The ride known as the 2011-2012 season has finally started, and the Crunch six games into the season. We are in a much better position than we were last year at this time, that's for sure! Although there are some kinks becoming evident, things are definitely looking up for your beloved Ducklings.
Here's a look at some numbers, areas of awesomeness, and areas of concern:
Current Record: 3-1-1-1
Power play unit: Kyle Palmieri (F), Patrick Maroon (F), Nick Bonino (F), Bryan Rodney (D), Mathieu Carle (D). Troy Bodie (F), Peter Holland (F), Nick Schaus (D) and Dan Sexton (F) have spent time on our PP the last two weekends. The Crunch is clearly trying to find a combination that works.
Penalty kill unit: Nathan Smith (F), Jean-Francois Jacques (F), Mat Clark (D), Sean Zimmerman (D). In absence of Zimmerman (injury) Saturday night, Carle spent time on the PK, as did Rodney. Rick Schofield (F) and Nate Guenin (D) also showed up on the unit this past weekend.
What we're not worried about:
Our first line of Kyle Palmieri, Patrick Maroon, Nick Bonino. These three (to be henceforrth referred to as Palroonino) are tearing up the scorecard with nothing short of opening season scoring gluttony. Palmieri has scored in every one of the Crunch's games, totaling 8 goals. Bonino has 1 goal and 8 helpers. Maroon has 4 goals and 4 assists. As a whole, the team has scored 19 goals, and Palroonino has scored 13 of that 19.
Our PK. After an initial bit of tinkering, this unit was just about a solid as we could want Saturday. They went without allowing a man-up goal. They cleared the zone most of the time, and weren't afraid to use their bodies or take abuse when they didn't or couldn't. We're now pretty confident when our PK is out there, and the team plays like it. Sunday things went wonky, but, to be honest, pretty much everything went wonky Sunday. (As I type this, it's the start of the 3rd and the Crunch are down 5-0 against Washington's affiliate)
- The goaltending. The Crunch appears to be solid in net this year. Woohoo! Jeff Deslauriers hasn't technically lost a game (although he was pulled after letting in five goals against arguably the best team in the AHL this past Sunday). Iiro Tarkki has made it through two full games in regulation without losing twice before ultimately falling, once in OT and once during a shootout. Sunday's loss also went to him, as he was the ending goaltender. Unfortunately for Tarkki, he hasn't managed to catch a break when it comes to pressure, but that doesn't mean Crunch fans are worried about his performance. I've only seen him play once, this past Saturday, and I was very happy with what I saw. He moves quick and does what he needs to do to stop pucks. Both 'tenders appear to be unshakable--they bounce back really well, even after giving up a soft goal. They both appear strong psychologically, which is often half the battle with players in this position.
Troy Bodie. After an initial "Oh dear God, we didn't expect this, what do we do now?" moment when Brian McGrattan was claimed off of waivers by Nashville, Crunch fans have quite liked Fluffy's replacement. Bodie has shown to be even more versatile than Fluffy, a player who showed surprising scoring ability after he was assigned to the Crunch last year. Bodie has logged time on our special teams and is getting a fair amount of ice time. He has also been named an alternate captain for the season. It would be nice, however, if he and JFJ would step up the physical police presence a bit.
- Nate Guenin. Guenin was the anchor our blue line was waiting for. He's been named captain for this year and has immediately made his presence known. His defensive skills have been very welcome, especially as our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th line struggle to produce.
- Recovering from deficits. Last season, the Crunch seemed to find deficits, no matter how small, insurmountable. This season, we don't seem quite as phased by deficits, although the 5-0 hole the team put itself into on Sunday was clearly an understandable--through frustrating--exception. The Crunch has come from behind several times and won this season. Although it's not exactly a desirable position to be in, it happens in hockey. Being able to come from behind is an important mindset this team needs.
What we are slightly worried about:
- Our other three lines. To be frank, there's not a lot going on in our other three lines. The majority of the goals, shots, and effort are all coming from our first line. That's fine right now, but eventually something is going to give somewhere. Palroonino is going to get worn out. One or two are going to called up for the Ducks road trip. [Ed. Note: JF Jacques and Patrick Maroon were called up Sunday and Monday, respectively.] Inevitably, someone is going to go down with an injury. [Ed. Note #2: Sean Zimmerman out two weeks with knee injury] They can't continue to be forced to play at this same level of intensity. It isn't fair to them and doesn't put the team in a secure enough position for a 76-game season.
- Our PP. When Bryan Rodney was brought in over the summer, he came with an impressive credentials list from the Hurricanes' organization, including a line about being a power play quarterback. This was good, as it was a piece the Crunch was desperately missing last year. Unfortunately, Rodney isn't living up to his reputation. Saturday night was his worst appearance yet this year. Rodney made visible mistakes, was a turn over machine, and never once was able to get a shot off from the point. The Crunch is spending too much time chasing pucks and passing when on the PP, something that was a major problem last year. They're still searching for that perfect shot, when most of our success comes through just shoving the puck at the net.
- High pressure situations. The Crunch can't seem to keep their focus during high pressure situations. They've given up three goals in three separate games during the final five minutes of the third. They've also given up one OT goal and lost in a shootout. At Hershey on Sunday, they gave up a goal in the final seconds of the first period. The team needs to work on keeping their heads in the game during those crucial ending moments of each period.
- The Crunch signed Reading Royals (ECHL) defenseman Derrick LaPoint to a PTO Sunday afternoon. My assumption is that this comes after Sean Zimmerman was injured during Friday night's home game. I don't believe there's been an official statement about this, but he was the only d-man of note missing from the roster Saturday and Sunday. He has one assist with the Royals in one game. His +/- is an even 0.
- Nick Schaus, a D-man on an AHL contract, was the only Crunch player to score on the power play Saturday night. Although not eligible for a call up at this moment due to his contract status, he might be someone to keep in the back of your minds. He's been pretty good in the three games played with the team. He's had previous AHL experience with the Worcester Sharks.
That's where it looks like from where I sit. Just a bit of forewarning for you all: after the rather atrocious showing by the boys Sunday, I'd stay away from any sites involving the Post Standard. Apocalyptic theories will abound, I can promise you, and it'll probably tick you all off. It's better to just not get involved.
Good luck on the road trip, Ducks! GO CRUNCH!