Crunch Look to Limit Opposition Opportunities

By Jeremy Houghtaling

For Rob Zettler, it all comes down to being in the right position.

With the offensive lines lacking their normal scoring punch, the Syracuse Crunch coach knows the margin for error is slim. But his defense has keyed in on limiting the opposition’s offensive opportunities, and Syracuse grinded out wins last weekend by holding St. John’s to a pair of goals Friday and shutting out Adirondack Saturday.

"We really limited both teams' chances because we were in good position," said Crunch coach Rob Zettler. "We didn't have the high-end skill we've had in the past, but we made up for it in position and hard work."

"There should be a lot of pressure on us to perform and to push our limit to be better than we usually are," Syracuse defenseman Jean-Philippe Cote said. "We've got to pick up some slack. We're missing some talent, so we must be the heart of the team, a solid D corps."

Of the four lines that practiced together in Syracuse Tuesday, the 12 players have combined for 10 goals, six of which have come off the stick of Cedric Paquette. The rookie netted both game-winners last weekend in the third period.

"We know that the next goal might be the difference in the game," said Crunch goalie Cedrick Desjardins. "We don't have the same firepower, but there's been many years where you get guys called up and you have other guys pitch in."

The Crunch defensemen have also chipped in on the scoreboard. The eight blueliners on the Syracuse roster have combined for eight goals and 42 points this season.

With the top three scorers out of the lineup due to injury or recall, defenseman Matt Taormina leads the team with 10 points, followed by Paquette and Cote with nine. Taormina began the season with a seven-game point streak, while Cote had a six-game point streak last month.

"These guys move the puck well," Zettler said. "They make simple plays to move the puck up to the forwards, and that turns into offense for us."

Desjardins has been nearly perfect when the pressure is on. The veteran netminder stopped 54 of 56 shots over the two games last weekend, and registered his 100th American Hockey League win and 21st career shutout Saturday.

"It makes a world of difference, you can feel it when the guy is on," Cote said. "That's something we feel from (Desjardins) now. He's confident between the pipes and it makes us more confident in our game."

While they can count on Desjardins in net, it all starts with the play in front of him and sticking with what’s working.

"I think it puts an emphasis on everyone to be in the right position defensively," Zettler said. "I always say 'Be above the puck,' where you can defend, and that puts you in a good position offensively as well."