Crunch Wrap: Where did the offense go? Oh, there it is

Syracuse wins two of three in dominating fashion

The Syracuse Crunch are currently playing like they’re in playoff mode. Considering the amount of time they’ve spent recently playing Utica, this is a good mindset to have. The Crunch are still middle of the pack in the North Division, but they’re gearing up for a run with two healthy goaltenders and team that’s finally learning how to win games. Let’s see how this week shook out.

Friday Night’s Game

The Crunch and the Comets played for the 4th time in 12 days. Jaydon Dureau slots back into the lineup for Friday’s game. Coach Ben Groulx goes against the birthday game luck, and does not put Lucas Edmonds in on his birthday. Hugo Alnefelt got the start in net.

This game had goaltender duel written all over it. Alnefelt is in the Top 10 in the AHL in goals against average (2.35) and save percentage (.921), and Utica’s goalie Akira Schmid is in the Top 10 in save percentage (.915) and the top 5 in GAA (2.27).

From the very onset of the game Syracuse tried to test Schmid. One minute into the game, Gage Goncalves nearly had a breakaway as he got behind the defense with the puck, and he drew so much attention to him that it left Darren Raddysh all alone in front of the net for a shot. Goncalves sent a perfect pass from his backhand across the length of the ice to Raddysh who shot it point blank on Schimd. The Comets netminder made the save setting the tone for the evening. There would be no easy goals in this game.

Alnefelt did his best to keep the Crunch in the game too, at one point making multiple saves by having to slide laterally to each post multiple times. Both teams were playing the puck timidly in the first period. Aside from some special teams play, shots weren’t coming from very dangerous areas. By the end of the period the shots were 11-9, and the Crunch had the edge.

The goaltending duel continued into the second period. Alnefelt made a great kick save on a slapshot that sent the Crunch on an offensive breakout the other way. Then about 5 minutes into the period Crunch defenseman Declan Carlile received a pass that allowed him to skate in all alone, and he fired it right into the chest of Utica’s Schmid.

At 12:29 of the game, the Comets forwards found a little daylight. Graeme Clarke took a quick little one timer from the hashmarks and Alnefelt had no way of stopping that. It was 1-0 Utica.

The game went from being timid and cautiously played to slow and methodical. Utica did everything they could to slow down Syracuse skaters in the neutral zone. Whenever the Crunch were lucky to get the puck in the zone, the Comets would block shots, hold the puck against the boards, or chip pucks out to get them out of danger. The Comet system looked like it was used to this style of game, whenever the Crunch pushed the pace of place it just fell right into the Comet’s hands. If the Crunch were lucky enough to get a shot on net, then Schmid was there to easily turn it away.

Utica didn’t give up entirely offensively, and Alnefelt still had to make a few saves. When Phillipe Myers took a tripping penalty at 17:34 into the period, Utica tried to get an insurance goal. The Syracuse special teams looked tremendous. Not only were they clearing the puck, they were pushing for the game tying goal, and they nearly got it. Alex Barré-Boulet and Gabriel Dumont were making magic happen and Trevor Carrick was trailing when the puck found his stick and he had a wide open net. Unfortunately, a Utica defender was there to block the puck away with what can only be perceived as puck luck from the Hockey Gods.

Speaking of luck, it’s lucky that the Comets had such a favorable officiating crew. Simon Ryfors was hooked multiple times throughout the game, and in the middle of a power play at the 13 minute mark, Ryfors was elbowed in the face in the offensive zone. The officials blew the whistle, but there was no penalty on the play.

There’s no guarantee the Crunch would have done much with the extra man time. Their power play looked uninterested and uninspired for most of the game. It was almost as if Schmid was in their heads after the first period. Even at the end of the game, the Crunch skaters refused to fire shots on the net for fear they would be blocked and sent down the ice. The Comets got the lead and then just smothered the Crunch skaters with the puck. Syracuse ended the game with a meager 23 shots on goal, and that includes 4 power play opportunities. The Crunch had lost for the first time to Utica in regulation time.

Saturday Night’s Game

The Crunch decided to go with 11 forwards and 7 defenders. Ilya Usau and Jaydon Dureau   come out and Lucas Edmonds comes into the game. Max Lagace got the start in net.

In the first, the Crunch blocked a shot from the point, and it trickled through to a wide open Hartford skater. Meanwhile, Lagace was trying to get into position, and slipped to leave the net wide open. It was a soft goal, but Hartford got on the board first to make it 1-0.

The Crunch offense took a little while to get going in this game. Passes weren’t hitting their target, players were overskating pucks, and they just seemed out of sync. That said, someone who has been in sync all year has been Darren Raddysh. Once again, Raddysh took a puck in the offensive zone, and fired it on net, and once again, the puck found its way into the net. It was his 11th goal of the year, and he continues to tack on goals to his personal best offensive season.

The game was tied 1-1.

At 9:35 Jack Thompson took a shot from the point that found its way to the goaltender, and Jack Finley grabbed the rebound and roofed the puck into the net to make it 2-1 Crunch. It was Finley’s 7th goal of the year.

At 15:05 in the first period, Trevor Carrick fired a shot from the blue line, and Gabriel Fortier was parked in front of the net and able to get a stick on it. The puck deflected into the net, and the Crunch were up 3-1. The goal was Fortier’s 9th of the year.

