Crunch Adjust to Tampa Bay Personnel Moves

By Jeremy Houghtaling

The Syracuse Crunch lineup still has a few question marks heading into a home-and-home series with the Binghamton Senators this weekend.

With Brett Connolly called up to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Charles Landry and Maxime Langelier-Parent sent to ECHL Florida on Wednesday, the Crunch are down to 19 skaters -- 12 forwards and seven defensemen.

Although Syracuse is unsure if Connolly will return by the puck drop at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday, Crunch coach Rob Zettler has confidence in the forward lines he assembled at practice Thurday, which included moving Evan Rankin into Connolly's spot with Tanner Richard and Geoff Walker.

"I think Tanner can can be a pretty good playmaker, and those two guys have a nose for the net -- they're more net-front guys," Zettler said.

"I expect a lot of net-drives and I expect a lot of action in front of the net," he added.

For Rankin, who had been paired with Dana Tyrell and Mike Angelidis and chipped in a goal and an assist the last time the Crunch played the Senators, the objective for his line remains the same.

"With Connolly going up, obviously it shakes the lineup a little bit," Rankin said. "We still need to make sure we're bringing energy whatever line you're on."

Drew Olson, who is on an AHL contract like Rankin, was a scratch against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Sunday but is now on a line with Tyrell and Angelidis.

"He's got good speed, he's got good defensive awareness, so I'm giving him a chance on that line to see how he does," Zettler said of Olson.

"For those young guys, you have to be prepared," Rankin said. "You might get a little extra time on the power play here and there, and that's your opportunity to make a difference."

The top line of Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, and JT Brown stayed in tact. Eric Neilson, Cedric Paquette, and Philippe Paradis were put together on another line.

The Crunch are likely to receive a boost on the blueline. Although he won't get the final word until Friday morning, Zettler said he expects veteran defenseman Jean-Philippe Cote to rejoin the lineup.

"Penalty kill, leadership, blocking shots, that physical aspect on the on the backend," Zettler said of Cote's game. "It's all good."

Zettler said he may scratch a forward and go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

"I'll take a look at what Binghamton's doing and kind of read it from there," Zettler said.

Cedrick Desjardins is likely to get the start in the Crunch net Friday, with Riku Helenius scheduled to start on the road Saturday.

Pictured: Crunch forward Evan Rankin skates during practice Thursday at the Onondaga County War Memorial. With Brett Connolly called up to the Lightning, Rankin took his place on a line with Tanner Richard and Geoff Walker.