After a thrilling 6-5 comeback, overtime victory over the Binghamton Senators on Saturday night, the Syracuse Crunch finally found a way to build a lead and maintain it, putting together their most complete effort of the season in a 3-1 victory on the road at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton over the Penguins.
Crunch head coach Jon Cooper shuffled the lines a bit for the tilt against the Penguins, breaking up the top two lines of Palat-Johnson-Conacher and Panik-Killorn-Connolly by swapping Panik and Conacher.
The line shuffling paid off early as defenseman Keith Aulie joined a 3-on-2 rush early in the first period and tipped home an easy goal for a 1-0 lead, finishing off a play started by Ondrej Palat and Brett Connolly.
Towards the middle of the opening frame, Crunch forward Vladislav Namestnikov glided around behind the Penguins net and fed the puck back to the point but not before taking a vicious hit that resulted in a 5 minute major penalty for boarding to Penguins defenseman Joe Morrow.
While at first Namestnikov appeared to be injured, he later returned to the ice no worse for wear.
In what has become a pattern for this Crunch team, speedy forwards were again able to cause problems for slower defenders, resulting in power play chances for Syracuse.
Though the power play struggled against the Senators on Saturday in Binghamton, here they were crisp and aggressive.
The Crunch scored two power play goals on the five minute major, one off a nice one-timer by Tyler Johnson from the left circle of a Mark Barberio feed, and the other off a broken play where most of the Penguins assumed the Crunch forwards had entered the zone offside, resulting in an easy tap in goal for Cory Conacher from Brett Connolly.
From that point on, the Crunch defended well, clogged up the neutral zone, and prevented the Penguins from establishing any prolonged puck possession or offensive zone attack.
The Penguins lone goal came late in the third period on a power play from Phillippe Dupuis when the game was all but decided.
After struggling in his starts earlier in the season, goaltender Dustin Tokarski was superb against the Penguins and will most likely get the starting nod again when the Crunch see the Penguins again at home on October 27.Tags: Brett Connolly, Cory Conacher, Hockey, Mark Barberio, NHL, Syracuse Crunch, Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay Lightning