Tampa Bay Lightning Prospects: Crunch Lead Division at Quarter Mark

Dec 8, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Vancouver Canucks left wing Sven Baertschi (47) shoots the puck as Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Luke Witkowski (28) defends during the second period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 8, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Vancouver Canucks left wing Sven Baertschi (47) shoots the puck as Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Luke Witkowski (28) defends during the second period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Syracuse Crunch, has rattled off three straight wins and climbed to the top of the division standings at the quarter point of the season.

It’s been just over a month since we last provided an update on the Syracuse Crunch, and since then, the Crunch has moved into first place in the North Division, 23 games into the regular season. Additionally, since that last post, Syracuse has gone 9-3-2 over its last 14 games and moved into fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

The Crunch currently trails the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins by six points for the top spot in the conference. The Crunch attempted to gain some ground on the Penguins on Friday night when they took on the Hartford Wolf Pack. Unfortunately, the Crunch were only able to pick up a single point in a 2-1 shootout loss.

Syracuse will also look to kickstart a new win streak tomorrow, During the Crunch’s previous three-game win streak, the Crunch outscored its opponents 12-7, and goaltender Adam Wilcox picked up two wins in the process, earning 10 victories on the season thus far. Wilcox’s fellow netminder, Kristers Gudlevskis, also picked up a win against the Utica Comets last Saturday.

Tampa Bay Lightning
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Tampa Bay Lightning

The video above shows the highlights from one of the games Wilcox earned the win in. Last Wednesday, Syracuse defeated the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, 4-2, and the 24-year-old South Saint Paul, Minnesota native made a career-high 48 saves in the win. Forwards Matthew Peca and Yanni Gourde, and defensemen Jake Dotchin and Matt Taormina all scored for the Crunch.

Both goaltenders have essentially split the workload, though Wilcox has played more overall minutes on the ice. Overall, Wilcox has a 10-3-0-1 record, 2.12 goals against average and a .924 save percentage, while Gudlevskis has slightly less than average numbers with a 5-3-2-0 record, 3.00 goals against average and .875 save percentage.

As the season moves on, we hope that Gudlevskis continues to get enough playing time so that he can improve his stats.

For the team as a whole, Yanni Gourde leads the team in assists (14) and points (21), and Taormina is right behind Gourde in points with 20 on the season. Taormina leads all defensemen in points and has 10 more points than the next closest blueliner (Dotchin). Recently called up to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Cory Conacher is fifth on the team with 15 points in 18 games played.

Erik Condra, who has spent most of the season with the Crunch, is third on the team in overall points with five goals, 13 assists and 18 points in 19 games this season. Condra has been called up by the Lightning several times already, and that looks to be his role for rest of the season unless anything else major happens, injury-wise, in Tampa Bay.

Several other players from the Syracuse Crunch have made their way up to the Lightning this season, and some of them have made multiple trips because of all the injuries popping up and down the main roster. Defensemen Luke Witkowski, Matt Taormina, left winger Michael Bournival and right winger Joel Vermin have been called up and filled in well for the injured players.

Defenseman Slater Koekkoek, who made the Lightning roster out of training camp, but has been underutilized for most of the year, found himself going back-and-forth between the Lightning and the Crunch and getting scratched in the first few games of the season. Head coach, Jon Cooper, has sometimes gone with former Crunch defenseman, Nikita Nesterov, over Koekkoek, and that has infuriated more than a few Lightning fans.

The young defenseman has expressed his frustration about this, especially following his recent demotion to the Crunch. Nonetheless, Koekkoek is back with the Lightning and had 13:38 of ice time Wednesday night against the Calgary Flames. In his seven games with the Crunch in 2016, he has two points and a plus-2 rating.

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The Syracuse Crunch has had a successful season to this point, despite all of the recent call-ups and changes in the lineup. Syracuse will look to build on its three-game win streak tonight and hopefully make it four in a row against the Wolf Pack on the road. Keep an eye on Bolts By The Bay for more news about the Crunch and the Tampa Bay Lightning prospects.