At 15:40 Hartford got a power play, there wasn’t much happening, and then Alex Barré-Boulet got into it with a Wolf Pack defender Zac Jones. Jones wrapped up Barré-Boulet behind the net, and then punched him in the face. The on ice officials saw a phantom elbow from Barré-Boulet, and that gave Hartford some extra space on the ice with a 4 on 3. The extra space allowed them to get into the offensive zone and fire a shot on net that Sammy Blais was able to tip into the net to make it 3-2. The first period ended shortly after that with Syracuse having the edge in shots 10-8.

In the second period the Wolf Pack iced the puck early on, and the Crunch got an offensive zone faceoff. After winning the faceoff, there was some incredible forechecking on display between Fortier, Barré-Boulet, and Gabriel Dumont. Fortier was able to steal a puck, get it to Barré-Boulet, who slid it over to a waiting Dumont for a onet-imer to make it 4-2 Crunch and give Dumont his 11th goal of the year.

A few minutes later at 14:20, the Crunch had a great takeaway in the defensive zone, and that led to a breakout rush where Gemel Smith found Lucas Edmonds wide open who then had a clear pathway to the goal. He fired it home, and a day after his birthday he was able to score his 3rd goal of the season and make it 5-2 Crunch.

The Hartford coach had seen enough and goaltender Dylan Garand was pulled for Olof Lindbom.

Lindbom was able to calm things down for a little bit. Hartford started skating a bit better and defending a bit better, and when he was needed Lindbom made some saves. Then Phillipe Myers took a shot from the blueline, and the puck deflected off a Hartford leg and into the net. It was now 6-2 Crunch, and Myers scored his 3rd goal of the season.

To add insult to injury, with 1:25 left in the period, Barré-Boulet skated the puck in and scored his 11th goal of the season to make it 7-2 Crunch. That would make it the period, and the way the Crunch were playing it was pretty much the game. The Crunch had outshot the Wolf Pack 20-9 up until this point, and while they weren’t getting any puck luck last night, everything the Crunch shot on net seemed to find its way past the goaltender.

Hartford was able to get one goal back, but it wasn’t until the game was almost over with 30 seconds left. The final was 7-3 Crunch. The Crunch won the shots battle 24-15. It seemed like an almost reversal in their fortunes from the night before where nothing was going in. Tonight the Crunch shut down the Wolf Pack from all over the ice, and they were the ones struggling to get shots on net.

Sunday’s Game

The Crunch stuck with the 11 and 7 roster format. Rudolf Balcers finished his conditioning stint, and Jaydon Dureau and Lucas Edmonds stayed in the lineup. Hugo Alnefelt gets his second start of the weekend.

This game started and it was all about establishing physicality for both teams. The Bruins were trying to hit everything that moved, and the Crunch were trying to show they would not back down from a challenge.

It didn’t take long for the physicality to work in Syracuse’s favor. Two minutes into the game, there was a scramble in front of the net, and Gemel Smith found the puck and buried a goal for his 13th of the season. He’s currently in second place on the team for most goals.

A few minutes later the Bruins were penalized for hooking, and the Crunch went on a power play. Once the power play established possession in the offensive possession, which they did with a physical forecheck, it was just a matter of Alex Barré-Boulet finding Captain Gabriel Dumont in his office. Dumont scores a ton of goals from right in front of the net, and this goal was no different. The goal was Dumont’s 12th goal of the season.

Alnefelt, meanwhile, was turning aside everything that was coming away with ease. His saves looked so effortless, that at times it was surprising to see how many shots on goal the Bruins had. If Alnefelt was phased, it didn’t show on the broadcast.

About halfway through the period, Gemel Smith dropped the gloves with Bruins forward Joey Abate. These teams faced each other in November, and there seemed to be plenty of carry over from those games where each team had a laundry list of penalties. Whether this bout stemmed from previous animosity or not, Smith did not seem too pleased and wailed away at Abate.

At 16:23 Barré-Boulet controlled the puck and absolutely took over the play. He swung around the back of the net and had a wide open net for a wraparound goal. The Crunch were up 3-0 and Barré-Boulet had his 12th goal of the season.

The first period ended with the Crunch securely in the lead, and with the way Alnefelt and team defense were playing, the lead might as well have been ten goals.

In the second period, the Crunch started collecting penalties, and Ryfors headed to the box for tripping. The Crunch penalty killers caught the Bruins off guard and went on the attack. Phillipe Myers took the puck and flung it on net at the hash marks and scored his fourth of the season. The Crunch were up 4-0.

The rest of the game Alnefelt had a few circus-like saves, but overall his positioning was fantastic, and he seemed to grow bigger as the game went on. It shows with the shots on goal too. Much like the Crunch getting blanked on Friday night, the longer the game went on the more the forwards start to question their shots on net. The Bruins ended the first period with 21 shots on goal, 18 shots on goal after the second period, and by the third period they only had 12 shots on goal. With a goaltender playing like Alnefelt, players start to think a little bit more about making a pass than taking the shot, and that split second difference costs them opportunities. By the end of the game, Alnefelt had a well deserved 51 save shutout.

The Crunch defense did a wonderful job of clearing pucks out of the zone too. It should be noted too that the special teams was fantastic as well. The Crunch killed off 6 penalties. It’s this style of play against a team like Providence, second place in the Atlantic, that’s going to win them more games down the stretch in a quest to make the playoffs.

Coming Up

Lookout, here comes Utica Wednesday night. The Crunch still trail the Comets by 4 points in the North Division standings. Then the Charlotte Checkers come to town for a back to back at home. Charlotte is currently third place in the Atlantic Division with 50 points. The last time these two teams faced each other the Crunch split the games with a win and a loss.