Secret Weapon. Code Name: Crouching Tiger
Well, Anaheim fans, your prospects did good.
I'm sure you all are aware of this by now, but the Syracuse Crunch punched their playoff ticket Sunday, in a down-to-the-wire win over the Albany Devils. John Mitchell and Emerson Etem (with his first professional goal) scored in the 2-1 road victory that felt more like a home game with Crunch fans rocking it in the stands. Syracuse is aflame with playoff fever!
As promised, I'm here with our usual end of the season report, in addition to a preview of our first round series with the St. John's IceCaps starting Friday. I'll also review our goalies from this past season, as I haven't done that yet. Grab a beer and come on in!
Final regular season record: 37-29-5-5
Final place in the conference standings: 7th
Record for our last 20 games: 15-3-1-1
Top scorer: Patrick Maroon, 74 points (32-42), 3rd in the league and 6th highest point total in Syracuse history
Top scoring defenseman: Mathieu Carle, 37 points (6-31)
Top defenseman, +/-: Mark Fraser, +13
Top defenseman, +/-, who is still on the team: Sean Zimmerman and Matt Smaby tie at +12
Peter Holland's rank among league rookies: 4th, 60 points
Note: I chose not to include Antero Niittymaki's stats here because he was just a loan and is no longer a member of the organization. Although he is technically still on our roster, he has been returned to the San Jose organization and is healthy scratched every night. You can find his AHL stats here.
Attendance total over 36 games: 199,354
Attendance average over 36 games: 5,246
Note: our arena is considered "sold out" when attendance hovers around 6,500. I will have the number of sell outs once the front office gets back to me with that information.
Iiro Tarkki: What can I say about Tarkki that hasn't already been said? This guy is one of the main, if not the main, reasons I'm writing this today in a really, really good mood. Tarkki went 13-2-0, with a 1.99 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage during our last 20 games. His game is practically unflappable. He has been brilliant in almost every shootout the Crunch has had this season. He sees the puck in ways I haven't had the pleasure of watching since Karl Goehring left town. I foresee big, big things in this guy's future, and no one deserves it more. I wish you all could have seen Tarkki on Sunday in Albany. Crunch fans started up a chant with his name towards the end and kept it up when he came out to accept his first star of the game accolades. He was just pleased as punch. Any concerns about him adapting to the North American game have long dissipated. I'd even hazard a guess that he will be your back up next year. He's just that good.
Igor Bobkov: Although some of the shine came off Bobkov's AHL record recently, he has still been very impressive during this final run and was the fairly reliable back up Syracuse needed to catapult themselves into the playoffs. Bobkov has more developing to do, but I would guess he will be in the AHL next year. He deserves a spot with your farm team. His large frame fills the net, and yet he doesn't seem to fall into the pitfalls tall goalies sometimes do. He's light on his skates and quick to recover after going down. He needs to work on his rebound control and timing, but all of that will come with more time spent at the professional level.
Marco Cousineau: Before Bobkov was able to leave juniors, Crunch fans felt okay with the job backup Cousineau did. The main problem with Cousineau seems to be confidence. When he's down, he's way, way down. When he's up, he's amazing. He had some fantastic games and some awful games. I'm sure he'll develop just fine in time, but I'm unsure of Cousineau's position in the organization. If he can't make the AHL next year, he's going to face some stiff competition to stay in the Ducks' long term plans with John Gibson coming down the pike.
Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers: At this point, you all know more about JDD than I do, so I really don't have much to say. I'm curious to see what the Crunch are going to do with him. Because Bobkov was added to the roster from juniors, he can continue to back up Tarkki even though he isn't on our playoff roster. I think the fact that the Crunch didn't even dress JDD this past weekend is rather telling. I'm honestly thinking we're going to continue to carry three goaltenders and run the playoffs with Tarkki and Bobkov. I'd assume JDD will be seeking his fortune elsewhere once the playoffs are done.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals - Series "B" (best-of-5)
2-St. John's IceCaps vs. 7-Syracuse Crunch
As you can see, round one of the Calder Cup playoffs is a best-of-5 series. NHL owners were concerned about the length of our season, so last summer they asked the league to consider several changes to our schedule. One change was to cut the number of regular season games from 80 to 76. Another was to make the first round of the playoffs a best-of-5 match up instead of best-of-7. Obviously, the league agreed to both requests. Should the Crunch make it further, they will face each team in the final three rounds in best-of-7 series.
The dates are as follows:
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 20 – St. John’s at Syracuse, 7:30
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 21 – St. John’s at Syracuse, 7:30
Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 25 – Syracuse at St. John’s, 6:00
*Game 4 – Fri., Apr. 27 – Syracuse at St. John’s, 6:00
*Game 5 – Sat., Apr. 28 – Syracuse at St. John’s, 6:00
[Ed. Note: IceCaps are the farm team for the Winnipeg Jets.]
Playoff injury report:
Forwards Luca Caputi and Peter Holland both went down this past weekend with unspecified injuries. Caputi went down in Rochester Friday night after a rough hit, and Holland went down Saturday night after taking an elbow to the head. No word yet on whether they will be healthy to play this weekend, but Crunch fans definitely have their fingers and toes crossed. On Monday night, Crunch broadcaster Jason Lockhart posted a list of "healthy" Crunch players and the amount of playoff games they've had. Caputi was on that list. That's about the only hint we've had, but we're hoping it means he's good to go. Nathan Smith has been out since November. I have no idea if we'll see him or not.
Defensemen Sean Zimmerman and Matt Smaby have been out with injuries for the last few weeks. No word yet on when they'll be able to return. Nate Guenin has also been scratched with the orbital bone fractured he sustained while playing for the Ducks. He won't be able to play unless the Crunch make it deeper than the first round. Sebastian Erixon was acquired with a concussion at the deadline and has yet to come back from that injury. We haven't seen him play. [Ed. Note: Genius move by Murray acquiring a guy with a concussion. Not sure if he checked on the severity first. Sigh.]
The skinny on the series:
Although Syracuse had the lower seed here (7th to St. John's 2nd), St. John's chose to have the series start on the road. The IceCaps are located an hour ahead of Syracuse in Newfoundland, and as they finished their season in the States they figured it made sense for them to start away before going home and dealing with the time change and the travel. The Crunch was only too happy to oblige them. I think this is fantastic for us. Starting this series at home may just be the key to a round one victory for this team. Syracuse is coming off of a fantastic 20 games, half of which were at home. The Crunch need to make the most out of those two home games!
St. John's and Syracuse played four times during the regular season. Syracuse led that series 3-1, with one victory coming in the shootout. The other two wins were in regulation. As the AHL playoffs do not have shootouts, all OT rounds are twenty minutes. The Crunch is going to need to find a way to win games in clutch situations without relying on a one-on-one drill. However, the Crunch should feel pretty confident in their ability to handle this team. If we can get a few players back from injury, things will look even brighter. As long as they stick to the game plan they've been using, where everyone contributes and the goaltending is solid, this should be an exciting and close series. I predict the Crunch win it in four games!