Our Phantoms have been “Road Warriors” of late. With the next four games at home, and a playoff spot within shouting distance, it’s time to “Bring it On Home.”
“I’ve got my ticket….all aboard.
Take my seat, right way back….
Watch this train roll down the track.
I’m gonna bring it on home…
Watch out, watch out… “
–Led Zeppelin “Bring It On Home”
The Phantoms had a “three in three” last weekend. After dumping the first game at home against the last-place Binghamton Senators, they went on the road to Wilkes Barre and through the snow to Springfield, Mass, and notched two much-needed wins.
The loss Friday night was another example of too many penalties, and not enough offense–two things that often accompany each other. A players-only meeting after the game was mentioned. Up to Scranton they went, to face the second-place Penguins, who were not happy with the way the Phantoms beat them down on their last visit up there. On Pink ice, the Phantoms secured the win and two standings points courtesy of a Taylor Leier goal and a Taylor Leier shoot-out clincher–one day before his 21st birthday. Having made it safely to New England, the Phantoms controlled play versus the Springfield Falcons, taking a 4-2 lead into the third period. The Falcons fought back, though, and it took an Andrew Gordon OT goal to secure this victory. Still, it was four out of a possible six points on the weekend after a horrible showing Friday night. We’ll take it, but they’re going to need to play better on home ice and win some games in regulation in order climb in the standings.
It starts tonight, as the next four games are at home: Tonight, Friday and Saturday–then next Saturday. Since the start of the year, the Phantoms are 2-6 at home and 8-3 on the road. A turn around is necessary with the playoffs at least within sight. Rise up, Phan Nation, let’s “Bring It On Home!”
Standings: The Phantoms are in 10th place in the conference, where the top 8 make the playoffs. They are 5 points behind eighth place Worcester and two points behind ninth place Portland. They also have two “games-in-hand” on 7th place Providence who lead them by 6 points and will be in town Friday.
Penalties: The Phantoms continue to lead the league in penalties in every category, and continue to rack up the penalty minutes. We continue to talk about not taking penalties for the sake of being sloppy and lazy. Hopefully we’ll see some improvement with the return of Powe, Alt and Laughton. However, tonight might not be the night: The Senators are second in penalties and these two teams bring out the best (read: worst) in each other.
Special Teams: The Phantoms’ Power Play ranks 23/30, while their Penalty Kill ranks 18/30. Their overtime record ranks 9/30. As a home team, they are 24th overall, and on the road 14th overall.
Attendance: The Phantoms continue to rank fourth overall with an average of 8,011 per game, just ahead of Providence. They trail Hershey, Chicago, and Lake Erie.
Goalie Rob Zepp has to “Ramble On” to Philly to back-up and relieve Ray Emery who has been the starter since Steve Mason went under the arthroscope for his ailing knee. Young Anthony “Stolie” Stolarz has been in Philly to back him up on the recent road trip, but didn’t get a chance to play. However, now that they are home, and Zepp is fully healthy–they had him start all three games last weekend!–they’ve swapped spots. Martin Ouellette remains the backup in Allentown.
The big surprise last weekend–at least at first–was about the return of forward Scott Laughton. To get “Scotty Laughts” some additional ice time and to get some salary cap relief for the pending activation of veteran Kimmo Timonen, Laughton was “loaned” to the Phantoms on Saturday. He wasn’t able to make it to Wilkes-Barre in time, so met the team in Springfield and played in the game Sunday late-afternoon. I made a joke in a post the other day about Hector Luna being his driver, but that was before I realized the Flyers were in Buffalo, NY at the time. Laughton made it as far as Syracuse, but got hung up with the storm blowing through and couldn’t make it in time for the game. So, Hector Luna jokes aside [Def: A player who can make it to Philadelphia to play in the Majors in 45 minutes, but takes several days to make it back to Allentown once he’s sent down.] reports are that Laughton is “on a mission” and that in addition to playing, getting better, and getting back to Philly, he’s here to help the Phantoms make the playoffs. He’s reunited with fellow young forward, line-mate, and roommate Taylor Leier on the Phantoms’ top line.
Another surprise–at least for me, and given the time frame–was the return of defenceman Mark Alt. As you recall, he’s been out with a broken hand since the start of 2015, and I was not even aware that he’d been cleared for contact. In any case, he rejoins pairing-mate Brandon Manning and should help on the back end and in transition.
Veteran attacker Darroll Powe returned from his concussion Friday night on the fourth line, then moved to the top line on Saturday in Wilkes Barre. He should add some leadership and strength to the offensive attack. With Laughts and Cuz manning the top two lines, Powe will likely center a lower line and be available to take those tough face-offs.
With these players returning to action, defenceman Brett Flemming and attacker Brandon Alderson have been sent to Reading on loan. Derek Mathers and Jesper Pettersson remain in town as the likely healthy scratches.
Center Austin Fyten lost a tooth in the game on Sunday, but didn’t miss a shift, visited the dentist on Monday, and should be good to go for the game tonight.
