The Crunch forward plowed through Springfield Falcons goalie Curtis McElhinney, creating a rebound for Mark Barberio to bury less than a second later to give Syracuse a two-goal lead in the fourth game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last week. It was Namestnikov’s first of two assists on the night, his first professional postseason points.
"Not a lot of players make that play," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler. "A lot of players go behind the net instead of going to the front of the net. He's got the courage and the speed to make those plays."
For Zettler, it’s just one example of the recent development in Namestnikov’s game.
"Over the last two or three weeks, his play has really elevated," Zettler said of the 20-year-old. "He's really skating well, he's battling for pucks and going to the hard areas."
For a 30-goal scorer, Brett Connolly is essentially flying below the radar.
Overshadowed by the success of the Syracuse Crunch's top line, Connolly has quietly continued his nearly one point per game pace in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He has five points in seven postseason games, having already notched 31 goals and 32 assists in 71 games in the regular season.
We continue our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.
The Prospect of the Week for April 25 is … Syracuse’s Top Gun line (AHL – USA).
Tyler Johnson is sharing the wealth.
Johnson had a hat trick and seven total points (2 GP, 4-3-7) last week as the Crunch came off a week-long break with two wins over Springfield in Massachusetts. Syracuse holds a 2-0 series lead on the Falcons entering Wednesday’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals.
Johnson has won our Prospect of the Week three times in the last six weeks and we’re running out of ways to say he’s good at the hockey, so we’re giving the award to his line, made up of Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Richard Panik. The line was recently named the Top Gun line, though it has also been called the PTPer (Prime Time Players via Dick Vitale). Regardless of what people are calling it, the line is on fire.
Stacy Roest sees something in Cedric Paquette.
Roest, a developmental coaches working with the Syracuse Crunch practice squad, knows the transition from the junior to professional ranks means a faster pace and stronger competition.
But Paquette, the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2012 fourth-rounder, has the drive.
"He's the ultimate competitor," Roest said of Paquette. "He's a really high compete kid. He has a really good shot. His skating has to come a ways, but he's a good player."
Although all the weight isn’t on their shoulders, the Syracuse Crunch’s top line knows its importance.
Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Richard Panik have provided six of Syracuse’s 12 postseason goals, including two out of the four in each game. Those six markers include all three game-winners, two of which came in overtime.
With the No. 2 seed Falcons looming when the Eastern Conference Semifinals begin in Springfield Friday, the top line will be expected to do what it has done all season – produce points by the bunches in all situations.
"All three of those guys can fly," said Crunch coach Rob Zettler. "That's their best asset – they have speed. If you show that speed early and often, hopefully it will back off their defense and create some room in front of them as the series goes on."