Breaking down the Phantoms opening night loss.
A knowledgeable hockey observer sent me the following details and observations after breaking down the Phantoms loss at home on opening night Saturday. My comments follow his.
# 1 … Lehigh Valley’s number one power play unit featuring four forwards and skillful defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere looks more and more comfortable operating in the new Umbrella system installed by Phantoms first-year head coach Scott Gordon. A big part of the strategy involving the Umbrella power play is having four players “down low” in a box formation and, for the second game in a row at the PPL Center, the Phantoms directly benefited from that tactic while on the man advantage as Aaron Palushaj was in a great position to capitalize on a rebound. Palushaj, whom Lehigh Valley really need to recapture 20-goal form at the AHL level this season, took his chance with aplomb, it shall be note here.
I concur. It’s good to have a “powerful” power play, and the ability to capitalize on that opportunity. For large stretches of last season, I didn’t fell like that was the case.
# 2 … Lehigh Valley’s number two power play unit, which ices two defensemen in Andrew MacDonald and rookie Sam Morin, does not look very comfortable operating in the Umbrella system at all. Whereas Gostisbehere does a good job skating back and forth along the blue line to offer the necessary support to his teammates with the puck on either the left or right side of the new power play alignment, MacDonald remains rather stationary at the point in the center of the ice and seems to be a virtual spectator. Morin, meanwhile, looks a bit lost being asked to play down lower around the right faceoff circle as compared to a traditional position at the right point.
Once again, I have to agree. I’m not positive Morin belongs on that unit just yet–at least not in that formation. Either make him earn it, or go back to a more traditional attack with the second unit. In fact, changing strategies in the middle of the Power Play may give us the added advantage of making the other team’s Penalty Kill adapt mid-stream.
# 3 … Danick Martel is the one Lehigh Valley Phantoms forward who seems to attack with a noticeable amount of urgency each and every time he gets the puck. The diminutive Martel has been doing particularly well to go straight at the defense and force them to confront him before cleverly dishing the puck off to an open teammate. By comparison, the rest of Lehigh Valley’s forwards all seem to be more hesitant / tentative with the puck, particularly coming through the neutral zone — perhaps this is a clear sign that people are still adjusting to new systems.
I’ve read this observation other places as well. As an “unsung” kind of guy–along with Bardreau–and not a “top pick” or whatever, he’s certainly playing with an urgency that’s easy to spot. And, good to see!
But a word about “systems.” I get that they are changing things up–and it probably needed to be done. However, other teams face similar challenges. Maybe not Syracuse, but other teams have new coaches and new players every year as well. Here at the beginning of October, they’ve got one game in eleven days. That’s plenty of time to work on the “systems” and I think I’m not going to be so patient with that excuse if it keeps popping up following the home stand October 24-30.
# 4 … The Lehigh Valley Phantoms, last season’s AHL penalty minute leaders by a considerable margin, did exceptionally well to stay out of the penalty box on Opening Night and hopefully this is a trend which will continue all season long. Cole Bardreau’s roughing infraction was excusable as his Lehigh Valley teammate had just been fouled plus his Syracuse opponent (the former Phantoms winger Tye McGinn) also took two minutes and canceled his own penalty out. Tim Brent’s high sticking infraction in the offensive zone was unnecessary and killed a Lehigh Valley power play opportunity but, overall, the Phantoms can be commended for limiting the Syracuse Crunch to just one chance with the man advantage.
Yeah, this is a big one, and something I noticed the last couple games (incl preseason) as well. Staying out of the box is helpful to the new lines and systems as they’ll get to work together more minutes each game–being in the PK all the time keeps scorers off the ice. Penalties are going to happen once in a while, but we needn’t lead the league in THAT particular category.
# 5 … Lehigh Valley rookie left wing Tyrell Goulbourne was a – 3 on defense while fellow first-year professionals Pavel Padakin and Michael Parks, each of whom had an assist on their debut in the AHL, finished with a plus/minus rating of – 2.
