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Weekly Syracuse Crunch Roundup

by Staff Writer / Tampa Bay Lightning

Last Week

Fri., Oct. 18 - Crunch vs. Binghamton - L, 6-2

Sat., Oct. 19 - Crunch at Binghamton - W, 4-3

This Week

Fri., Oct. 25 - Crunch at Utica - 7 p.m.

Sat., Oct. 26 - Crunch vs. Bridgeport - 7 p.m.

Need to Know

- The visiting team won both ends of a Syracuse-Binghamton home-and-home series in Week 3.

- The Crunch play the Comets for the first time Friday in Utica and host the Bridgeport Sound Tigers Saturday.

- Nikita Kucherov led Syracuse with four points in Week 3; Vlad Namestnikov and Matt Taormina had three.

The Crunch capped Week 3 with its most complete performance yet, silencing Binghamton on the road, 4-1, having been overwhelmed by the Senators the night before at home, 6-2.

Syracuse (2-2-1-0) remains at a .500 points percentage (fourth in the division and ninth in the conference) heading into Week 4 when they will again play two games: Friday in Utica against the Comets at 7 p.m. and Saturday at home against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at 7 p.m.

Saturday at the War Memorial Arena is 'Pink in the Rink Night' presented by Upstate University Hospital. 'Pink in the Rink' tickets are $17 with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the Upstate Cancer Center and Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund.

Syracuse and Utica rivalry to be revived

Not since Mar. 16, 1977, have pro hockey clubs from Syracuse and Utica done battle. The Syracuse Blazers beat the Mohawk Valley Comets 4-2 that final night of the NAHL regular season, just months after "Slap Shot" concluded filming at the Onondaga County War Memorial and Utica Memorial Auditorium and only weeks before the Blazers won the North American Hockey League's last Lockhart Cup.

In that '76-77 season, the Blazers won 12 of 14 meetings with the Comets, outscoring Mohawk Valley 86-58 en route to a 48-22-3, first-place finish. After a first-round bye to begin the playoffs, Syracuse ousted the Erie Blades in five games and swept the Maine Nordiques in the finals to win its second NAHL championship. The Comets, 29-42-3, lost in Round 1.

Syracuse and Mohawk Valley were NAHL members for the four seasons the league existed from 1973 to 1977, and prior to that, the storied Eastern Hockey League. The Clinton Comets (1954-73) were five-time EHL champs, while the Blazers (1967-73) took home their lone Walker Cup in the league's final season.

When the American Hockey League came to Utica for the first time in 1987, there was no franchise in Syracuse. The Utica Devils relocated after the 1993 season, a year before the Crunch launched their inaugural campaign. The Comets' reincarnation occurred this summer when the Vancouver Canucks purchased and relocated the Peoria Rivermen.

Hot start for top line

Right wing Nikita Kucherov posted two points Friday (1g, 1a) and two more Saturday (1g, 1a), leading the Crunch in Week 3 with four points. His eight total points (5g, 3a) lead AHL rookies and are tied for sixth overall. Kucherov's three power-play goals are tied for most in the league.

J.T. Brown's three assists have all come on Kucherov goals, including one Saturday. Brown's lone goal (versus Rochester) was assisted by Kucherov and Vlad Namestnikov.

With six points (3g, 3a), Namestnikov is third in team scoring. The second-year pro has goals in three straight games, the longest streak of his career. The tally he potted Saturday in Binghamton was his first career regular season game-winning goal-both of his 2013 postseason goals were game winners.

Skating as a trio for the last four games, the Brown-Kucherov-Namestnikov combo has produced nine goals.

Celebrating scoring... and a birthday

Matt Taormina, who turned 27 years old Sunday, has at least one point in each of his first four games, totaling seven points. It's the best four-game stretch he's had in a Crunch uniform; he collected one assist in four straight games last March. The defenseman's longest career scoring streak is six games (6a), Jan. 3-13, 2010, with Lowell.

His three multi-point performances this season are more than he had in 73 regular season and playoff games for the Crunch in 2012-13. He had a one-goal, one-assist game Nov. 2, 2012 and a three-assist showing in Game 3 of the first round playoff series vs. Portland, May 2. For his career, the Michigan native had three multi-point games in '11-12 and eight in '09-10, altogether 16 in his 200-game AHL career (playoffs included).

The sixth-year pro is currently second on the Crunch in scoring at seven points (1g, 6a).

Special Teams

In Week 3, Syracuse was 3-for-10 on the power play and 4-for-6 on the penalty kill.

For the season, the Crunch power play is 8-for-28, second in the AHL to Texas's 10 power-play goals. By percentage, Syracuse is third (28.6%), with only Binghamton (30.4%) and Texas (30.3%) operating more efficiently.

On the penalty kill, the Crunch have allowed seven power play goals; four teams have surrendered more. By percentage, the Crunch are 29th in the league (70.8%) on the PK. Only Providence's mark is lower (68.8%)

Though Syracuse did not score shorthanded in Week 3, the Crunch are one of 10 teams with more than one shorthanded goal (2).

