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Chirping The Bench: A Tale of Two Teams

Let it never again be said in Anaheim that NHL fans shouldn't care about what goes on in the AHL. This past weekend was, I think, a painful lesson in Farm Team Economics for us all.

The moral here? In this story, supply almost always needs to exceed demand. When it doesn't, things turn bad, and they turn bad fast.

I feel bad for the Duck fans. I do, really. I feel your pain. We've been watching Timo struggle all year, and I know it must have been painful to have to deal with it last night. I felt my stomach do an unpleasant flip-flop when it was announced at our game that he was in yours. I had a hope that he'd pull through, but I knew in my soul that he just wasn't ready. It really sucks that this thing will Hiller had to happen, especially at this point, which I know is a crucial moment in your playoff hunt.

The organization itself, however, gets none of my pity. Absolutely none.

This all could have been avoided. The Crunch was promised a veteran goaltender, and we certainly weren't supposed to get him in February. No, we were supposed to start the season with a solid number three for the organization in our net. Yet, for some reason,* that didn't happen. We've been left with two young goaltenders, two goaltenders that have earned 18 Crunch wins between them--not including Emery's win last night--in 55 contests. 18 wins out of 55 games. As of Friday night, we had only won 33 percent of our games.

Now, granted, the goaltending hasn't been the only problem. I've always been a fan of goaltenders, so I've also always hated the "teams win, goaltenders lose" attitude. There's a lot more wrong with the Crunch than the goaltending, and I've talked about it all before here.

However, goaltending is something--as you all well know--that can make or break a season. You could, technically, have a weak offense but yet still win games, as long as your d-corps was strong. You could, technically, have a weak defense but yet still win games, as long as your offense was strong. However, unless your offense is scoring 9 times  a night and your defense is a brick wall, your team isn't going anywhere with shaky goaltending. It just doesn't. We've been living that reality here, and it has finally caught up to the Ducks in a big way.

We've been reassured by our owner that Anaheim has learned a lesson here and won't sack us with two young goaltenders again next season. It's not good for Syracuse, and it's not good for the Ducks, not at all. I don't think Anaheim has actually said anything to this effect publicly, but I'm sure they see why an organization needs a solid number three in the AHL, for both our sakes.

Last night's Crunch game was amazing. Shocking. Ridiculous. It was almost too good to be true, to be honest. We haven't seen hockey that good in years. Granted, Rochester isn't much better than we are this year--their record is 25-27-3-2, while ours is 19-30-2-4--so it should have at least been a close match. But a 7-1 score for the good guys was not, in any way, shape, or form, what I expected to come out of that game with.

Now, a few notes on individual players:

Matt Beleskey was atrocious this weekend. Personally, I thought he was the weakest player out there Friday night, regardless of the two points he managed. He was sloppy, unfocused. He took weak shots, had horrible passes, and just didn't look like he actually wanted to play hockey. It was extremely noticeable, and he sort of looked like he was going down that road last night until he took a puck to his upper body and left the game, never to return. I guess he's getting an MRI today. I'm not sure what's going on with him, but I very much hope the Ducks look at more than just the score sheet if they need to call somebody up any time soon.

Nate Guenin was a defenseman who I was unsure about a few weeks ago when I wrote my mid-season reviews, as he was a fairly new player and the Crunch hadn't been home enough for me to really assess him. He already had a black mark against him in my own personal book, as he was described to fans as a "better (because he's younger) Dan Smith." Those of you who know me well probably just cringed as you imagined my reaction to such a statement. Those of you who didn't know Mr. Smith...well, just trust me, those are some really big shoes to fill.

However, Guenin took a decisive step towards filling those shoes Friday and Saturday. His game was nothing short of fantastic. He was physical. He made the big hits. He protected the blue line. He was in our crease, blocking shots. He was visible, and it was for all the right reasons and none of the bad. He made me sit up and pay attention every time he hit that ice.

David Laliberte has successfully cemented himself as my "player to watch and love" this season. He scored an awfully purdy goal last night and played a true 60 minutes of hockey game. He was physical. He did what he needed to do. He took shots; he made really great plays and passes. I was very impressed with him, both games.

We finally had these guys stepping up and doing what they need to do last night. Our 7 goals were scored by 7 different players. I've been harping on this team's tendency to only shoot from the point and to always aim at the goaltender's chest. Coach Holick says he has been, too.  Although, personally, I think the team's fantastic performance has more to do with the fan forum that was held Friday night than anything I or Holick has said.

Here's a link to a transcript of it from Lindsay Kramer's blog, if you haven't read it.  In short, our owner was very insistent that this team is under-performing, and that such a thing is unacceptable. But, is it possible that the entire team finally deicded to listen to Holick, and the fans are wrong about the coach? Who knows, right?

Whatever the reason, there was a different feel to this team last night. The team we saw Friday was unenthusiastic for most of the game. They looked like they'd rather be elsewhere, maybe eating that meatball sub I talked about last week. They were handed their 4th loss in a row that night and landed themselves in sole possession of the title Worst Team in the League. Those in attendance couldn't help but feel the same way. It was actually described by one fan as watching a hockey game in a morgue.

Although the win last night only leaves us tied for the Worst Team in the League title, it was a small step forward.

I won't lie. Emery's performance had a lot to do with last night. The team played with confidence, as if they just knew their goaltender would stop whatever came his way. And he did, except for one goal I know he wishes he could have back. He looked a heck of a lot better last night than he did Friday. He was more confident, more secure, more steady. He gave the team the boost we needed. It's too bad we didn't get this kind of help sooner. We all might be better off.

Here's hoping better times are ahead, for both teams.


*Editor's Note:  The Ducks had acquired Joey MacDonald in hopes of putting an AHL veteran in their next farm team's net, but the veteran netminder had no interest in playing for the Anaheim organization.  It seems there was no Plan B, as was the case with Jason Jaffray, but there was definitely a Plan A.