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AHL

Syracuse Crunch lose special teams battle to Utica Comets

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101417 Crunch vs Comets Conacher

Crunch forward Cory Conacher shoots the puck against the Comets at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

SYRACUSE — The Syracuse Crunch lost the special teams battle.

The Crunch finished the night 0-for-5 with the man-advantage and allowed a pair of Comets power play goals, as Syracuse fell to Utica, 3-2, at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

“They were the best team in the first period. We got better as the game went along,” Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx said. “Overall, I think your best players are playing on specialty teams, and I think their best players were better than ours today.”

Syracuse went 1-for-11 on the power play in a 4-2 win over Belleville on Friday. The Crunch are now 1-for-26 to start the season.

“We’ve got to execute better,” Groulx said. “Some games we have our chances. Today I don’t think we were a threat. It’s positioning, it’s structure, it’s working hard — a lot of different things together.”

Syracuse defenseman Erik Cernak scored his first North American pro goal. Cory Conacher also scored, while Anthony Cirelli, Mat Bodie, Mitchell Stephens and Daniel Walcott each had one assist.

Crunch goalie Michael Leighton made 16 saves in the loss.

Nikolay Goldobin opened the scoring 7:57 into the contest for the Comets, but Conacher’s shot from the right wing circle tied the score in the final minute of the first period.

Syracuse had an 11-3 advantage in shots on goal in the second, but Utica pulled ahead on a shot from Philip Holm.

“It’s frustrating, but it’s hockey,” Groulx said. “We took an unfortunte penalty at the end of the rink. It’s a bad penalty, but it’s a part of the game. You’ve got to be able to kill those penalties, but they scored two goals with deflections in front. I think we can do better on the PK as well.”

Cernak scored from the top of the circle to tie the score 3:22 into the third period.

“It was a great play by Mitchell Stephens,” Cernak said. “He had a cross pass to me, and I always try to shoot off his pads. I scored and it was good for the team.”

Michael Chaput tipped a shot past Leighton a little more than three minutes later and Utica held on for the win.

The Comets are coached by Trent Cull, who was Groulx’s assistant last year.

“Their team is well-prepared,” Groulx said. “They have a good team and I thought they played a solid game tonight. He’s doing a phenomenal job so far.”

Syracuse (1-2-1-0) wraps up the three-in-three weekend with a trip to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Sunday. Groulx was short with his answer about what to change before then.

“We’ll watch the film and we’ll see,” Groulx said.

Sports writer Jeremy Houghtaling can be reached at 315-282-2256 or at jeremy.houghtaling@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenHough.

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