Cernak, Erik

Opinion: Lightning at the Halfway Mark

Forty games into a historic 2017-2018 season, let's take a moment to pause, step out of the moment, and take stock of where the club is. Sitting halfway through the campaign expectations for the team, which missed the postseason just a year ago, are sky high for good reason. Not only is the Lightning atop the NHL standings a full 13 points ahead of the pace they need to be in order to make the postseason, but the team leads a bevy of organizational and individual statistical categories.

Let's pump the breaks on prematurely planning a Stanley Cup championship parade, though. There's still half of the regular season and the postseason left to play, and as good as the team is, it's not without blemishes. How General Manager Steve Yzerman addresses those blemishes (or doesn't) and how any potential changes alters team chemistry (or doesn't) will have a lot to say about whether the team lives up to its perceived potential. So, with all of that in mind, let's look at how the team got here, what its weaknesses are, and what might happen next.

AHL Game Night: 12-9-17 Crunch at Senators

New Crunchning Death Star vaporizes Sens to run streak to nine.

SYR-6
BEL-0

Connor Ingram stopped all 18 shots he faced for the shutout victory, his first shutout as a pro.

First Period
9:01 SYR Volkov (5), (Lynch, Thomas)
14:37 SYR Stephens (4), (Volkov, Verhaeghe)

Second Period
7:35 SYR McBain (4), (Volkov, Peca)(PP)
15:05 SYR Stephens (5), (Masin)(SH)

Third Period
10:37 SYR Cirelli (6), (Erne, Joseph)(PP)
16:09 SYR Volkov (6), (Peca, Masin)

Alexander Volkov, Mitchell Stephens, and Ingram were the game's three stars.

Tonight you started to see the quality of the depth the Crunch have, prospect-wise, start to show. This isn't a team that has top scoring line NHL caliber skill on it, but everywhere you look there's a really high energy player who is a strong 200 foot player and plays a strong possession game. Cirelli and Joseph, in particular, had their way in the previous two games. Tonight was Volkov and Stephens' turn.

I'll also throw some love Dominik Masin's way tonight, as he had two assists and has been really good since joining the Crunch after some injuries nagged him in camp. He's formed a very solid pair with rookie Erik Cernak, and the mind wanders to thoughts of whether that may be a pair in the NHL in a couple of years time.

Syracuse is now 4 games over .500 and sits just 3 points back of Rochester for second in the North Division after the Americans dropped their game a shootout tonight.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

AHL Game Night: 10-20-17 Devils at Crunch

The struggle continues.

BNG-3
SYR-2

Michael Leighton allowed 2 goals on 2 shots before being lifted quickly in the First Period. Connor Ingram allowed 1 goal on 20 shots for the injustice of the backdoor loss.

First Period
0:11 BNG Quenneville (4), (Bastian, Strait)
3:57 BNG Speers (1), (Pietila, Rooney)
11:49 BNG Lappin (4), (Erixon, Kapla)

Second Period
11:54 SYR Bournival (1), (unassisted)(SH)
13:26 SYR Cernak (2), (Bodie)(SH)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Michael Bournival and Erik Cernak were the game's second and third stars.

Syracuse sits alone in the North Division basement at a dismal 1-4-1-0. That said, they've only really been run off the rink in one of the losses (against the Penguins) and there's probably an alternate dimension where Syracuse could just as easily be 4-1-1-0. There's no such thing as moral victories, though, and Syracuse needs to figure out how to get on the right side of these 1 goal decisions quickly.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

AHL Game Night: 10-14-17 Comets at Crunch

Crunch drop another tightly fought battle.

UTI-3
SYR-2

Michael Leighton allowed 3 goals on 19 shots as the Comets overcame a 26-19 shot disparity to pull out the win.

First Period
7:57 UTI Goldobin (3), (Boucher, Holm)
19:14 SYR Conacher (2), (Bodie, Cirelli)

Second Period
12:41 UTI Holm (1), (Bancks, Goldobin)(PP)

Third Period
3:22 SYR Cernak (1), (Stephens, Walcott)
6:38 UTI Chaput (1), (McEneny, Holm)(PP)

Mitchell Stephens was the game's second star. He assisted on Erik Cernak's first professional goal in the defeat.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

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