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Chirping the Bench: 9 more rounds 'till we get a KO

Well, color me surprised.

As I pointed out last week, the Ducklings are proving me wrong left and right, and I'm so thrilled I can't even find it in me to be mad.

You all aren't going to believe this.

Nope. Not one bit. You're going to call me a liar. You're going to wonder what drugs I've ingested recently. You're going to accuse me of losing my mind. I know all of this, but yet I am duty bound to report the following:

The Syracuse Crunch are actually in a playoff spot.

Yes, you read that right. With 9 games left in the regular season, the Crunch are, for the first time since the end of November, in a playoff spot. I haven't even known what to do with myself the past week or so. The knowledge that this team has battled so hard they've managed to push and shove their way into the top 8 of the Eastern Conference has me all tied up in excited knots.

And it has been a battle. The Crunch has managed to amass 19 out of a possible 22 points in their last 11 games. Almost all of those games have been come-from-behind wins. Before that stretch, the Crunch had only won four games when going into the third trailing. Now, it seems like the Crunch just has to look at the net the right way during that period to score. They have the second-best past-10 record (8-1-0-1) in the league right now, beaten only by Norfolk. That team has won their last 20 games in a row (no, that isn't a typo), so I'd say we're in pretty good company.

The usual numbers and the like after the break. Also, I break down the rest of our offensive squad. The next 9 games are going to be a wild one for those boys!

Record (W-L-OTL-SOL): 31-27-4-5

Divisional standing: 4th

Conference standing: 8th (up 6!!!! spots since last update, top 8 make playoffs)

What does the whole playoff picture look like?

Conference standing Team name Points
6 Bridgeport Sound Tigers 75
7 Manchester Monarchs
8 Syracuse Crunch
9 Springfield Falcons
10 Worcester Sharks

Top producer: Patrick Maroon, 68 pts. (28-40), 4th in the league

Top goal scorer: Kyle Palmieri (32 goals, 16th in the league)

Roster moves during the past two weeks:

  • Marco Cousineau (G) was returned to the CHL to make room for the return of Igor Bobkov (G). Bobkov played in our last two games, starting Saturday and coming in to relieve a struggling Iiro Tarkki Friday. He has a 1-0-0-1 record so far, playing well in both games.
  • Gabe Guentzel (D) was signed to a PTO to try to fill some holes on our blue line.
  • Ryan O'Marra (C) was returned to the Crunch from ANA.
  • John Kurtz (LW) was added to the roster once the recall of Kyle Palmieri (RW) was made official.

Injury report: Matt Smaby (D) went down with a hand injury this past Friday night, and will be out for a while. Mat Clark (D) returned to the line up after a lengthy injury-related absence. He has been a welcome addition and christened his return with the most physical, demanding play we've seen out of him all year.

