Lackluster Third Period Dooms Crunch in 3-2 Loss to Penguins

By Jeremy Houghtaling

One night after coming back from a three-goal deficit to salvage a point in a shootout loss, the Syracuse Crunch again put themselves in a hole early.

The Crunch allowed the Wilkes-Barre Penguins to score on a power play less than four minutes into the game, and despite briefly tying the game, fell 3-2 at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

"There's a lot of mental mistakes, something that's uncharacteristic of our team," Syracuse forward Tyler Johnson said. "Sometimes we battled hard, and sometimes we didn't. We just weren't ourselves and we've got to fix that."

A little more than five minutes after the Penguins took an early lead on a Paul Thompson power play goal at 3:57, Alex Killorn tied the game with his sixth goal in as many contests. JT Wyman and Radko Gudas were credited with assists.

"Wyman tipped it up to me on the right side and drove the net through the middle," Killorn said. "It allowed me to cut back and I kind of just waited out the goalie. I was lucky that maybe the defenseman ran into him (the goalie) a little bit, and I had the open net."

The Peguins fired back before Killorn's goal was finished being announced, and retook the lead when Joey Mormina tallied his first of the season.

"Once you score, you want to go out there and keep rolling," Killorn said. "When they get a goal like that - a seeing-eye shot, kind of a wobbly knuckle-puck - it kind of takes the momentum away, but those are the peaks and valleys of the game and you have to deal with that."

Trevor Smith, who was with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Norfolk Admirals last year, provided Wilkes-Barre Scranton with an insurance goal midway through the second, but Syracuse answered back before the break. Johnson chipped in his team-leading 18th goal of the season, with the assists going to Keith Aulie and Gudas.

"It was a D to D pass and (Gudas) got a shot on net," Johnson said. "I think it might have hit off (Richard) Panik and just laid there. I took a shot and it somehow found its way through. It probably hit about three different things on the way through and floated in - pretty lucky goal, but you've got to get those every once in a while."

Despite feeling some momentum going into the third, the Crunch seemed to go long periods without quality scoring opportunities.

"Anytime you get momentum anytime late in the period like that, it's huge," Johnson said. "It's good to go into the intermission with that. I think that helped, but it wasn't enough."

Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff stopped all five shots he faced in the third and 29 total for the win. Dustin Tokarski, in net for Syracuse, stopped 24 shots in the loss.

Syracuse (17-7-1-3) leads the Eastern Conference with 38 points, and has a couple days off for Christmas break before traveling to Binghamton Wednesday.

"We didn't play the third the way we wanted to play," Killorn said. "That's probably the reason for the final result."

Pictured: Crunch goaltender Dustin Tokarski defends as Penguins forward Brian Gibbons takes the puck around the net at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.