Groulx Likes Result But Not Effort in Crunch's Win
Syracuse Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx liked the result, but not the effort.
The Crunch picked up a 4-1 win over the Binghamton Senators at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday, but Groulx believed they could have played better.
Syracuse remains one point behind Toronto for first place in the North Division with one game remaining in the regular season.
“Very average,” Groulx said of his team’s performance. “I thought we were a one effort hockey club tonight.”
“We’ve got to be a second effort hockey club in the three zones,” Groulx added. “That was not the case tonight.”
Matthew Peca and Erik Condra each recorded one goal and one assist for the Crunch, while Matt Taormina had a pair of helpers. Brett Howden and Michael Bournival each scored once, and Tye McGinn, Cory Conacher and Joel Vermin each had one assist.
Mike McKenna, still attempting to take firm control of the No. 1 spot in net heading into the playoffs, finished with 28 saves in the win.
“I feel like I’m playing well, and that’s all I’m worried about,” McKenna said. “If it’s me, if it’s Kristers (Gudlevskis), I just want to win games. Obviously, I want to be a part of that and I want to play every one of those, so I’m going to be ready to do that if I’m given the chance.”
Syracuse outshot Binghamton 7-0 in the first seven minutes, but couldn’t find the back of the net. For Peca, he knew that if the team kept peppering Senators goalie Marcus Hogberg, the Crunch would eventually break through.
“I think that’s your mentality every game. The more you shoot, the more you’re going to score,” Peca said. “I think it has a lot to do with the amount of power plays we had. We didn’t capitalize on them early, but we stayed the course and they finally went in.”
Peca made a pass through a couple defenders to a wide open Bournival to open the scoring with 52 seconds left in the first.
Condra scored from the left wing circle on a 5-on-3 9:26 into the second, and Peca added a power play marker 1:43 later.
“We had been moving the puck well enough on the power play that you take what they give you,” Peca said. “They just let me walk in and pick my spot. I found a little bit of room underneath his armpit. That’s not exactly what I was going for, but it worked out.”
Gabriel Gagne got the Senators on the board with 6:59 left in the second, but that was all the scoring until Howden’s empty-netter with 1:43 remaining.
The Crunch have clinched home ice in the first round of the playoffs, but no positions in the North Division are set in stone heading into the final day of the regular season.
“It also shows that no matter who we play, we’re going to be playing a good club and playing someone who’s playing well coming into the playoffs,” McKenna said. “We’ve got to carry our momentum so we’re the best club we can when it comes time.”
Syracuse (37-24-7-7) hosts Utica in the regular season finale Saturday.
“It’s going to be the 12th time we’ve played them. Most of our matchups against them were decded by one goal or overtime,” Groulx said. “Hard fought battle. We expect that tomorrow.”
The Crunch were surprised by a special guest in the first period.
Luke Witkowski, the team’s former captain who was called up by the Tampa Bay Lightning and wasn’t put on waivers to join the Crunch in the postseason, showed up to help out the ice crew to shovel during media timeouts in the first period.
Witkowski’s appearance was met with plenty of laughter.
“I’m trying to show my versatility,” Witkowski said. “Playing forward. Playing D. I can shovel. I can drive the Zamboni. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
But how did Witkowski think he did?
“Sub par,” Witkowski said with a smile. “I was actually more nervous for that job than playing in the NHL or the AHL.”
Pictured: Crunch forward Matthew Peca battles for the puck with the Senators’ Francis Perron at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday.