Chirping the Bench: Playoff Fever

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Although it isn't official yet, I'm about to write a sentence I really never thought I would this season:

The Crunch have all but punched their playoff ticket.

With three games left, all to be played in a 3-in-3 this upcoming weekend, the Crunch's magic number to be in the playoffs regardless of what anyone else does is 5. That roughly translates to needing 2.5 wins out of the three possible. Should the Crunch slip once, they have a little bit of a safety net built in thanks to the fantastic run they've been on lately. March was a magical month for this team, to be sure. The war isn't won, but the battles have been fought with victory usually achieved. A post season is so close now we can taste it. Things are still incredibly tight, as you'll see, but we really can do this!

Record (W-L-OTL-SOL): 35-28-5-5 (In a fun comparison, as of 2/28/12 we were 22-25-4-4)

Divisional standing: 4th

Conference standing: 7th (up 1 spot since last update, top 8 make playoffs)

What does the whole playoff picture look like?

Conference standing Team name Points
6 Connecticut Whale 84
7 Syracuse Crunch
80
8 Manchester Monarchs 77
9 Portland Pirates
77
10 Adirondack Phantoms
76

Top producer: Patrick Maroon, 73 pts. (32-41), 3rd in the league

Top goal scorer: Kyle Palmieri (33 goals, 2nd in the league in goals, 20th in total scoring)

Roster moves during the past two weeks:

Injury report: Mark Bell returned to the line up this past Saturday. He hadn't played a game since February.

In case you missed it:

  • Peter Holland was named the AHL Rookie of the Month for March. During that time period he was good for 18 points and a plus-12 rating. Here is a link to a local news affiliate talking about the award.
  • Rick Schofield was awarded the IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year award. This award is one that's selected by each player's respective club for their outstanding contributions to the local community and charitable organizations during the 2011-12 season. From the list of finalists, representatives from IOA/American Specialty and the AHL will choose the winner of the 2011-12 Yanick Dupré Memorial Award.
  • The American Hockey League named Kyle Palmieri to the 2011-12 AHL First All-Star Team. Basically, two top lines of players are chosen from across the league by the AHL, and Palms was named to the best line. You can read more about this through this release from the Crunch's Official Site.

End of season reports: The Defense

  • Mat Clark: You all got a little preview of what Clark can do at the end of this season. Down here in Syracuse, Clark was huge this year. He was sorely missed when he was out with injury, but came back like a force when he was healthy again. This season he has seriously learned to use his 6'3, 205 lb. frame to his advantage. He plays a physical, fast game. I expect great things from him.
  • Sebastian Erixon: Erixon was picked up in a deadline trade. He hasn't played a game for us as he was injured when we traded for him, so I really have nothing to say. His contract is for two years, so I'm guessing he was more of an insurance pick up for next season. I have no idea whether he could see some playoff time or not if he gets well.
  • Matt Smaby: I love me some Smaby. Up until he was injured recently, his presence made up for the departure of Mark Fraser at the deadline. Our blue line has been visibly weakened by Smaby's absence, although the guys are learning to step up to take his place. Before he went down, Smaby was at a +12 and was a huge part of our now-slightly-floundering PK line. It'd be amazing if he could come back for playoffs. Smaby will be a UFA after this season. I'd assume an offer will depend largely on ANA's defensive situation during the summer and where he thinks his best chances to get back in the NHL.
  • Ryan McGinnis: Although he probably won't be seeing NHL minutes for at least another year, McGinnis' learning curve has been much shorter than many anticipated. I talked a few months ago about keeping an eye on this kid, and after seeing him play some serious time the past few weeks given various call ups and injuries, I can only stress it more. In 27 games with the Crunch, McGinnis is at a plus-10. Although he doesn't pack an offensive punch, he plays a safe game defensively and makes very few mistakes. He's very useful on special teams. I see a lot of promise in him.
  • Kyle Cumiskey: After the bust that was Bryan Rodney, Cumiskey has quietly stepped up to fill the role of offensive defenseman in a way that even I can't find fault in. Cumiskey is your classic two-way defenseman, someone who can make the plays to get the points while also playing a strong, lock-it-away defensive game. I've really enjoyed watching Cumiskey grow this season. In 53 games with the Crunch he has 6 goals, 23 assists, and a plus-1 rating.
  • Gabe Guentzel: I haven't seen Guentzel play that much considering his ATO status, but what I have seen has been pretty solid. He isn't really noticeable, but that can be good in a defenseman. He has no points in 9 games played, and a -1 rating. He'll have some more time in the A--or maybe even another year in juniors, I'm not really sure of his plans--to develop.
  • Sean Zimmerman: Very strong defensive player. Zimmerman has been a leader on the blue line with the continued absence of our captain Nate Guenin. He has 1 goal, 6 assists, and a plus-12 rating. Unfortunately, I believe he's injured at the moment, but hopefully he'll be able to come back for playoffs. Zimmerman will be a UFA after this season. His call up value might be diminishing, but his experience at this level could be extremely valuable next season for the Ducks' AHL affiliate.
  • Mathieu Carle: Carle has been one of the Crunch's Iron Men this season, playing in 69 of the team's 73 games. He's also been racking up a ton of points. In that span of 69 games Carle has 6 goals and 31 assists. He has a plus-six rating and has served time on both the PK and the PP. He will be an RFA after this season. I'd expect an offer.
  • Nick Schaus: Schaus reminds me a lot of Mat Clark last year. He shows a lot of promise, but sometimes--and maybe too often for his own good--makes those "what were you thinking?!" mistakes. Schaus has a lot to learn, but he also came really far this season with the 42 games he spent with Syracuse. This is Schaus' third year bouncing between the AHL and the lower leagues, though last year he spent almost the entirety of the season in the A. He'll be a UFA at the end of this season, and I kind of doubt he'll be back with the organization next year. His contract this year was an AHL-only. If he does return, I'd assume he gets the same treatment next year. I don't really see any immediate call up value in him. He has 4 goals, 4 assists, and a -6 rating.
  • Andy Thomas: Thomas has only played in two games for us. I only saw one of them and I don't remember him at all. He has no points and a -1 rating in those two games combined.
  • Ryan Hegarty: Hegarty is on our roster, signed to an ATO, but has yet to play a game.

There's a lot of promise in this d-core. There really, really is. With Nate Guenin gone almost the entire season, these guys have had to struggle to find their own ways, and most of them did. Once Bryan Rodney was weeded out, many of them were given the chance to shine. Clark, Cumiskey and Carle made the most out of that chance, but McGinnis also may prove useful in the future.

I'll probably post after next weekend to give the big picture about how everything turned out and what we'll be expecting. I'll also post my impressions of our goaltending squad then. Thanks for hanging in there with me, everyone. Have a great week and, if you'd be so kind, please keep your fingers crossed for us and your prospects!

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