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Crunch report: Syracuse looks to regain first place

The Lightning's AHL affiliate relinquished its hold on the North Division after going 1-2 in Week 24

by Press Release / Syracuse Crunch

Syracuse was 1-2-0-0 in Week 24 and relinquished their months-long hold on the North Division lead. After a 5-1 loss Friday vs. W-B/Scranton and a 5-1 win Saturday vs. Utica, the Crunch (33-23-6-5) fell in Toronto Sunday, 4-0. The Marlies slid into first place, displacing Syracuse for the first time since Nov. 29. The Crunch play the Marlies twice at home this weekend, but first visit last-place Binghamton Wednesday.

Top Performers

Cory Conacher had double the production of any other Crunch player in Week 24 with four points (2g, 2a) in three games. Conacher posted his team-leading 14th multi-point game Saturday vs. Utica with two goals and one assist. He returned from a four-game absence Friday with an assist vs. W-B/Scranton. His scoring streak was halted Sunday at six games (4g, 8a).

Conacher has 56 points (16g, 40a) for the season, tied for fifth in the AHL and most on the Crunch. No one in the league has scored more points since Dec. 31 than Conacher: 40 points (12g, 28a) in 30 games.

Michael Bournival posted a shorthanded goal Friday and notched an assist Saturday. He had not scored a goal for Syracuse since Nov. 25. He had points in three straight games until Sunday. He has 16 points (6g, 10a) in 33 games for Syracuse with two shorthanded scores.

Byron Froese returned to the Crunch lineup in Week 24 after a stint with Tampa Bay. He scored his team-leading 27th AHL goal Saturday vs. Utica. Sunday in Toronto, Froese played his 200th career AHL game.

Yanni Gourde scored his second career NHL goal Tuesday, the overtime winner for Tampa Bay against Chicago. The Bolts are one point short of a wildcard spot with seven games to play. They host Detroit Thursday.

Defenseman Libor Hajek, the 37th overall pick in June, made his pro debut Friday. He skated in all three Week 24 games with an even plus-minus and three shots on goal.

Team Notes

Three players have appeared in more than 90 percent of the 67 Crunch games to date this season: Matt Taormina (62), Ben Thomas (62) and Mike Halmo (61). Two other available players have appeared in at least 80 percent: Dominik Masin (60) and Matthew Peca (59). Of the 39 skaters who've seen action with the Crunch this year (excluding goalies), the median number of Syracuse games played is 33. Last year it was 49.

Syracuse's penalty kill jumped from 14th (82.3 percent) to eighth (83.3 percent) after an 18-for-18 effort last week. The PK is 92.9 percent over the last nine games. Michael Bournival's shorthanded goal Friday is the team's 11th of the season, third most in the AHL (SJ, 14; TEX, 13).

Syracuse's shutout loss Sunday was its second scoreless showing this season. The team was blanked Jan. 21 vs. Utica, 4-0. Fourteen other times Syracuse was held to one goal, posting an 0-11-2-1 record in those games. The club's goal differential has been in the red since Feb. 18 and stands at minus-6 entering Week 25.

Twelve times this season the Crunch have played a game with more than three days rest (four or five days without a game). The team is 2-7-0-3 in those 12 games and 0-6-0-3 in the last nine (since Nov. 11).

Syracuse completed its fifth and final three-in-three weekend of the season in Week 24. They were 1-3-0-1 on Fridays, 5-0-0-0 on Saturdays and 1-4-0-0 on Sundays.

Upcoming: Binghamton, Toronto

The Senators, who host the Crunch Wednesday, rank last in the North Division, 13th in the conference and 29th in the league at 25-38-2-2 (.403). Binghamton leads the 10-game season series with Syracuse with four wins in seven meetings. The Sens have two wins in their last 16 games (2-13-0-1), with one vs. Syracuse.

Colin White, Ottawa's first round pick in 2015, was added to the Binghamton roster Monday. The Boston College standout is slated to debut vs. Syracuse. White, 20, had 76 points (35g, 41a) over two college seasons.

Binghamton's top scorers are Phil Varone (46 points in 56 games) and Jason Akeson (45 points in 49 games). Max McCormick leads the team in goals (20). Casey Bailey has four of his 19 goals and seven of his 33 points against the Crunch. Matt O'Connor (12-17-2, 3.28) is 3-1-0 vs. Syracuse with 12 goals against.

The Marlies, who beat the Crunch Sunday in Toronto, do not play again until a two-game set in Syracuse Friday and Saturday. The Marlies regained first place in the North Division for the first time since November when they beat the Crunch. 

Cal O'Reilly leads the team at 48 points (9g, 39a). He has six assists in seven games since being acquired from Rochester. Since Byron Froese was shipped to Syracuse, Andreas Johnsson has taken over as the club's top goal scorer at 20. Garret Sparks, who is 3-1-0 vs. Syracuse including Sunday's shutout, was recalled by the Maple Leafs Monday. Kasperi Kapanen (43 points in 43 games) was also recalled.

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