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Chirping the Bench: The "Better Late Than Never" Week That Was.

I'd like to tell you that I've got some kind of pithy opening salvo to fire off here, but I'm fresh out of ideas at the moment. So instead, let's dispense with the witty stuff and get right into it, shall we?

These have not exactly been robust times here in Crunchland. As you read this, it has been eleven days since the team last won a game. It's been an ugly, ugly stretch of road: three shutouts in four games, capped by an absolute gag job last Sunday in Rochester which saw a 4-2 Crunch lead over our most hated and despised rival turn into a 5-4 deficit within the span of 52 seconds. There isn't much that anybody can say to put a polish on that, so instead, I'll just quote the greatest movie of all time: "Anyway, I'm drinking more."

So, where did it all go wrong? From where I sit (and this isn't going to be all that pretty -- be forewarned) two things have become glaringly obvious:

  1. The line of Deschamps, Bonino and Palmieri is fantastic, and one of the more exciting scoring lines in the AHL.
  2. Other than that one line, there's not a whole lot going on for scoring on this roster.

This really shouldn't be any kind of surprise to any of you, considering the Crunch's offensive woes began when Bonino and Palmieri were recalled. It was at that point that we learned this, essentially, is a one line team. Now, don't misunderstand me here, I'm not complaining about recalls. Both guys are mortal locks to be everyday NHL players at some point, and, obviously, the Ducks need to kick the tires on their top prospects from time to time. Besides, both guys were tearing it up down here prior to getting the call -- they deserved the look. However, their absence created an enormous hole that couldn't be filled with any kind of ease. Let's call it what it is -- it's more or less impossible to create that kind of interchangeable-parts-atmosphere with two distinct rosters, no matter how much those rosters have and will commingle. Losing those two guys, but gaining Sexton and Beleskey in return wasn't, for whatever reason, a one-to-one ratio.

Before anyone gets offended...that's not a knock on those two guys. They did their jobs and produced. It's just that, for whatever reason, it wasn't exactly the same. If anything, it illustrates just how difficult it is to keep momentum rolling when a roster undergoes a significant facelift in a short period of time. It's just the way it is, really.

Now, while on the topic of roster changes, let's take a minute to talk about this week's trade. My buddy Dave and I were told on Saturday night to expect some news to hit the transaction wire this week. We assumed that meant a trade to be in the works, and sure enough, it happened the next day. In hindsight, this deal makes a ton of sense for everyone involved. The glut of defensemen on the Crunch roster was no secret, and someone had to go. Looking at the defense a little deeper, five of the six spots on any given night were going to be filled in by the same five guys, which left essentially three guys fighting it out for the last spot. Shifting Nathan Paetsch to forward on occasion alleviated some of that pressure, but in hindsight it was obvious that eight couldn't go into six forever. In the end, Syvret drew the short straw.

On the other side, Patrick Maroon was one of the more curious stories of this AHL season. Here we have a player of obvious talent, but a player told to leave the Flyers organization -- not just the Phantoms, but the entire organization -- for reasons never fully explained. The popular speculation was, as most you probably know, attitude and behavior problems that were making a bad team even worse. For Maroon, this is a fresh start with a new organization, and it seems that the Ducks did their homework before pulling the trigger on this deal. For everyone's sake, let's hope that's the case. In the end, when the Crunch hit the ice on Friday, a full one-quarter of the roster will be made up of guys who were not in uniform last week. That's a pretty sizable percentage, and it will either result in a return to normalcy or an absolute disaster. It really could go either way.

Looking ahead, the boys have another three-in-three weekend, hosting Hershey on Friday night, hitting the road to face the Toronto Marlies Saturday night and returning home for a Sunday matinee with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Hershey, as always, is a dangerous team from top to bottom. However, with a fully stocked Crunch roster, this might be the sleeper game of the night.

(While we're talking about it, might I suggest swinging over to AHL Live and ordering the webcast of this game? I can personally vouch for the quality of the feed -- I made it through an entire Crunch-Wilkes Barre game earlier in the month without having the stream buffer once -- and you have the option of either the home or away audio feed. And really, what would you rather be doing at 4:30 in the afternoon on Black Friday: relaxing and watching a hockey game, or fighting the massive hordes at whatever mall it is you guys have nearest you? This is a no brainer, friends.)

Saturday's roadie to Toronto will see the Crunch taking on a Marlies club that has taken points in eight of their last ten games. The Crunch have historically been competitive at the cavernous Ricoh Coliseum, which is one of my favorite AHL rinks. Being a Leafs diehard, I'm always interested in these games, and it seems the Crunch may dodge a bullet with the absence of Nazem Kadri from the Marlies roster. However, the absurd numbers that Jussi Rynnas has put up in goal for the Marlies this season (1.87 GAA, .939 save percentage in 11 games) will be a massive hurdle to overcome.

Finally, the Hamilton Bulldogs come in to close out the weekend. I won't lie to you, I really don't know a whole lot about the Dogs' roster this season. That being said, the last game of a three-in-three weekend is never predictable, so who knows what will happen here. Hamilton has historically been one of those opponents that, for whatever reason, give the Crunch fits, so I'm hoping for a good matchup here.

If you're looking for storylines this weekend, look no further than the return of Bonino and Palmieri and how they will fare against one of the best goalies in the AHL in Rynnas on Saturday night. Aside from that, it will be interesting to see if the Crunch's goaltending and defense can return to form against a lethal Hershey offense and how the massive infusion of bodies will sort itself out in time for the weekend. For those of you who enjoy a bit of the rough stuff, Mr. Mirasty's dance card could potentially include Grant McNeil and Joel Rechlicz Friday night, along with Jay Rosehill Saturday night. Considering Jonny took a clean loss in his last tilt, expect him to be looking to go with somebody right away. Back on the horse and all that...

That'll do it for me, I guess. I've officially found out that I will in fact be going to Russia for two months in the near future, so our time is apparently going to be finite. I've been offered and have been cleared for an internship at our embassy in Moscow, where I will be doing...well, I'm not exactly sure yet, as they haven't told me. What's certain is that I'll be working for the State Department in some capacity for about ten weeks. I've promised Arthur that I'd help find a substitute in my absence though, so the two or three of you that read my weekly updates won't be left hanging. Ol' MJ takes care of you, baby.


Er, that's it. See you in seven!