Forwards Finding Space
Brendan Leipsic and Carl Grundstrom scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in Tuesday’s Game 3 just 18 seconds apart. They were nearly identical, with the forwards buzzing to the left of the net and putting away the rebound into an open cage.
They were different opportunities than what the Marlies had seen during the first two games on the road. Following the Game 2 loss, coach Sheldon Keefe stressed the importance of getting pucks deep and forcing the play in Syracuse’s end.
Forward Seth Griffith, who had the primary assist on Grundstom’s winning goal in Game 3, spoke of the changes the team has made to get everyone involved in the offensive zone.
“The first two games we were playing perimeter, we weren’t driving pucks deep, I think we were being a little too cute,” Griffith said after practice on Friday. “The two games at home, we were driving pucks in deep, getting the puck up to our d-men, and the d have been doing a great job of getting pucks to the net.”
“It’s been a good combination of forwards and the D working together to create a lot more opportunities for us,” Griffith continued. “We have to continue to get pucks to the net.”
“In the offensive zone, we want to come away from their pressure, they like to play five-tight, so we want to change sides quickly and get some space to get some shots on the net,” said Andreas Johnsson, who has three goals in the series.
“We didn’t play in the first two games. We focused on that in Games 3 and 4, getting back to doing the things we want to do,” Keefe said. “Get tight, take away their time and space, don’t let them use their speed. All those things that hurt us in Games 1 and 2.”
Beating Syracuse at Home
Heading back to Syracuse for Game 5, the Marlies know the importance of eliminating the impact of the crowd there.
“It’s not a different game, it’s a different experience,” said coach Keefe. “It’s the same sport, same teams, same players, nobody becomes superhuman or anything like that. It’s that the energy and emotion of the building, it can get loud.”
“More consistently, every shift, don’t allow them opportunities to build momentum that we know they’re going to look to do, and they’re certainly capable of doing, and that increases the energy in the building and the crowd gets into it,” Keefe continued. “On the road, everything has to be done that much more consistently, you can’t take a shift off, you can’t miss an assignment.”
“We’re a little more prepared now, we know it’s a smaller building, environment is pretty hostile in there. I think we need to just take the momentum we’ve gained on home ice here and take it in there,” said Brett Findlay. “We knew we were going to have to steal one on the road either way, so now is as good a time as ever.”
“There’s a lot of emotions in that building,” Griffith added. “I think we need to take the momentum away from them early, we need to stop their forwards from skating all over the ice, slow them down. It’s going to be a long game, it’s 60 minutes of hockey, we’re not going to win it in the first five minutes. It’s going to be a long game, we’re going to have to work for it. We expect a battle going in there.”
One question facing the Crunch is who will take to the net in tomorrow’s game. Mike McKenna was pulled following the first period of Game 4, after allowing 13 goals over seven periods. Kristers Gudlevskis stopped all fourteen shots after entering the game.
“I think we prepare the same way, it doesn’t matter who’s in net. We’ve never really based our gameplan around what goalie is in net, it’s about what the opposition is doing defensively to stop us from getting to the net,“ Griffith said. “All goalies are good in this league, so you’re always going to have to get second and third chances to score, so that’s what we’ll keep working on. Get pucks to the net with traffic, and get those greasy goals that aren’t pretty but they count and that’s all that matters.”
Game 5 goes Saturday night at 7:00pm in Syracuse. Catch the game live on Leafs TV and AHL Live.