Blair Jones has returned to the ice. He began skating on his own yesterday as he returns from what we had only know as a “serious lower body” injury. We’ve now learned it was a groin injury, and his return to game action is said to be about the same time as Shayne Gostisbehere–who is building strength post-knee surgery–if all goes well.
Lines: I’m starting to develop an opinion on how these lines should go, but with the return of these players from injury, I’ll withhold judgement for now. Here’s how things looked Sunday afternoon:
23 Leier 21 Laughton 10 Gordon
38 Akeson 25 Cousins 45 Stortini
37 Rosehill 11 Fyten 16 Hextall
24 Straka 36 Powe 19 Alderson
28 Manning 2 Alt
7 Lauridsen 5 Delisle
27 Comrie 4 Hagg
72 Rob Zepp
Healthy: 3 Flemming, 8 Pettersson, 17 Goumas, 29 Mathers;
Injury: 14 Gostisbehere, 22 Jones
Discussion: I like the top two lines above, but would prefer Powe appear in the third line, and that Hextall/Rosie/Fyten line move to fourth. If Powe can play on the wing, the speed of Goumas can be difficult for another team to face after dealing with Laughton and Cousins on the top two lines; however, he does play himself out of position at times, and Powe is better on the face off. Let’s see what we get tonight, and perhaps we’ll have a whole post dedicated to this discussion, upcoming.
Our old friends the Binghamton Senators are back in town–the team with the second-most penalty minutes in the league. Is it their fault we take so many penalties? Our our fault, they do? Chicken and the Egg? Connect your fight strap, this one could get a little wild, again…
Game Time: As per usual, 7:05PM puck drop, 6:00PM doors open. 5:15PM Chickies and Petes if you wanna get a table…
Pre-Game: Also note, if you’re into beers, this is LV Beer Week, and there are some interesting choices on tap at the BrewWorks, in particular.
Tickets: At Press Time, VIP Packages are available for this event. Click here for more information. The seats are located between the player benches, must be purchased in pairs, and you get a signed stick and a fan-boni ride. You also have the option of pre-purchasing parking in the Linden Street Arena Garage, which is now pass-only and not available to the general fan-base. The total for two, with all fees and parking, is $225.50. I imagine packages are limited; however, it does appear that VIP Packages are also available for the next two games, this weekend.
Friday night’s game has gone SRO, while plenty of seats are available for tonight and some for Saturday.
Broadcast: Service Electric TV-2; AHL-Live; AM-1470; FM-89.9(arena only). Several of us will be testing out the 89.9FM arena feed again tonight–I haven’t used it in a while.
Weather: It’s cold, and there may be some snow squalls in the area during your commute. Come out early to Chickie’s, and park in a deck rather than a lot to keep your car “clean.”
Promotion: Coors Light Happy Hour: $2 Coors Light drafts at the Coors Light bar behind section 108–AS WELL AS behind section 118/119–from 6PM opening through the end of the first intermission. Please drink responsibly.
Noise Nation: Listen for the bells….
What To Watch:
- Watch for Scott Laughton to score, and score again.
- Watch for the team to attempt to resist fighting with that dirty Binghamton club. 😉
- If Laughton doesn’t score more than one goal tonight, expect that Taylor Leier will.
- Watch for the return of Mark Alt to make the team look better at transitioning out of the defensive zone, and for Brandon Manning to get more chances to score knowing he’s covered by Alt.
- Watch to see if Jason Akeson tries to do too much. He’s been on a scoring streak lately, but what I’ve been hearing lately is that he may be one of the culprits in the “too pretty” approach to offensive-zone hockey that’s been plaguing the Phantoms at home of late. See if he’s more willing to snap off a quick shot or chip and chase in order to allow his teammates to help out. If he’s holding the puck and not taking shots if they’re not perfect–or if he’s trying to make a highlight-reel pass in the neutral zone, then perhaps he’s trying to do too much. He’s not the only one guilty of this, of course–just the one to watch tonight.
- Watch to see some hustle and fire from Petr Straka and Robert Hagg. The two young players have been singled out by coaches for not always playing with the immediacy they’d like to see. Watch to see how they respond tonight.
- Watch to see if playing on the second line takes some pressure off Nick Cousins and allows him to play a little looser.
- Watch to see if they’re willing to fill those little dixie cups of Coors Light to the top, or if they leave an inch and a half of foam.
- Check to see if Chickie’s and Pete’s has the “Snow Day” all-you-can-eat Snow Crab special tonight.
- Watch to see how “Stolie” does, coming back from the Flyers. He didn’t get a chance to play at all, but I heard they kept him plenty busy during practice and he got the benefit of the NHL coaches and teammates and that whole experience. Lets see how he responds. He’ll be our number one guy for the next couple weeks–and if we can make a push here, he’ll be part of the reason why. It’s a tall order for the tall, young goaltender–let’s see how he responds.
The Phantoms remain in town for their next three contests after tonight. Friday night versus Providence and then right back at it for a “Legend’s Night” Saturday versus Hartford. They’ll get some rest during the week, and remain home for NEXT Saturday versus Binghamton (again!) on “Little League Night.”
See you at the arena,
Categories: Phantoms Hockey