We all know the beginning of this season was rough. But I'll tell you all, the end is looking mighty pretty, even if the Crunch was "officially" eliminated from the playoffs this past week. If Syracuse and Anaheim are still affiliated next year--and to be honest, I'm pretty sure we would have heard something by now if we were sliding out of this deal early--the last two weeks have given Crunch fans many things to look forward to for next season. I really don't know what has put the spring into my boys' step, but I don't really care. It's there, we're finally seeing good hockey, and things are going well.
One of the things that was most disturbing about this team through most of this season was the way they would respond after a win. Although most teams use wins as momentum builders, as tastes of what's to come, as the base for something awesome, this team would usually respond after one win by dropping three or four games in a row. The Crunch has only managed to amass four consecutive wins. Those four wins came in the last month. Up until then, the most wins we had mustered in a row was three. Currently, we have a four-game home winning streak going on. At home, the most consecutive wins we had up until this stretch was two. For some reason, the Crunch just couldn't manage to lose a game, win a few after that, lose one, and then go back to winning.
Thankfully, March has changed all of that. We are 9-4 for the month of March, with one game left Sunday afternoon at Bridgeport. This is the best monthly record we've amassed all season, by far. The Crunch's records for the other months of the season are as follows:
Wow. You know, you never realize how bad you are until you see it laid out like that. Ouch.
Anyway, uh, as the numbers clearly show, March is our first--and only--winning month this season. By a lot. No wonder we're all so grumpy.
The good news is that many of us are not feeling very grumpy right now. Many of us are high on players like Kyle Palmieri, whose 7 points last weekend got him the AHL Player of the Week nod for the second time this season. Kyle also currently has a six-game points streak going on. I must say, it feels really good to be able to watch him get his game back on track.
Palmieri isn't the only reason the Crunch is winning, however. This job is just too big for one man to do alone. Our forwards are finally stepping it up and scoring on a regular basis. The Crunch scored 12 goals in two games this weekend. Those goals were scored by Nick Bonino, Maxime Macenauer (3 goals on the weekend), Patrick Maroon (2 goals on the weekend), John Kurtz, John Mitchell, Brian McGrattan, and, of course, Palmieri (3 goals on the weekend). Virtually every line we have scored at least once between Friday and Saturday. This is astounding for this group of guys, considering their 186 goals scored this season is the second lowest in the league.
This sudden scoring flood is doubly good, since our defense is still basically Swiss cheese. Our 225 goals against is easily among the top five highest in the league. JP faced 75 shots between Friday and Saturday. He definitely looked a bit shaky on Saturday, allowing four goals as compared to two the night before. But, with high SOG numbers like that, I can't really blame him. There's only so much energy a guy can have.
Speaking of the goaltending, we have seen improvements in the play of both JP and Timo. Although neither one of them is number one material right now, they're getting the job done working together, and that's really all we can ask of them. Watching them, it's clear that they're seeing the puck better and are playing with confidence. Rebounds are still causing major issues for both of them, but we all know how steep that learning curve is for a lot of goaltenders.
I can only assume that the increase in their level of play is due to having a full-time goalie coach here. If the Crunch is stuck with a Timo/Bobkov tandem next season, as I highly suspect it will be, the first thing ANA needs to do is hire a goalie coach. When you have two young guys, you need someone at the AHL level with them all season. It's made such a difference in the way these two play, even in the month or so Ray Emery's dude has been working with them. Had we had someone here from the beginning, some of those lopsided numbers up there might have looked a lot better.
That's the report from Syracuse this week. As the season winds down, I just want to say that I honestly hope Syracuse and the Ducks are still affiliated next season. Although this year clearly didn't go the way we wanted, I still believe that there are great players in Anaheim's system who can and will benefit from the Syracuse organization, its stability, and its fan base. I've become acquainted with a lot of great fans from Anaheim, people who have allowed me to get comfortable with the new affiliation and to see what's special about ANA. This is not something I could ever have said about Columbus. I think if the Ducks make themselves work with Syracuse next season, make themselves do what they said they would and really be responsive to what's going on in a decent amount of time, then we could have an amazing partnership.
Whatever happens, I hope it turns out for the best for us all. Good luck this week, everyone. I hope the playoffs continue to be an exciting possibility for the Ducks. You guys n' gals deserve a post season.