While Dylan Blujus broke through for his first goal last week, his real strides have come in his own zone.
With an increase in ice time due to injuries and call-ups, the defenseman has started to find his groove with the Syracuse Crunch. Head coach Rob Zettler has seen steady progress in Blujus' game since he made his professional debut nearly three months ago.
"I would say over the last month, (Blujus) has been a much better defenseman, meaning he's going back for pucks more confidently and he's not as prone to get rid of pucks as quickly," Zettler said of the Buffalo native. "The beginning of the year, he'd get back and rim it around the boards and it would [cause] a cluster in our end for a little while because of it. He's just being a little bit more patient with the puck and smarter with the puck."
Less than an hour after receiving his award for AHL Goalie of the Month, Andrei Vasilevskiy was making his first relief appearance for the Syracuse Crunch.
Trailing by one heading into the second period, Syracuse turned to the Russian netminder to close the door. The Crunch took the lead in the second, held the Penguins to four shots on goal in the third, and Vasilevskiy finished with 10 saves in Syracuse's 4-3 win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.
"He came out in the second period and made two or three unreal saves to start the period," said Crunch head coach Rob Zettler. "Then we slowly felt good about our game again and slowly took over."
Crunch outlast Penguins... barely.
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 2 goals on 9 shots. They were soft enough that he was lifted at the First Intermission for Andrei Vasilevskiy, who allowed 1 goal on 11 shots the rest of the way to eventually collect the come-from-behind win.
SYR Paradis, (8) (Mormina, Corrente), 4:16
WBS Megna, (10) (Kostopoulos, Harrington), 14:31
WBS Megna, (11) (Boak), 18:38
SYR Marchessault, (10) (Namestnikov), 3:29
SYR Blunden, (10) (Witkowski, Marchessault), 14:21
SYR Ikonen, (4) (Vermin, Angelidis), 14:16
WBS Rowney, (2) (Dumoulin, Kostopoulos), 19:52 (PP)
The night also saw the return of Philippe Paradis from injury. Paradis has been a key missing cog from the Gourde line that has sputtered in his absence. Henri Ikonen also potted a goal for the second game in a row.
At this moment, Syracuse's 51 points has them 1 point off the pace for both the division and the conference lead.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Blujus, Vasilevskiy can't hold off the Pack.
Anrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 38 shots for the OT loss. He almost helped Syracuse overcome what ended up being a 38-26 shot deficit.
HFD C. Bourque, (15) (Kostka, Lindberg), 12:00 (PP)
HFD O'Donnell, (2) (Nehring, Spinell), 2:58
SYR Ikonen, (3) (Vermin, Angelidis), 3:56
SYR Blujus, (1) (Namestnikov), 3:58 (PP)
HFD McIlrath, (1) (Hrivik, Kristo), 2:34
Congratulations to Dylan Blujus, who scored his first pro goal on the PP to tie the game at 2-2 and eventually force OT. Blujuspalooza!
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Luke Witkowski isn't sitting idly by waiting for the phone to ring.
The Syracuse defenseman, one of the last players cut from Tampa Bay Lightning training camp who earned a short call-up in October but didn't play, isn't worried about when he will have the opportunity to make his NHL debut. Even with the Lightning's blueline being banged up, Witkowski is focused on his game and doing what he can to help the Crunch.
"I'm not really worried about that right now," Witkowski said of the possibility of a promotion.
Syracuse head coach Rob Zettler has seen progress in Witkowski's second professional season.