After starting the 2012-2013 AHL season 4-0-0-1, the Syracuse Crunch have lost two straight for the first time this year, once in regulation and once in overtime on Saturday and Sunday and both tilts on home ice.
On Saturday night against the Penguins, the Crunch ran into a hot goaltender in Jeff Zatkoff, formerly a Los Angeles Kings prospect and now a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
After Crunch forward Cory Conacher scored just 38 seconds into the contest, Zatkoff shut the door on the Crunch, who generated plenty of offense but failed to solve the Kings' 3rd round pick from 2006 again.
After dispatching the Penguins on the road less than a week ago by a score of 3-1, the Crunch failed to take advantage of numerous opportunities around Zatkoff and were stymied on the power play for the first time all season, which is certainly a credit to the young net minder as well as the Penguins coaching staff for adjusting their penalty kill accordingly to defend better the backdoor plays Syracuse has used so effectively this season with the man advantage.
Dustin Tokarski also allowed another goal from a terrible angle, this time from along the goalline to his right.
That goal ended up being the game-winner as the Penguins took the lead 2-1 and never relinquished it.
On Sunday night in Adirondack against the Phantoms, the top AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, the Crunch played a much more even and complete game and bounced back with success on the power play. Crunch forwards Brett Connolly and Alex Killorn both capitalized on the man advantage to continue the special teams success the Crunch have enjoyed this season.
However, despite what has been a typically effective penalty kill, special teams has also been a glaring weakness for this year's Crunch squad, but not because of efficiency.
Rather, the sheer volume of penalties taken has been troublesome, and has led to some difficult circumstances for the Crunch. It was a main factor in the loss to the Phantoms as consecutive penalties towards the end of the third period gave the Phantoms a 5-on-3 power play which they cashed in on to both tie the game late at 3-3 and eventually to win it in overtime.
Through seven games, the Crunch have 218 total penalty minutes, the most in the league by a staggering amount. The Binghamton Senators have the second most penalty minutes in the league with 175 through seven games as well. While the goalie fight between Robin Lehner of the Senators and Riku Helenius of the Crunch and the resulting penalties from the scrum that followed has something to do with these club's high totals, the fact remains that the Crunch take too many undisciplined minor penalties too, and now it is costing them games.
The Crunch need to put together a cleaner game going forward and continue to win the special teams battle in order to get back on a winning streak.
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