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Crunch time: Syracuse starts 2015 off with two victories

by Doug Spencer / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Syracuse Crunch started off 2015 with a bang. Following a loss on New Years Eve at the hands of the Rochester Americans, the Crunch kicked off the New Year with a 2-1 win over the Albany Devils and a 5-4 victory against the Binghamton Senators. The team managed to improve their season record to 22-9-4 as they sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

The Crunch ended 2014 with a hearty effort in a 4-1 loss to the Rochester Americans. Syracuse’s lone goal was scored by defenseman Slater Koekkoek and was assisted by Cody Kunyk and Yanni Gourde. The team was producing chances though, as they fired 31 shots at Americans’ goaltender Andrey Makarov, including 15 shots in the second period alone. Kristers Gudlevskis minded the net for the Crunch and spurned 24 of 27 Rochester shots.

Syracuse then opened the New Year with a tilt in Albany against the Devils. It was an exciting game that required a shootout to determine the victor. Vladislav Namestnikov scored the lone regulation goal for the Crunch midway through the first. Albany proceeded to tie the game minutes later. From then on, it was a battle between two young sensational goaltenders: Syracuse’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and Albany’s Scott Wedgewood. Kevin Lynch would net the game winner in the 10th round of the shootout, which was also the lone goal of the shootout. Vasilevskiy turned in another outstanding performance stopping 35 of 36 shots for the win.

The Crunch continued their road-trip with a stop in Binghamton to face the Senators. The team sprung to a three-goal lead with two markers from Mike Blunden and one from Kunyk. Binghamton responded with four straight goals and looked as though they had the game before Blunden scored his third of the night with 1:10 left in regulation to send the contest to overtime. Jonathan Marchessault would go on to bury the game winner at 6:48 into the extra frame. Kristers Gudlevskis was in net for the Crunch and turned aside 24 of 28 Senators’ attacks. Peter Mannino, who attended the Lightning’s training camp this past September, tended the net for Binghamton.

Andrei “The Giant” reigns

This past week the AHL named Crunch goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy the CCM/AHL Goalie of the Month for December. The rookie starred in five games with the Crunch, going 4-0-1 in that span. He recorded an impressive 1.17 goals against average and an incredible .962 save percentage. The highlight however, was two back-to-back shutouts on December 6 and December 10. Vasilevskiy also skated in four contests with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL, winning his Lightning debut at Philadelphia and recording a 3-1-0 overall record. He also posted solid stats with the Bolts, turning in 1.76 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. Vasilevskiy’s numbers have improved every month as he gains more confidence and familiarity playing the North American-style game. He currently holds a record of 10-3-4 with a 2.25 goals against average and a .923 save percentage with the Crunch. Look for him to continue his red-hot play this week.

Like Mike

Crunch veteran winger Mike Blunden recently recorded a hat-trick in the team’s 5-4 OT win against Binghamton. It was Blunden’s first three-goal performance of the year as well as his first multi-goal and multi-point game this season. Blunden is one goal shy of matching his offensive output for the month of November. Following the big win against the Senators and the key role he played in securing that win, expect Blunden to be looking to pad his goal stats this week.

Homecoming

Syracuse will finish their five-game road trip on Friday, January 9 with a stop in Hartford to face the Wolf Pack (18-12-2). The Northeast divisional game will see the fourth (Syracuse) and fifth (Hartford) ranked teams in the Eastern Conference duke it out. The Crunch are currently eight points ahead of the Wolf Pack for second in the division. Syracuse will make its first appearance at home in 2015 the following night when they host the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (20-12-1). Be sure to catch all the action as the team looks to stay undefeated in the New Year.

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