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Chirping the Bench: We Got 99 Problems...


Hey, y'all!

Boy, there's a whole heap of discontent going around this organization, isn't there?

Unfortunately, I'm not bringing much good news here. While I don't exactly have the time or stamina to outline 99 problems, there are a few bones I would like to pick with the way the Crunch is performing. As our Excellent Editor pointed out last entry, it seems like there's a rather eerie pattern emerging on both sides of the country. From what I've read around the web, both teams are struggling in the same ways. Although the two teams are clearly learning the same system, it still seems strange that their problems mirror each other so directly.

Just how directly?

Current record: 7-6-2-1

Divisional standing: 4th

Conference standing: 12th (top 8 make the playoffs)

Top producer: Patrick Maroon (8G, 9A)

Most goals: Kyle Palmieri (10 G, 4A)

Roster moves during the last two weeks:

  • J.F. Jacques (LW) went up to ANA and then came back
  • AHL/ECHL player Ryan McGinnis (D) was signed to an AHL contract
  • AHL/ECHL player Michael Ratchuk (D) was signed to a PTO. (From his Twitter, it sounds as though he's been released)
  • Nick Bonino (C) was returned to get himself back into shape after his knee injury
  • Nate Guenin (D) was called up and has not been returned
  • Peter Holland (C) was returned
  • AHL/ECHL player Derrick LaPoint (D) was signed to a PTO, but released after two games

Problem: Goaltender Iiro Tarkki is fantastic, goaltender Jeff Deslauriers scares the pants off us

Commentary: Coming into this season, Crunch fans were leery of Tarkki, as he was one of the few "unknowns" facing us. Although he came with a stellar recommendation from the Anahiem organization, the fans were gun shy after last year's goaltending debacle that left us floundering and frustrated. Tarkki, however, has proven to be as solid as a brick wall. His clear vision and acrobatic saves have sometimes been the only exciting thing worth watching. He gives us something to cheer for many a night, no matter what the rest of the team is doing. The problem is that he can't play ever game. As much as we'd like to ride him until the wheels fall off, that just isn't a good developmental strategy. (See: Steve Mason and the CBJ organization)

While Tarkki's out there being fantastical, Deslauriers, someone we thought was going to be our number one, is riding the pine and getting rusty. This clearly shows when he does finally get a chance to play. Friday night, Tarkki stole a win right out from underneath Hershey's nose. Saturday night, during his first start in five games, Deslauriers made a few amazing saves but then couldn't stop the easy ones from getting by him. We need him to be more predictable, more stable when he plays. Yea, it's hard being the back up, especially as he probably wasn't expecting to be in that position. But this is hockey. Someone has to sit while the other plays.

Problem: Swiss-cheese defense

Commentary: Holy SOG, Batman. Although I'm rather hard on Deslauriers, I'll be the first to admit the blame needs to be spread around a bit. Our defense has not been giving our goaltenders the support they deserve at all. In the past two weeks, the SOG for the other team have been as follows:

Team (parent club) SOG
Adirondack Phantoms (PHI) 42
Hershey Bears (WASH) 41
Rochester Americans (BUF) 44
Albany Devils (NJ)  37
Adirondack Phantoms (PHI) 28

Win or lose, that's a lot of shots for goaltenders to face. Tarkki played four (HER, ROC, ALB, ADK) out of those five games. Our defense has to start shutting down the other team's offense, and they need to start doing it soon. As you can tell by the transactions, the Crunch has been trying to fill in gaps through PTOs and AHL contracts. I'm not exactly asking for another veteran defensive defenseman like Guenin, wouldn't hurt. Barring that, these guys have to start being more physical in their own zone, get opposing guys out of our crease, and start pushing the big guns around. We won't survive at this rate.

Problem: Struggling offense

Commentary: On the flip side of the equation, the Crunch's offense hasn't really been getting the job done lately, either. About a month ago, the Crunch was third in the league in SOG. Although I haven't done research, I'd bet we've fallen significantly in that category. In the past two weeks, our own SOG have amounted to:

Crunch SOG team vs.
27 Adirondack Phantoms (PHI)
28 Hershey Bears (WASH)
24 Rochester Americans (BUF)
20 Albany Devils (NJ)
28 Adirondack Phantoms (PHI)

In the 4 games the Crunch was outshot, the combined average comes out to be a deficit of 25 SOG. That's unacceptable considering the amount of "on paper" talent the Crunch has. It's insane that guys like Maroon, Sexton, Palmieri, Bonino, etc. are allowing their team to get outshot by that much. The pattern is a disturbing one.

Problem: Short-term memory loss

Commentary: One of the things I've noticed about the Crunch as a whole is that their memory retention is very, very short. Three weeks ago, they were energized because they had spent all week working on the PP. The were ready to go, and scored like six goals that weekend while a man up. Clearly, that may have had something to do with their opposing teams' penalty kills, but the guys were excited that their hard work had payed off. We all felt a huge step forward had been made.

This past weekend, however, the PP wasn't looking so shiny. Friday night, they looked pretty good. Our two goals scored that evening were both PP goals. But Saturday night, the PP was spotty and unsure. Bryan Rodney's frustrating lack of defensive skills while on the PP led to a short-handed goal for ADK that became the eventual game winner. The momentum shift caused by that goal was something the Crunch never really recovered from. I believe the PP has given up three shorties so far this year. They couldn't set anything up, had a hard time finding shooting lanes, and could barely keep it in the zone. It was scary to watch, especially since ADK wasn't really working that hard against us.

In addition to this, the Crunch also has a difficult time retaining effort. Friday night, the team went ape all over Hershey. The forecheck was going strong. There were hits and shoves and pushing, and Hershey was never really able to find their game because of the constant physicality the Crunch was showing. They didn't give them an inch to grab, and their hard work eventually paid off in the shootout (the Crunch nabbed their first SO win that night).  The game was exciting - even thrilling - it felt like we had life again. Saturday night rolls around, and it's like we have a different team playing for us. Everyone was slow getting to the puck. The PP was lazy. Play around the net was sloppy. The guys just looked disinterested, as if they had something better to be doing. It was amazing and disturbing at the same time.

Which brings me to...

Problem: Conditioning

Commentary: I've never played hockey. Although I do work out, it's nothing like that these guys go through and do each and every day and each and every game. For me to comment on what the team needs to do specifically to build up their stamina would be insane. But, I do feel it's within my ability to say that when the Crunch is playing physical, it doesn't take very long before nearly every player starts to look noticeably gassed. By the time the end of each period comes, the players are done. Those moments are when things get pretty scary.

I've never really seen this before, when it's been this obvious. I've also noticed that whenever the Crunch does play physical, they almost always wimp out for like three games after before the can rev up the physical again. It's uncanny.

This obviously makes me wonder: does something more need to be done to get these guys into better game day shape? Is there something that isn't being done organizational-wise that could help the players last longer, get that final push, play nearly every game the way they should? To me, it's insane that these guys see what works one night, and yet refuse to replicate it the next night. It makes me wonder if it's not a matter of refusing to, but more a matter of not being able to handle that kind of demand. I've seen other hockey teams do it night after night and not struggle this much. What's happening here?

I do wish I had more answers. I hope things start to climb back upwards soon. Thanks for joining me. I'll see you all again in two weeks, hopefully with better news. Happy Thanksgiving!