Top Lightning Prospects Confident Crunch Can Stop Slide

By Jeremy Houghtaling

The Syracuse Crunch's recent slide is the result of a myriad of factors.

After losing two straight games and six of their last seven, it is impossible for the Crunch to pinpoint one specific problem. With a little bit of everything to blame, the answers range from a mix of bad luck and tough opposition in net to defensive lapses and a lack of scoring.

“We just haven’t been playing the way we want to play,” said Crunch forward Tyler Johnson.

The Crunch hopes to remedy one of those problems, an absence of offense, by combining their top three point-scorers on the same line. With Tampa Bay Lightning prospects Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Brett Connolly practicing on the same unit, Syracuse hopes it becomes the team's slump-buster when Albany and Adirondack visit the Onondaga County War Memorial on Friday and Saturday.

The line only produced one goal in its debut against Rochester last Saturday, but provided many solid scoring chances.

“Sometimes pucks weren’t really bouncing for us," Johnson said. "We weren’t able to score a lot, but I felt we did pretty well. We had a lot of offensive zone time.”

With an inch being the difference between a goal and a clang off a pipe, the Crunch are confident the recent struggles are more of an anomaly than a sign of things to come.

“I think soon those will start to go in and we’ll have a few offensive outbursts,” Killorn said.

“We’ve got to stick with it and be patient,” Connolly said. “The goals will come.”

They haven't recently.

In the last seven games, Syracuse has scored 16 goals, six of which came against the St. John's on Jan. 26 – the Crunch’s only win. But the Crunch are still tied for third in the league in scoring with 146 goals in 43 games. Johnson, Connolly and Killorn account for 53 of them, more than one-third of Syracuse's total.

“For us, that’s our job,” Connolly said. “We’ve got to score goals and we’ve got to create offense and not be minus players.”

Johnson, who was in the top three goal-scorers before the end of the NHL lockout, has been held without a goal in his last 10 games, but still paces the Crunch with 20 goals and 39 points in 42 games.

One of the top rookie scorers in the league, Killorn is second on Syracuse with 37 points in 43 games, while Connolly, who spent all of last season with the Lightning, has 36 points in 42 games.

The Crunch are by no means putting all their eggs in one basket with the Killorn-Johnson-Connolly line.

Richard Panik, who has 34 points, was put in Killorn's spot on a line with veterans Mike Angelidis and JT Wyman. With Ondrej Palat out due to an injury, the Crunch's next top scorer is defenseman Mark Barberio, who is one of the league's leading blueliners with 28 points.

“If you look at the scoring, we have so much depth,” Killorn said. “There’s a bunch of other guys who can score…They’re up there with us point-wise. I don’t think we have too much of the burden, but we realize if we’re scoring things will go better than how they are now.”

With the Crunch registering 264 shots on goal in its last seven games - 78 of which came off the sticks of either Johnson, Killorn or Connolly – it seems like only a matter of time before they start finding the back of the net again. Instead of leaving it to chance, Syracuse spent the week working on improving its odds the old-fashioned way.

“We haven’t been going to the dirty areas, and even though we’ve been getting a lot of shots, we have been making it easy on their goalie,” Killorn said.

“We’ve been getting the shots, now it’s getting the traffic in front, bearing down on our second opportunities and trying to score more,” Johnson said.

Despite being in a relatively short slide in a long season, the Crunch know they need to get back on track. There’s no better time than the present, and this weekend’s games loom large.

“They’re going to be good games," Killorn said, "And really, games we need to win."

Pictured: Crunch forward Alex Killorn makes a pass in front of the IceCaps' Jason Gregoire at the Onondaga County War Memorial Dec. 29.