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Chirping the Bench: Ducklings Better Than Ducks (Sorry)

The AHL season is about a third of the way through. The Crunch still appears to be struggling for an identity other than "inconsistent," which still is about the only label that can be applied to our homely group of misfits right now. We know there's talent there. We know they can score goals, be physical, hustle. We know Iiro Tarkki kicks ass in net. We're not really sure they can defend, to be honest, but most of the pieces of a hockey team are actually in place this season. It can be very exciting to watch, but it can also be extremely frustrating when they don't play to their potential, which is what we see pretty much every other game. [Ed. Note: Sound familiar, yet again?]

The nitty-gritty stuff after the jump.

Record (W-L-OTL-SOL): 10-8-2-1

Divisional standing: 4th

Conference standing: 10th (up 2 slots from two weeks ago, top 8 make playoffs)

Top producer: Patrick Maroon, 20 pts. (10-11)

Top goal scorer: Kyle Palmieri (13 goals)

Roster moves during the past two weeks:

  • Jean-Francois Jacques (LW) was recalled to the Ducks
  • ECHL/AHL'er Kevin King (LW) was recalled and then returned to Elmira of the ECHL
  • Brandon McMillan (C) was sent down to the Crunch from the Ducks
  • Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers (G) was recalled to the Ducks
  • Timo Pielmeier (G) was recalled to the Crunch from Elmira of the ECHL
  • ECHL/AHL'er Michael Ratchuk (D) was officially released back to Elmira of the ECHL

If the season were to end tomorrow, the following players would be honored (well, some would be honored, others would be just embarrassed) with the following awards:

Best Addition: Ryan McGinnis, defenseman. McGinnis has played in six games for the Crunch since being signed to an AHL contract on 11/18. He has never had a bad game. McGinnis has played fairly sparingly in the AHL for teams like Manitoba, Albany, and Norfolk. I'd say he's carving out a pretty good place for him here on the Crunch. He blocks shots, he keeps the puck out of where it doesn't belong and in where it does. He pretty much does everything you can ask of an AHL defenseman. Besides my affinity to his last name due to a pretty awesome Batman cartoon of my youth, I like this guy for his play.

Most Digressed Game from Last Season: John Mitchell, left wing. This man is almost painful to watch. He came into the season late due to injury and just has never quite recovered his game. He always looks lost, like he doesn't know what he's doing out there. Somehow he has managed to score 2 goals and 3 helpers in 12 games, but we could easily replace him with pretty much anyone on this earth and get the same contribution. The frightening thing is that his clueless play often creates more problems in terms of turnovers than anything else.

Most Improved from Last Season: Mat Clark, defenseman. You all have been telling me what potential Clark has for about a year now. While polite on the outside, I've privately been wondering about the water out there in the glorious state of California. [Ed. Note #2: Meth and pretentiousness.] I just wasn't seeing what you wonderful people had seen. This season, however, Clark is finally looking like someone praise-worthy. He's really worked hard on his moves. He can steal pucks right out from under the noses of some of the best forwards in the A. Although he sometimes makes the same old horrible mistakes, we all do. Perfect games are not expected, and the moves I've been seeing have been more than making up for the few miscalculations that occur.

The Invisible Man: Sean Zimmerman, defenseman. Last night, the Crunch dressed 6 d-men, as usual. Zimmerman was one of them. At some point towards the end of the first period, the morning paper tells me, he was injured in the lower body area and left the ice never to return. Not only was I unaware of him leaving, I was also unaware of his absence for the rest of the game. In my opinion, looking back at the match, the D played better with five players without him than it does with six and him out there.

He Has Cojones , Boys and Girls!: Kyle Palmieri, right wing. The Crunch is racking up something interesting this season: Gordie Howe Hat Tricks. Jean-Francois Jacques, a player you'd assume might get the honor of scoring a goal, an assist and a five-for-fighting penalty in one night, got one back on 11/23. Last night, Palmieri stepped up to the plate with his own version of this feat, scoring the eventual game winner, getting an assist on the Crunch's second goal, and winning a fight against Baby Pens' player Ryan Craig. Somehow, in this crazy season, Palmieri's fight was probably the best we've seen so far. Someone messed with Tarkki, his stick ended up about three feet away from him, and Kyle just went off. It was very impressive.

Nice on the Outside, Mean on the Inside: Patrick Maroon, left wing. When Maroon came to the Crunch last year from the Flyers' org., he came with rumors of a bad attitude and an unwillingness to conform to team expectations. We didn't see any of that during the 10-11 season, and to some extent we're not seeing much of the latter. The former, however, is slowly starting to manifest itself. Thankfully, it's not negatively impacting the Crunch's season, although we wish he'd use a bit of discretion when he decides to show his inner colors. Maroon has a temper, a nasty one. He can score to back it up, which is great, but he's been showing more and more this season that he sometimes has a hard time controlling his anger. He's blown a gasket once or twice, starting fights, going after guys, chirping at them enough to respond. It's been interesting to watch the man who constantly throws pucks to kids over the glass go after guys during the games. And here we thought he was all marshmallows and sprinkles last year!

Welcome Back, Jack!: Brandon McMillan, center. McMillan's first game back with the Crunch in a year was rough. He looked a bit dazed Friday night. (Of course, the whole team looked a bit dazed, so who am I to judge?) I think you could tell he was frustrated with the (well deserved...) send down. Whatever happened between Friday and Saturday must have been something good, because he was looking more like himself the following game. He scored his first goal of the season, jump-starting a game that was sliding slightly towards Wilks Barre-Scranton in terms of pressure. In an interview with Sports Radio 1260 after the game, he said he was thrilled to get that monkey off his back, even if it wasn't in the arena he would have liked it to be. We don't judge guys we get here very harshly as long as they play. McMillan would be lying and insulting our intelligence if he came down and said he was thrilled to be back in the AHL after spending a glorious year with The Show. But if he works hard and pushes himself past his disappointment, then we'll embrace him like anyone else.

At the end of the day, we're hanging in there. I think we're crawling towards what might be a good post-season, but consistency needs to be in the soup for that tasty meal to occur. The Crunch has yet to put together a string of more than two wins in a row. We've only put together two wins in a row twice. They counter awful games with great ones, which is encouraging, but less suckfest would be appreciated.

I give the Ducks a lot of credit for not yanking up half our roster when their November went off the rail. These guys still have a lot of work to do. I honestly wouldn't say any of them are NHL-ready. Maroon has a nasty temper and needs to work on his stamina. Palmieri might be getting there, but it's been very refreshing to see the Ducks hold to their promise to let him develop. They're banking on him, with good reason. He's working hard. You'll be seeing him full time next year, I bet, something to look forward to.

There's the scoop, fans! Good luck with your new coaching staff, have fun with our assistant. We'll see where this all goes!