This season has gone back and forth more times than a tennis ball at the US Open. Just this past week, we've seen uplifting, inspiring wins with Emery backing the team, and sucky, sucky hockey without him. It's become increasingly obvious that this team is a group of haves and have nots in terms of talent, effort, productivity and drive. We're grateful for the haves but really wish the have nots would go elsewhere and do something different with their lives. The haves are good news for Ducks fans, as it means you have some selection if you need to call someone up. The have nots are bad news for us all.
- Nate Guenin: Guenin has turned out to be a bit of a diamond in the rough for this team. Lately, he is clearly our best defensemen. Sometimes it seems like he's our only defenseman, to be honest. He's been noted by other players as one of the loudest on the bench, one of the guys who just seems to know what to say to lift the team up. The last two nights, both JP and Timo have had everything thrown at them but the kitchen sink. Guenin has been working hard and trying to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, as he's the only d-man to fall into this category of players who "have" it, that's a lot of slack.
- David Laliberte: Laliberte took some uncharacteristic penalties last night, but otherwise had an extremely solid weekend. I think the penalties came from him trying to overcompensate for those players not doing their jobs. He's always driving the net, trying to work the angles, skating hard, doing his best. He's really stood out these past few weeks, and has been one of the few guys on our roster to come back from injury bigger and better than before he got hurt. Although his efforts only amounted to one goal between Friday and Saturday, this guy is one I'm hoping we can hold on to. Edit, 10:28 PM EST Sunday: Spoke too soon, as news came down this evening that Laliberte was traded to the Bruins organization for an enforcer (and, yes, Mirasty is still tied by contract to Syracuse) and a d-man. The Allokago curse strikes again.
- Nick Bonino: It took him a bit, but I feel like we finally have the "old" Nicky back. I'm not sure if it's the line he's playing on or if his comfort zone in the AHL has finally been found, but Bonino has been looking more and more like the player we had in the beginning of the season during the last few weeks. In his past four games, he's netted one goal and three assists, but the effort he puts out almost counts for more than his four points. Last night, he was one of the few guys out there visibly giving his all, so much so that after the final horn he stayed slumped over his knees at center ice for about twenty seconds, just to catch his breath. The effort is obvious, and we hope soon he'll be better rewarded for that in terms of points.
- Nicolas Deschamps: Deschamps hadn't made me notice him much during the first part of the season. I knew he was there, but he was just sort of hanging out in the background. Well, not anymore. In the last four games played, he's netted 2 goals and three assists. He's working harder and obviously pushing himself to be better. It's good to see.
The Have Nots:
- Joe DiPenta: You all don't know how much it pains me to put defenseman Uncle Joe on this list, but I just gotta do it. I gotta. He's given me no choice. Ever since he came back from injury, his play just hasn't been the same. It's been hesitant, less physical, less captain-like. I can't tell you the last time he blocked a puck. It's gotten to the point now where I don't even want him on the ice, because I swear to God he's been offering to score goals for the other team. I can almost see him saying, "This way, sir. Would you like me to stuff that biscuit in our net, sir? Very good, sir." It's disturbing. I hate it. I've been a heavy DiPenta fan all year, but I've had enough of this new style. I want the old Joe back, damn it.
- Mat Clark: Ever since my mid-season reviews came out, Clark had improved his game dramatically. He's impressed me quite a bit, which is great, since he apparently has a good game in him somewhere. However--perhaps because his linemate is sucking lately--his game took some huge steps backwards this past week. He, much like DiPenta, has been letting players just walk in on the net, scoot around him, and score. It's killing us. I want the new Matty back, not this old guy that has slid back into the locker room.
- Mark Mitera: This defenseman basically has the same problems as the other two on this list. He's 6'3", and yet he refuses to use his body to get the other team off their game and away from our net. It's incredibly disheartening. The only way he seems to be able to defend is by drawing a penalty, as evidenced by his 14 PIM in our last 10 games.
- Stefan Chaput: Can we please get rid of this forward? (Edit, 10:28 PM EST Sunday: Ha...I'm psychic.) He's a turn-over machine, he can't make a clean pass to save his neck, and he is obviously sucking the life out of our offense. Combined with both his former team and the Crunch, for the whole season, Chaput has three goals and seven assists. He has done nothing during the past month, and only has 1 goal and 1 assist in the last two months. Just saying his name leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and it's not because his last name is pronounced Sha-poo. Edit, 10:28 PM EST Sunday: Chaput was also involved in the trade that went down. I'm not sorry to see him go, but I'm very disappointed Laliberte went with him. I don't really see a gain in this trade. We have an enforcer who doesn't score coming in (when we already had an enforcer who doesn't score--and was also arguably the best in the AHL--sent away by ANA), along with a so-so defenseman. In return, we traded a huge energy player and Chaput. No like it.
Everyone else kind of falls in between here. Some nights they're okay, some nights they're not. I'm leaving the goaltenders out of this, mostly because it's become painfully obvious that this team plays differently depending on who is in our net. It isn't fair to the puck stoppers on the bench to peg them into something like this when the team plays so differently with each of them.
When Emery was in net, this team was confident and incredibly hard-working. As fans, they made us want them to win. You couldn't help but cheer for them, because they were working so hard they made you. Tuesday night, the Crunch won in a shootout against a really good Charlotte Checkers team. The game was intense and yet the Crunch didn't crack, not once. Emery looked solid and the team played like he was solid.
But yet, with Timo and JP in net, most of the Crunch fell back into bad habits. They lost their confidence and their drive, and they withered out there. Friday night was a fiasco. Bingo was missing their entire first line due to call ups, yet the Crunch couldn't hold on to a 4-2 lead going into the third. We allowed 5 unanswered goals during that final period. Saturday night, the Crunch was out-played, out-hustled and just plain destroyed by a more talented Hamilton Bulldogs team. Although the final score was only 3-2, it felt like it should have been 10-2. The Crunch kept the crowd behind them somehow--I will say that Crunch fans tend to come out no matter how bad the team is, I guess to our credit--but it didn't seem to make a difference, except to those few players noted above who worked hard the whole weekend.
I think that's what a lot of Crunch fans are frustrated with now: for most of the season, the team as a whole seemed to work pretty hard. You couldn't really fault the effort we were seeing, even though we weren't getting the results we wanted. But lately it's been made clear whose head is still in this and who is already playing golf. As fans, we rather feel we deserve more than that. It's not like we were the ones who got us into this mess, and we're not the ones who can lift us out of it. We want to! We'd love to! But, it doesn't work that way.