Game 54 Preview: Crunch at Comets




The Crunch search for a fourth straight win as they face the Utica Comets at the Adirondack Bank Center.


It’s game nine of the 14-game head-to-head series, and the fourth of seven in Utica. The Crunch are 6-1-1-0 overall, with a 3-0 mark in Utica.




The Crunch grabbed a 4-1 win over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms Friday at Upstate Medical University Arena.


Max Lagace was sharp in the first period, with 16 saves to keep the game scoreless until Cole Koepke tipped in a puck near the crease at 18:15 to put the Crunch in front.


Syracuse played a strong second period to increase the lead to three. Ryan Jones netted his third goal of the season with a left circle shot into the top right corner of the goal for a 2-0 lead at 7:54. Five minutes later, Felix Robert cashed in off a pass from Alex Barré-Boulet to make it 3-0.


Robert added a power-play goal early in the third period before Artem Anisimov finally goal the Phantoms a goal with a deflection to make it 4-1. Lagace ended with 35 saves to give the Crunch a season sweep of the Phantoms. Syracuse improved to 14-3-0-1 against Lehigh Valley all time.




The Crunch are on their sixth winning streak of at least three games this season. They’ve won six of their last seven games after going through a five-game losing streak (0-4-1-0). Syracuse is 27-19-4-3 this season and is in second place in the North Division with 61 points. 


After kicking off this three-game winning streak with a 1-0 win in Toronto, the Crunch offense has found its scoring touch again, totaling 10 goals in the last two games. That’s helped the Crunch build a +17 goal differential, which ranks third among Eastern Conference teams behind Hershey and Toronto.




Felix Robert found the goal column for the first time in two and a half months in Friday’s win against the Phantoms. Robert, who has now scored eight goals in 17 career games against the Phantoms, last scored for the Crunch on Dec. 16, a span of 12 games played without a tally.


Robert missed 16 games with an injury too. The third-year-pro has three multi-goal games this season and he ranks fourth on the Crunch with 14 goals. He has 25 points in 37 games this season. 




Cole Koepke also snapped a long goal drought with the game’s opening goal Friday against the Phantoms. The goal snapped a 19-game goal drought since his last strike Jan. 14, also against Lehigh Valley.


The second-year-pro, who netted 20 goals as a rookie last season, has 13 points (5g, 8a) in 34 Crunch games this season. He began the campaign with the Tampa Bay Lightning, appearing in 17 games and netting his first NHL goal Nov. 17 vs. Washington.




Ryan Jones potted his third goal of the season in the Crunch’s win over the Phantoms. He last scored Dec. 7 at Rochester, a tally which turned into the game-winning goal. Friday’s marker was also a game-winner, giving the defenseman two game-winning goals out of his three goals scored this season. The Crunch are 3-0-0-0 when he scores a goal.


Jones had four regular season goals last season—his first with the Crunch—and one was a game-winner. Three of his seven Crunch goals have proved to be the winning goal.




After four straight regulation losses, the Comets have now earned points in their last four games (3-0-1-0). Their three-game winning streak ended in a 2-1 overtime loss against the Charlotte Checkers Friday night. That was their first home game following a three-game road trip and it continued a recent stretch that has seen the Comets win just three times in the last 10 home games (3-5-1-1).


The Comets (26-20-6-2) are in third place in the North Division with 60 points. They are one point behind the Crunch, but have played one more game than Syracuse.


Graeme Clarke has run away with the Comets scoring lead this season. He has 44 points (20g, 24a) in 51 games, giving him 15 points more than his next closest teammate, Joe Gambardella.




The Crunch and Comets have met eight times previously this season. The Crunch hold a 6-1-1-0 record against the Comets, including a 3-0-0-0 record at the Adirondack Bank Center. This is the third straight meeting to take place in Utica with the last two going to the Crunch by scores of 4-3 in a shootout (Feb. 1) and 8-5 (Feb. 18).


The Crunch have twice scored eight goals against the Comets this season, and they have totaled 34 goals in eight games (4.25 goals per game). They’ve outscored the Comets 34-17 in the series. Alex Barré-Boulet (3g, 9a) and Darren Raddysh (2g, 10a) lead the way with 12 points apiece. Graeme Clarke has had a hand in eight of Utica’s 17 goals against the Crunch; he has three goals and five assists to lead the Comets.


Hugo Alnefelt is 3-1-0 with a 1.49 goals-against average and a .951 save percentage, while Max Lagace is 3-0-0 in three starts. Nico Daws is winless in three appearances against the Crunch (0-2-1).




The Crunch have had just one power-play chance in each of the last two games, but they’ve cashed in on both, improving to 10-0-1-0 in the last 11 when scoring a power-play goal, dating to Jan. 13. With power-play goals in six of the last seven games, the Crunch are now clicking at 20.4%. Their penalty kill was a perfect 4-for-4 against the Phantoms to move to 80.5% for the season.


The Comets have scored 30 power-play goals, which is the second fewest in the league. They are operating at 17.5% this season. Their penalty kill is at 76.4% for the season, including a league-worst 68.1% on home ice.



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