity for Utica by tripping up the puck carrier. The refs, who up until that point were letting them play, could not let that egregious penalty go. Then, the Comets scored on the power play. It was an easy penalty to take, but it was one that had to be taken because of poor positioning from the Crunch. On the power play goal, poor positioning left Utica forward Brian Halonen all alone in front of Lagace. Lagace didn’t stand a chance to make that save.

A few minutes later the offensive positioning let the Crunch score to tie the game.

This time it was Jones being positioned to keep the puck in the zone, and that allowed Jack Thompson a shot chance from the point. Lucas Edmonds was there to get the rebound and he scored to tie the game. It was Edmonds 13th goal of the season. He’s 6th on the Crunch’s active roster in goal scoring. He’s got 6 goals in his last 10 games.

In the second and third periods, Utica went on a tear. They scored the game’s next three goals to jump to a 4-1 lead.

The Crunch valiantly did not quit, and continued to fight through the game to get on the scoreboard.

First it was Gage Goncalves scoring his 10th goal of the year to get the Crunch within two.

Then Cole Koepke, who is slowly but surely breaking out of a goal scoring slump, scored his 6th goal of the year to get within one. Unfortunately, it was too little too late for the Crunch to mount a comeback as it was scored with less than a minute left in regulation.

The Crunch fell to the Comets, and in turn lost  second place in the division spot to them. It’s not all doom and gloom though because they get to face Utica just two days later at home. Also, they didn’t have time to mope because the had a game the next night against the Hershey Bears who are looking to clinch a playoff spot and have been at the top of a competitive Atlantic Division.

Saturday Night’s Game

Shawn Element and Rudolfs Balcers get the night off in favor of Félix Robert and Daniel Walker. Hugo Alnefelt got his first start since last week.

In the first period Hershey opened up the scoring. 1-0 Bears

In the second the Bears added onto their score to make it 2-0. Christmas came early for Hershey with this goal because Phillipe Myers sent a gift of a flubbed pass right on the stick of Mike Sgarbossa’s stick and he scored his 20th of the season. It was probably the easiest goal of the season for him.

Once again, the Crunch do not let these types of mental mistakes impact the momentum of the rest of their game. Obviously, mistakes like this need to be eradicated from their play if they want to go deep into the playoffs, but the thing that makes this team special is the way they respond to these events.

For example, rookie Daniel Walker fighting veteran Bears captain Dylan McIlrath. He was clearly out matched and outclassed in the fight, but this is why Walker is on the team. The team needed a response, and they got it from the 6’6 winger. It started when Walker went after a Bears puck carrier in the defensive zone. McIlrath didn’t like the hit and went after Walker. Rather than back down, Walker fought back. This isn’t to say that fighting is necessary to win games, but this was a game that the team needed a wake up call on.

That fight was arguably the catalyst for the next major play of the game. First, the Crunch’s attack became much more noticeable, and Gage Goncalves drew a penalty when a Bears player interfered with him. The power play was unable to capitalize on the chance, but the offense continued its onslaught in the zone. Until Daniel Walcott fought and clawed his way to a goal in the front of the net. It was Walcott’s 11th goal of the year, and Mr. Crunch continues to add to his career offensive year in Syracuse. His next best year offensively was in 2019-2020 when he scored 7 goals and 12 assists for 19 points, but this year he’s at 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points.

At the end of the second period, it was a close game. Honestly, that’s the best perspective to view these losses against seemingly stronger opponents. Even in losses, the Crunch are in on games. Unfortunately, they can’t capitalize when it matters most.

To their credit, through two periods the Crunch held the Bears to only 15 shots on goal. About halfway through the third, Hershey had only added 5 shots on goal. On the other hand, the Crunch had 28 shots on goal. Unfortunately, it was the 21st shot on goal for the Bears that went in to give them an insurance goal.

The Crunch couldn’t respond, and Hershey added an empty net goal to seal it at 2:04 left in the game. It was a game that was tightly played from both teams, but it was the costly unforced error that led to the Bears second goal that seemed to be the backbreaker for the Crunch. They just can’t let those types of errors creep into their game if they want to be successful. Fortunately, they need not wait to correct such issues because they have another important standings game against Utica in less than 24 hours.

Sunday Night’s Game

Rudolfs Balcers was back, and Daniel Walker left the lineup against Utica. Hugo Alnefelt gets his second consecutive start, and rookie and newly signed Max Crozier gets in his first game as a member of the Crunch. Crozier was drafted in 2019 by the Lightning, and he spent his last 4 years in college at Providence College.

The first period was all Syracuse.

Lucas Edmonds once again tallied a goal for the Crunch. Play-by-play announcer Lukas Favale mentioned that Edmonds has 14 goals on the season, but 8 of them have come against Utica. It’s safe to say, he may be the secret weapon against the Comets this year.

Félix Robert followed up Edmonds’ goal with what may be the Crunch’s goal of the year. It was his 16th goal of the year, and it matches his career high set last year with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

The Crunch then got a power play, and Alex Barré-Boulet  does what he does best. He sat at the top of the right circle and took a pass and one-timed it into the back of the net. It was his 20th goal of the season, and he tacked on a point to continue to boost his career high to 71 points on the season.

In the second period it looked like the Comets may be coming back to life as they scored to get within two.

However, the Crunch just kept coming at them. First, it was on the penalty kill. Daniel Walcott and Cole Koepke teamed up to deflect a Comets’ pass out of the defensive zone. Then Walcott turned on the jets, and he backhanded saucered a beautiful pass to Koepke who finished off the play with an absolute beaut of a goal. It was Koepke’s 7th goal of the season, and his second in the last three games. Walcott continues to add to his career high in points and he has 27 points on the season.

Then it was the defense that decided to get into the action. Specifically, it was Trevor Carrick, who’s been having a career year scoring goals, and he added another to pot his 14th goal of the season with a slapshot from the point. That goal was enough to chase the Utica goalie Isaac Poulter, and the Comets put Mike Robinson in net.

Mercifully, the period was finished without much other fanfare.

In the third period the refs gave the Comets some mercy when they ruled that a goal deflected in by Barré-Boulet was actually hit with a high stick. It was still 5-1 and there was 13 minutes left to play.

Not much later, Lucas Edmonds who has shown Utica absolutely zero mercy all season continued his onslaught against the Comets and scored his 9th goal against them and 15th goal of the season to make it 6-1 Crunch.

Hugo Alnefelt kept the Comets from scoring the rest of the game, and the Crunch laid off their footrace to score. Alnefelt ended up getting the win for his 16th win of the season, and he stopped 31 shots. It was the 9th time Alnefelt has stopped 30 shots or more this season in a game, and when he faces 30 shots or more he has a record of 5-3-1 with a .931 save percentage. His record for the season is 16-10-1.

Coming Up

The Crunch did well to win Sunday night because it meant they leapt over Rochester to take 3rd place in the division.

Friday the Crunch will take on another division rival in Belleville at home. Even though Belleville is last in the division, the Crunch only have a 2-3 record against them, and they’ve lost their last 3 games against the Senators.

Saturday Syracuse will visit Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to take on the Penguins for the fourth and final time. Since the beginning of 2023 the Crunch have faced the Penguins once a month, and have a 3-0 record against them. All games have been one-goal games, but the last game needed overtime for the Crunch to become victorious.

Lastly, the Utica Comets will once again come in Sunday, and the Crunch will get another crack at surpassing the Comets in the standings. As it sits at the time of this article the Crunch are one point away from second place in the division. The Comets will be facing Rochester back to back nights prior to seeing the Crunch. There could be quite the musical chairs happening in the division standings by the end of next week.