The Phantoms played a good game last night–if that game was boxing. As for hockey, the continued problem of sloppy play and too many penalties continues to haunt the team named after an apparition. A players-only meeting was held after the 3-2 loss.
The excess penalties–some of them just sloppy, others undisciplined–lead to too much time spent on the penalty kill. That unit has much less chance of scoring, and keeps some of our play-makers and scorers–such as January AHL player of the month Nick Cousins–on the bench for long periods of time. But that’s not all: This team continues to have difficulty in its own end, controlling the puck and transitioning to an offensive attack. Too-cute passes in the neutral zone and a resistance to basic hockey and shot-taking are hurting them at this juncture–especially on home ice, it seems. Last night was the fourth loss in a row at the PPL Center.
A friend of mine–who’s a much bigger hockey fan than I–once said to me: “Throw the puck at the net. Good things happen.” To wit:
- It might go in the net: Score!
- A rebound might occur–which can then be deposited in the net. In fact, that is what happened at the end of the first period last night. With time ticking down, a shot was made, and Nick Cousins was able to clean up the rebound to get the Phantoms back in the game.
- The goalie might cover it. In which case, a face-off in the offensive zone and the opportunity to make a play or get an open look.
In any case, the Phantoms will be playing on pink ice up in Wilkes Barre tonight. Let’s hope a road game against a difficult division foe will snap them out of it like is has the past two weekends. I hope that our team has not been “labeled” for their dirty play: You never want to blame officials if you can help it, but with such a sloppy, undisciplined team, we’re certainly not getting the benefit of the doubt with some of these calls. At some point, it becomes self-perpetuating, no?
Following the game tonight, whatever the outcome, the Phantoms are going to have to find their way to Springfield, Massachusetts in time for a 5PM puck drop on Sunday. Here’s where the problem lies: That area of New England is under a Winter Storm Warning as they are about to get slammed with yet another snow storm. The Warning is in effect from 3PM Saturday through 4PM Sunday–just when the Phantoms should be busing through. Heavy snow and strong, gusty winds are predicted–not exactly what you want if you’re driving a big ol’ tour bus. 4 to 8 inches of snow are predicted, with the heaviest forecast for late tonight through Sunday afternoon.
So we wish the team and coaches safe travels whatever happens on the pink ice tonight. Be safe, please. The AHL does not like to cancel games as they can’t really be re-scheduled, but if travel is untenable, I’d be in favor of it if it means safety.
Help on the way?
Maybe not just yet. Darroll Powe returned last night, but skated with the fourth line. I’d like to see him return to one of the top two lines, soon, if for no other reason than his leadership and experience. Mark Alt has been skating with the team, but still needs to be cleared for contact. Could that happen before Wednesday night’s home re-match with Binghamton? Or before next Friday and Saturday at home against Providence and Hartford, respectively? I suppose. I’d say a more likely time for his return would be Saturday the 28th, at home versus Bingamton (again!). Shayne Gostisbere is also skating with the team in a non-contact capacity. The current thinking is that he has further to go, and needs to gain significant strength. A more likely return date for him might be Friday March 6, at home versus Bridgeport–and then only if everything goes perfectly.
See you at the arena,