First goal

Though they've managed a lead in each of their five games this season, the Crunch have scored the first goal in three, recording points in each (2-0-1-0) for an .833 points percentage.

Last season the Crunch were 35-3-4-2 in the 44 games they scored first, the best points percentage in the AHL (.864) and 15% better than the league average.

Syracuse managed to score first-period goals in both Week 3 games, after potting zero opening-frame tallies in the first three games of the season.


Game 4: Binghamton bowls over Syracuse, 6-2

Vlad Namestnikov's second goal of the season, scored on the power play almost 17 minutes into the game Friday, was the earliest Syracuse had scored a goal in any of its first four games. That tally, assisted by Nikita Kucherov and Matt Taormina, erased an early Senators lead. Mike Hoffman's first of two was the product of a five-on-three power play. The Crunch took a lead of their own in the second with their seventh power-play goal of the season: Kucherov from Namestnikov and J.T. Brown.

For the third time in four games, the Crunch surrendered the lead. For the second time in a row, that lead was given away in stunning fashion. The Senators scored the last five goals unanswered, with three goals on eight shots in the second and two more on six shots in the third. The Crunch pummelled Sens netminder Nathan Lawson with 42 shots, but the veteran made 40 saves for his third win in three starts.

Chris Wideman had three assists for Binghamton, while Buddy Robinson, Wacey Hamilton, Andre Petersson and Matt Puempel had one goal each. In his season debut, Stephane Da Costa collected two assists, as did Mika Zibanejad. Cedrick Desjardins stopped 14 of Binghamton's 20 shots in his second start against the Sens this season.

Game 5: Crunch complete contest cripples Senators, 4-1

Syracuse played its most complete game of the season Saturday in Binghamton, earning its first road win, 4-1. The victory snapped a two-game losing streak in which the Crunch were outscored 12-5. The turnaround effort saw the Crunch take a lead and extend a lead, rather than surrender it, as had happened in the team's three losses.

Artem Sergeev's first-period power-play goal in the first put the Crunch ahead, the third time they've scored a game's first goal this season. Though late in the second a Chris Wideman shot was tipped past Riku Helenius (first by Shane Prince, then by a Crunch defender) to tie the game, Syracuse responded with a three-goal third.

Vlad Namestnikov was set up for the ultimate game winner by tic-tac-toe passing from Matt Taormina and Nikita Kucherov. Seven minutes later Kucherov supplied insurance with his fifth goal of the season on a rush with J.T. Brown. Cedric Paquette capped the scoring with his second goal of the year less at 15:38. Matt Taormina had created a turnover so Paquette could race in alongside Evan Rankin.

Taormina's two assists give him seven points in his first four games (1g, 6a) trailing only Nikita Kucherov's eight (5g, 3a). Namestnikov is third at six points (3g, 3a).

Riku Helenius notched his second win (2-1-0), making 26 saves while Nathan Lawson suffered his first loss (3-1-0) allowing four goals on 32 Crunch shots.


Crunch at Utica-Friday, 7 p.m. (ESPN Radio)

For the well-traveled Crunch, a Friday ride on the New York State Thruway will terminate at an unfamiliar exit: Utica. Friday's game is the first of four meetings between the Crunch and Comets. Utica plays in the Western Conference's reshuffled North Division along with Hamilton, Lake Erie, Rochester and Toronto.

The Comets are still looking for their first win after three games. The Vancouver affiliate, the first AHL club in the Mohawk Valley since the Utica Devils skipped town in 1993, has been outscored 13-7 by Rochester and Albany.

After three road games to begin their AHL tenure, the Comets play their next six games at home, starting Wednesday against Albany and continuing Friday against the Crunch.

Pascal Pelletier leads the Comets with six points (2g, 4a) and is the only player with more than one goal. Rookie Alexandre Grenier has five points (1g, 4a). Former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin Benn Ferriero is minus-5 with one assist. Goalie Joacim Eriksson from Gavle, Sweden, in his first year in North American pro hockey, is 0-2 with a 4.08 GAA.Merrimack College alum Joe Cannata allowed four goals in his only game.

Crunch vs. Bridgeport-Saturday, 7 p.m. (ESPN Radio)

Bridgeport is 1-3-1-0 to start the season, coming off an overtime loss to the Binghamton Senators at home, 6-5. The Sound Tigers don't play again until Saturday's spat with Syracuse, their only game this week.

The Sound Tigers beat the Crunch twice in two meetings last year and have won four straight since 2011. When they last quared off (Apr. 12 in Syracuse), Rick DiPietro allowed two goals on 30 shots but Brock Nelson scored the game-winner in overtime for a 3-2 Tigers win. On Saturday, Nelson was reassigned to Bridgeport by the New York Islanders.

Rookie Ryan Strome leads the Sound Tigers with six points (1g, 5a) in their first five games. Anders Nilsson has Bridgeport's lone win (1-2) with a 3.96 GAA. While Kenny Reiter is 0-2 with a 3.24 GAA.

Matt Taormina had a pair of assists to lead all returning Crunch scorers against Bridgeport last year. Crunch captain Mike Angelidis dropped the gloves in both games the teams played last season.

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