Chirping The Bench - MJ's Annual Gin-Blossoming: Your Week in Review

MAGICS:
Listen, before we started here, I owe you some kind of apology and/or explanation. I had all kinds of good intentions to get this baby posted a few days ago. However, I ended up with a two day hangover and decided to go climb the highest mountain in New York instead. I'd like to tell you that this is some kind of abnormal behavior for me, but considering I drink and gamble to excess, along with a couple of other bad habits, let's just say I'm Anaheim Calling's cool degenerate uncle -- I may show up late and loaded for functions, but I'll be there eventually. I'll probably say or do something wholly inappropriate when I get there and make some or all of you ashamed, but hey, I showed up, right? Right. Off to it, then...

The Crunch opened up the AHL season with a home-and-home against the Lake Erie Monsters. As part of the league's 75th anniversary hullabaloo, the Crunch and Monsters paid homage to the old Syracuse Stars (first-ever winners of the Calder Cup) and Cleveland Barons, tossing on the throwback jerseys and doing the do. As you probably know, the Crunch dropped the opener on a 3-2 decision. How did this sound to a Crunch fan? Glad you asked!

Yeah, it was a loss to open the season, but it wasn't a disaster. Truthfully, this game hinged on a couple of specific stories: Nick Bonino's injury and defensive positioning. Certainly, the Bonino injury is the biggest of these -- losing a first line forward in the first ten minutes of your season isn't a great way to open a campaign -- but things could have been far, far worse. Bonino has declared himself ready to go for this weekend's games and seems to have shaken off any ill effects from a mild concussion after what has been described as a borderline cheap headshot by Patrick Bordeleau.

After Bonino's departure Friday evening, the story of the night was certainly the Crunch defense. The best description I can give is that it was a study in dualism. The defense sounded outstanding in the first thirty minutes of the game; sticks and bodies blocked a ton of Lake Erie shots, the hits were plentiful and hard, and the Monsters were kept off their game in the offensive zone. I'm not exactly sure what went wrong in the second half of the game, but the defense began to fall apart by the end of the second period, and was awful in the third. The inability to find the net at the other end of the ice made matters worse -- the Crunch ended with 15 shots for the night. In the end, it wasn't a horrible whitewash, but it was a game that just felt like the Crunch should have won, but didn't, for various reasons.

The Crunch opened the War Memorial for business the following night with a few lineup changes. With Festerling called up and Bonino out of action, Benn Olson made his season debut, and J-P Levasseur got the nod between the pipes. Although the end result was the same -- a one goal Crunch loss -- this game truly was the J-P Levasseur Show. Outshot by 30 or so, the Crunch were able to steal a point in overtime solely on Levasseur's performance. I can't say it any clearer than this: Levasseur kept this game from being a blowout loss and kept the Crunch within striking distance all night.

Of course, "striking distance" would imply that the game was actually close. Yes, it was a one-goal loss, but the story here was the Crunch's inability to find the net. Make no mistake about it, friends, this was one ugly offensive performance: 14 shots for the night, and not a single legitimate scoring chance in the shootout. Ugly? Yes. Alarming? A little bit, sure. Panic-inducing? Not just yet.

The story of the week here in Syracuse is that Mark Holick planned to spend the week on getting the offense on track. From my seat, the problem was simple and all too obvious: the Crunch spent far too much time looking to make the pretty play, passing it three times when one pass would do just fine. Indecisive shot selection led to plenty of missed opportunities (and, by extension, an absence of shots) and, at times, it seemed that no one actually wanted to shoot the puck. Holick knows this team isn't built for You Tube-worthy finesse, and has made it clear that these guys need to play to their strengths -- size, strength and mass. Translated: if these cats are going to make a run at it this season, the majority of their goals are going to need to come from within five feet of the goal mouth. This much is certain.

This weekend sees the Crunch traveling east to Glens Falls to take on the Adirondack Phantoms on Friday night, and then return home to open up the season series with the Binghamton Senators. The Bingo game should be at least entertaining, as it will be the season debut for one Jon Mirasty. With Francis Lessard looking to drop the gloves for the Sens this season, one can rightly assume that Mssrs. Mirasty and Lessard will get down to a bit of this:

 

Of course, that's not going to put the puck in the net, and with Corey Locke in a Bingo jersey this year, scoring goals is going to be crucial here. You're not going to beat many teams by a 1-0 score in this league, and Binghamton certainly fits that description. However, I'm inclined to feel good about this weekend. Holick's been working out the offense, Bonino is good to go, and a fellow by the name of Niedermeyer has been in town this week to fine tune the defense. Sure, picking up one point out of four isn't the way to kick ass right out of the gate. That's alright, though. No team has ever been bounced out of the playoffs before Columbus Day, so I'm not too worried. Yes, there are some things that need to be improved upon ASAP, but there's still plenty of good here, no matter what the local mittenstringer says. I'm telling you, don't listen to a word that guy says. 

Now, for the fun stuff. Opening Night is always a special time, in that it allows us to reconnect with those casual acquaintances we only see at the rink. We all have them -- for me, it's the one guy who scalps tickets outside on State Street. He's an affable sort, the kind of guy who's always ready with a soul-brother style handshake for the men and a smile for the ladies. As is the custom, I gave him the first blast out of my flask for the evening, which was featuring a rather sizable amount of Jameson's at the time. From there, my buddy Dave (whom I've sat next to for years now) and I met up with the always lovely Regina, who offers us a deep discount (that is, free) on our beers during the game. We rang up three or four 32 ouncers, each for the princely sum of ten dollars in the tip cup before moving on to the flasks. Somewhere, in all of this, I had the following exchange with my dad:

Me: "They had someone from Geico out in the hallway giving out hats. I got you one."

Dad: "Great, thanks."

Me: "They had black or tan, so I got you black."

Dad: "Good. You know who wears tan hats? Guys who go to the rub-and-tug after spending the morning playing golf."

For the record, that's probably the least offensive thing my father has said in weeks.

In the end, opening weekend was exactly what it needed to be. It got us all back in the saddle for another long ride. We got to kick the tires on the new faces that will make Syracuse home this season, and all in all, this seems like it's going to be the right kind of team for this town -- big, physical and eager. Yeah, it would have been nice to get a couple of wins from the get-go, but they'll come in time. It's easy to see the potential out there, and I'm excited to see it come together.

Last, but not least, your Video and Tweet of the Week. First, courtesy of the always phenomenal Down Goes Brown, an all too honest take on the Wisniewski-Avery kerfuffle:

Look, if the NHL really wants to make sure that Wisniewski never ever does that again, there's only one foolproof option: Marry him.

Look around you. All the married guys are knowingly nodding.

And finally, your Video of the Week, courtesy the legendary Iron Maiden. If I had any say in things, this would have been the Crunch's theme song this season, instead of Styx's Renegade:

That's all for now, friends. See you next week.

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