End of season reports: The Forwards, pt.2

  • Patrick Maroon: I'd say Maroon is a front runner for Most Improved this season, and that's no insult to where he was coming into this year. His play has just gotten that much better. At the end of the '10-'11 season, Maroon had a respectable 21 goals and 27 assists in 57 games with the Crunch. As I said above, Maroon currently has 28 goals and 40 assists in 66 games played this year. He's been invaluable when making plays. He sticks up for his teammates. He logs precious special team minutes. He's been increasing his play in the crease, a sacrificing position this team has lacked all year. If Maroon can work hard this summer at keeping his conditioning up, something the Ducks have been encouraging him to do since he first came over in a trade from the Philadelphia organization, then I'd say he could log quite a few NHL minutes in the future. He'll be an RFA at the end of this year. I'll be very surprised if he doesn't get an offer.
  • Troy Bodie: I must admit, I wasn't satisfied with Bodie's play for much of this season. It just didn't seem like he was the Fluffy replacement we thought he would be. He wasn't protecting his teammates. He certainly wasn't showing the surprising scoring touch that Fluffy showed at the end of last season. He was just kind of there, nothing special, just there. As I watch him more and more now, I'm beginning to wonder if Holick was rendering him ineffective, because Bodie has flourished under Associate Coach Yawney. With the current crop of call ups, Bodie carries an "A" on his chest, and he's carrying it well. His voice is heard constantly out there, and I get the impression it's also being heard quite loudly in the locker room. His physicality has increased. He's gotten into quite a few impressive scraps lately, just at the right moment. He's protecting our scorers and making it so guys like Maroon can stay out of the box and on the ice where we need them. He has 5 goals and 9 assists and is an invaluable penalty killer. Bodie will be a UFA at the end of the season.
  • Peter Holland: At the mid-way point of the season, I made the prediction that Holland's game was going to take off. As it turns out, I wasn't too far off the mark. Holland has been playing some of the best hockey of his career as of late. He's second on the team in points with 22 goals and 34 assists. Without Palmieri here, Holland has gotten many chances to shine, and he's taken advantage of nearly all of them. His passes have gotten more confident, his game has picked up, and his physical presence has increased. I see a bright future in store for him, that's for sure.
  • Dan Sexton: After Rodney was traded, I was at a little bit of a loss for a few weeks. Who was I going to hate? Which name was I going to yell out in frustration? Lucky enough for me, Sexton soon proved to be that guy. If we had an award for the most 1-on-1 chances blown, Sexton would get it. Every time he manages to get by himself, he loses control and can't put it in. His play is usually lackluster and his mistakes stick out like a sore thumb. He hasn't been the same since he got sent down this year and was passed over again and again for call ups. He shows sparks of brilliance every now and then, but eventually goes back to being crap. If I was the Ducks, I'd use him for trade fodder. He still has a year left on his current contract.
  • John Mitchell: Mitchell rarely excites me, to be honest. His 6 goals and 7 assists in 43 games isn't something to write home about. He's currently injured and hasn't played since March 17th. Every now and then Mitchell would show a spark or two of talent, but then he'd hide it underneath mediocre speed and bad play-making ability. He isn't someone I miss right now. He's going to see at least another year in the minors, if not more.
  • Riley Holzapfel: When a player is traded, they usually approach it from one of two angles: the "this could be great for my career/a fresh start/let's show them what I can do" angle, or the "this sucks/I hate this place/I'm going to pout" angle. Thankfully for us, Holzapfel decided to take the trade that brought him in at the deadline as a positive. In 19 games with the Crunch, Holzapfel has managed to exceed his 29-game production with the St. John's Ice Caps. Holzapfel has 7 goals and 10 assists. In the month of March alone he has scored 5 of those goals and 5 of those helpers. His puck handling has been impressive and his help on the power play has gotten him noticed. Holzapfel will be an RFA at the end of this year and I think he deserves an offer. If anything, he'll provide leadership and call up fodder in the A.
  • Matt Kennedy: Kennedy rounds out the "unimpressive younger guys" list. Much like Mitchell and Brittain, Kennedy hung out on the 4th line and didn't do much. In 42 games he had 1 goal and 5 assists. He hasn't played since January and is out with an injury. He better get used to playing in the minors, because I don't see him going elsewhere any time soon.
  • Ryan O'Marra: In 12 games since his trade, O'Marra has 1 goal and 2 assists. He has already been called up by the Ducks once. This is a case of a player's numbers not exactly representing their true value on the ice. He knows how to use his 6'2 frame well, especially on the PK. Although we wish he'd make more of a splash offensively, he certainly has value elsewhere and has been a part of the run the Crunch is currently on. He'll be a UFA after this season.

There's a lot of work ahead of this team coming down the stretch. As you saw, the last spots in the East are tighter than a drum, with only a few precious points separating those solidly in the playoffs and those not in at all. Our destiny isn't completely in our hands and we're going to be doing a lot of scoreboard watching in the next few weeks, but as long as the team continues to stick to the plan a post season is absolutely possible.

Thanks for reading this update! My next one will cover the defense and hopefully have a clearer playoff picture, one way or the other. Happy Spring!