Yeah, that line seems to be the weaker one. The defensive pairings seem to have the blame “spread” a bit. Conner had a +2. We’ll see if they change it up a bit–or somehow figure a way to get Rosie on the ice. Folks around me were dismayed about Rosie on the bench, but we already knew why: THIS. There’s a report that McDonald was nicked up following the game–we’ll monitor the Captain and see if he’s ready by Friday in Springfield. If not, that could open up another “veteran” spot for Rosie–then we’ll see if he can stay out of the box.
# 6 … The Syracuse Crunch appeared to be in control of the contest for most of the first two periods but certainly seemed to take their foot off the gas pedal and adopt a far more conservative approach for the third period. Not surprisingly, this approach almost backfired on the visitors and allowed the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to outshoot their guests 12-3 over the final twenty minutes of play. Were it not for a fabulous glove save by Syracuse goaltender Kristers Gudlveskis with time literally set to expire, the game would have gone into overtime and the Phantoms would have been guaranteed at least one point.
“So you’re saying there’s a chance.” That’s all I really want out of a game. I was ready to bail if we went down three goals in the third, but they picked it up and pushed until the end. Hat’s off to their net-minder for a superb effort–as written below.
Another word about goalies: I’m not sure what to think about LaBarbera. Color me worried, though. Prior to the season, the optimist in me thought maybe some of his bad numbers from last season were due to playing on a dreadful team in Norfolk. But he’s not getting any younger, and our defense is still learning. Will we start hearing chants of “We want Stol-ie” or “Bring back Zepp” at the PPL Center? Something to watch–I know these guys can be hot and cold sometimes so we’ll just sit back. Still, I’m worried.
# 7 … Syracuse right wing Jonathan Marchessault, the fourth-leading scorer in the entire American Hockey League last season, lived up to his advance billing as the “Danger Man” while the Crunch’s two first round draft picks, still 19-year-old Anthony DeAngelo and 21-year-old Slater Koekkoek, both looked very good rushing the puck all game long.
Yeah, dude was good–as was written on these pages prior to the game and highlighted on the big board in the arena during pre-game. That’s the kind of guy the Phantoms need to get in the off-season, to supplement the prospects, huh?
# 8 … Syracuse goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis probably deserved to be the game’s second star. Aside from the big time glove save at the very end of the game, the Latvia Olympic team netminder also had several other noteworthy stops including many at close range. For my money (as compared to what appeared on big screen at the PPL Center), the Save Of The Game came in the second period after Gudlevskis stopped a rising shot from Palushaj after the Phantoms winger had done very well to skate onto an inviting lead pass into space.
Other observations, not so much “hockey” related as game-day related:
- There’s been some chatter about attendance and “sell out” and season ticket sales awards and the like. I’ve got some thoughts, but I’ll wait to write them until I can put it in perspective and not come off as negative. I’m very proud of our community’s ability to support these teams, but there are some caveats. We’ll hold that for another day.
- They’re starting to try to get some traditions started: Following a Phantoms score, PA announcer Joe Wowk says “PHANTOMS….” and we’re all supposed to yell “GOAL!” I know, it’s hokey, but I was yelling it too loudly to be able to hear if anyone else did it. How did it sound? Can we do better?
- I still haven’t heard about whether the 5:30 doors will be an on-going thing or if it was just for opening night or for Saturdays. I will say I think it’s a great idea–lessens the crush at the doors at security and relieves the crowds in Chickie’s–all with the added advantage of more time for folks to buy beers, jerseys, and sandwiches on the concourses prior to the games. It might not be “traditional” but I think it’s what this arena in this market needs: early “doors” to satisfy the masses. I thought it worked well.
- I didn’t notice the new “goal song.” Usually, I consider the music as part of the “background” although I know others are very sensitive to it. Plus, I was cheering so loudly that I couldn’t be bothered. Glad they’re changing things up, though.
- Still a bit unintelligible with the PA system–speakers above my head are either ‘off’ or not working.
- I thought the opening montages were unremarkable. But, people like to see themselves on the big screen, so OK. I like to see the hockey. More highlight plays and more chance for a better “pump-up” video.
- Good to see them selling the crab fries to the concourse.
- Opening night for the Royals in Reading is Saturday 10/24–the same day as our next home game. And THAT’S the night the Gin Blossoms will be there. I regret the error in my last post.
See you at the arena,