Crunch off its game

Syracuse squad hopes to rekindle its offense here Friday against Toronto:

Even though its 24-game home points streak and 18-game winning streak came to an end with a 2-1 loss to the Binghamton Senators Sunday Nov. 23, the Syracuse Crunch continues to hover near first place in the American Hockey League's North Division. The team's 13-6 win-loss record plus one shootout loss gives the Crunch 27 points, one behind the league-leading Manitoba Moose.

Last Sunday's loss at the War Memorial in front of 4,462 fans was a bummer in more ways than one. The Crunch scored only a single goal, those two streaks bit the dust and Binghamton won on a power play goal scored after a questionable hooking call on Crunch forward Ryan Garlock.

For the game-winner, the Senators snuck the puck past Crunch goalie Dan LaCosta with just 25 seconds left to play in the game.

The Crunch, whose offense looked pretty potent earlier in the season, has scored just two regulation goals in its last four games. Thank goodness that, over his last five starts, LaCosta has stopped 180 of 190 shots against him for an impressive .947 percentage.

Led by third-year Head Coach Ross Yates, the home-team boasts a balanced blend of hungry rookies and gritty veterans. Talented novices include forward Nikita Filatov and defenseman Kris Russell while Crunch journeymen include team-captain Dan Smith, a defenseman, and forward Mike York.

The Crunch face off against the so-so Toronto Marlies at 7:30 p.m. Friday Nov. 28, at the Onondaga County War Memorial, downtown at South State and Harrison streets. The Marlies are also in the AHL's North Division but in fifth place with a record of 7-7 and two shootout losses.

Led by playmakers Tom Stapleton and Kris Newbury, the Marlies have scored an average of less than three goals per game so far. Nevertheless, forwards such as Jeremy Williams and Mark Bell are serious scoring threats, and goaltender Justin Pogge has stopped 318 of 364 shots, for a respectable goals-against average of 2.89.

The Toronto team is coached by Greg Gilbert, the only man in hockey history to win a Stanley Cup with both New York teams, with the N.Y. Islanders in 1982 and 1983 and the N.Y. Rangers in 1994.

Crunch ticket prices range from $13 to $20; 473-4444; syracusecrunch.com.

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