SYRACUSE - Syracuse Crunch right-winger Nikita Kucherov is having a tremendous start to his pro hockey career. Coming into Friday night’s game against the Binghamton Senators, Kucherov led his team in both goals and points scored. After the game, Kucherov remained at the top of the list in both categories as he had both a goal and an assist in the Crunch’s 6-2 loss to the Senators at War Memorial at OnCenter in Syracuse.
It could be said that Binghamton goalie Nathan Lawson could also be given an assist along with Kucherov on Vlad Namestnikov’s power play goal in the first period. Kucherov, holding the puck on the right hand boards on the power play, slid the puck down to Namestnikov below the goal line, where he proceeded to attempt a pass across the goal crease that hit Lawson’s stick and ended up in the back of the net. Lawson’s gift awarded the Crunch with their first goal in the opening period this season.
Although Kucherov did not have to do much to get a helper on the first Syracuse goal, Nemestnikov did a whole lot more to set up Kucherov for the team’s second. About midway through the second period the Crunch found themselves on the power play again. The power play unit took full advantage of the man-up situation as Kucherov found an opening, and Namestnikov found him wide open on back door with a beautiful cross-ice pass that anyone in the building with a stick could have slammed home.
Kucherov gave his teammates all the credit on this beautiful goal. “[JT Brown] and [Namestnikov] did a good job on the boards, I just needed to stay in the right spot and score, it was an open net,” Kucherov said. The rookie had four total shots in the game, and came into Friday night third in scoring among all AHL rookies.
The 20-year-old Russian rookie was drafted in the second round, 58th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011. Kucherov’s stellar play in the QMJHL last season may have contributed to him making the Crunch this season, as he racked up 63 points in 33 games between two different teams. It seems thus far that playing on a bigger stage has yet to phase the Crunch’s young winger.
“I’m just playing how I usually play, I’m just trying to be smart on the ice,” Kucherov said. “I don’t think about my points, I think about helping my team win.”
Unfortunately for Kucherov and his team on Friday night, they were not able to come up with a win against Binghamton despite outshooting the Senators by a 2-1 margin. Despite Lawson letting in a goal that he most definitely wishes he had back, the Binghamton goalie bounced back in the remainder of the contest, stopping 40 of Syracuse’s 42 total shots.
Binghamton played excellent defensive hockey throughout the game, keeping a majority of Syracuse’s shots to the outside while allowing Lawson to see and smother the puck. The Crunch’s two power play goals were the only blemishes to an inspired effort by Lawson and the rest of the Senator team defense. The Crunch defense on the other hand was less than stellar to say the least. When you give up six goals on 20 shots, you know there are some defensive issues and the Crunch had many on Friday night.
Giveaways and odd man rushes were aplenty in Syracuse’s defensive zone, as three of the six Binghamton goals came on one-timers. Although Syracuse goalie Cedrick Desjardins probably could have had one of the one-timers and a shot from the top of the circle, he had no chance on a beautifully designed tip-goal by Ben Blood and a powerful wrist shot by Mike Hoffman when the Senators had a 2-man advantage.
Despite Kucherov’s offensive success, he feels he and the team need to improve defensively in order to win. “I think we were trying to do too much on the ice, we had too many mistakes. We need to focus on our breakouts and back checks,” Kucherov said. “I think we need to play an easier game, when we do that we play good and have fun.”
Kucherov and the Crunch will have an opportunity to play a better defensive game Saturday night as they take on the Senators again in Binghamton. Syracuse will look to not go 0-3 to Binghamton this season after also dropping the season opener to the Senators 4-3 in overtime two weeks ago. Puck drop between the familiar foes is set for 7:05 p.m. at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.