Behind Enemy Lines: Phantoms Up In Syracuse Tonight


“Since you been gone
Since you been gone
I’m out [of the Calder Cup playoffs]
Can’t take it
Could I be wrong?
But since you’ve been gone
You cast a spell so break it”
– Rainbow
der Eishockeyzuschauer
A clash of teams each second from bottom in their respective divisions looms as the Hamilton Street Heroes head upstate New York in search of their latest American Hockey League adventure.
Much like the incoming Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the host Syracuse Crunch are all but eliminated from post-season competition. There is absolutely no doubt that Syracuse’s 2015/16 AHL campaign effectively imploded when the Crunch suffered through a nine-game losing streak that started at the end of January and lasted well into February. The cause of that destructive blast can be directly traced back to former 1st round pick Jonathan Drouin‘s refusal to show up for an AHL game against the Toronto Marlies on January 20th. As one might very well have expected, the 20-year-old left wing who was the 3rd overall player selected at the 2013 National Hockey League Draft and an NHL regular as a teenager for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season (70 ga, 4 go, 32 pts, + 3 def) was promptly suspended by the Syracuse Crunch … but, with the benefit of hindsight, it is rather easy to see that the clearly disenchanted Drouin saddled the AHL club that shunned him with some sort of crippling curse.
Indeed, the Syracuse Crunch have just three victories to show from the last fourteen games but two of those triumphs came against the Binghamton Senators (dead last in the entire 15-team Eastern Conference at present) so perhaps more perspective is required.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning organization have seen fit to play escalator games with their backup NHL goaltender and the first string AHL netminder of the Syracuse Crunch virtually all season long, conducting four separate player exchanges just inside the past three weeks alone and five since New Year’s Day – altogether, the Russian puck-tamer Andrei Vasilevsky and the Latvian shot-stopper Kristers Gudlevskis have traded places essentially ten times  :
Feb 27 … Vasilevsky up, Gudlevskis down
Feb 25 … Gudlevskis up, Vasilevsky down
Feb 15 … Vasilevsky up, Gudlevskis down
Feb 12 … Gudlevskis up, Vasilevsky down
Jan 1 ….. Vasilevsky up, Gudlevskis down
Dec 17 … Gudlevskis up, Vasilevsky down
Dec 13 … Vasilevsky up, Gudlevskis down
Dec 11 … Gudlevskis up, Vasilevsky down
Nov 1 ….. Vasilevsky up, Gudlevskis down
Oct 28 … Vasilevsky down
Oct 24 … Gudlevskis up
Vasilevsky is the highly touted 21-year-old who was the starting goaltender for Russia at three different IIHF World Junior Championships where he earned three medals (two bronze, one silver) before appearing in two games and winning a gold medal with the senior national team at the 2014 IIHF World Championships. The 1st round pick (# 19 overall) of the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2012 NHL Draft has been dominant in a dozen AHL appearances (1.94 avg, .935 svpct) for the Syracuse Crunch this season and has also acquitted himself fairly well at the NHL level in eighteen games (2.64 avg, .912 svpct), as well. It is unlikely, but not beyond the realm of possibility, that Vasilevsky will be between the pipes for Syracuse again this term.
Gudlevskis is the 23-year-old Olympic veteran in his third North American pro season who has to be somewhat frustrated by now.  After all, the former 5th round pick (# 124 overall) of the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2013 NHL has been promoted five different times this season but still only has one appearance with the Lightning to show for all his travels this term.  Worse yet, Gudlevskis performed admirably (32 saves) in his one and only start for Tampa Bay this term but still lost 1-0 after the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Black Hawks scored 17 seconds into the overtime session on October 25th.
Gudlevskis (29 ga, 3.00 avg, .903 svpct) has actually registered his career-worst goals against average in the AHL thus far this season but, on the other hand, his save percentage is a career high, if only just. The experienced Latvia national team netminder (10 career games at major international tournaments) is unbeaten in his two career starts against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and has conceded four goals while blocking 53 shots (.930 svpct) in the process. Gudlevskis had several clutch saves late in the third period, as I recall it, when the Syracuse Crunch clipped the Phantoms 4-3 in the 2015/16 season opener at the PPL Center back on October 10th.
The other candidate to start for the Syracuse Crunch on Wednesday night would be Adam Walker (18 ga, 3.54 avg, .886 svpct), the unheralded rookie from the University of Minnesota who was the sixth round choice of the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2011 NHL Draft … Walker was quite good (25 saves) when the Crunch edged the visiting Phantoms 2-1 at the former Onondaga County War Memorial arena onNovember 7th.
The good news for the Hamilton Street Heroes is that Jonathan Marchessault, the diminutive and undrafted center who netted four of the six goals that the Syracuse Crunch scored on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms earlier this season (including two at the PPL Center), was recalled by the Tampa Bay Lighting in the middle of November and has not returned since.

Categories: Phantoms Hockey

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