After a bit of a break for the fans of the Hamilton Street Heroes, we’re back at it Wednesday night to begin a pivotal stretch for the 2015-2016 squad. Seven of the next eight games will take place in the luxurious confines of the PPL Center in Allentown.
Every “Hockey Night” I “Look Back” on the past game or couple games to try to give readers some perspective about where the team is, and perhaps where they’re heading. I talk with folks all the time about the sports teams–the Phantoms as well as the IronPigs–and common phrases pop up: “How’s the team doing this season?” and “Who’s on the team this year?” among them. This is the whole point of the preview “Hockey Night” to get the fans–rabid as well as casual–ready for the game. If you know about the team and the players, you’ll have a better perspective headed into the night’s action.
So here we are,
the Phantoms won five straight games–three in regulation, including games against top-tier foes from Hershey and Wilkes Barre–headed into the All Star Break. The 10 standings points out of a possible 10 didn’t look too impressive in the standings given the hole they were in, but it sure put them within shouting distance.
Many of the players were able to get out of town and get some rest over the break. G Anthony Stolarz and F Nick Cousins headed up I-81 to Syracuse for the AHL All Star festivities. By most reports, they both represented the Phantoms well and performed admirably. In an interesting twist, both also ended up in Philadelphia to fill in for injured Flyers almost immediately afterwards.
The Phantoms, meanwhile, reported back to Allentown last Thursday for practice in advance of weekend games in Rhode Island and Hershey. And, while Jason LaBarbera has been playing well and would be tapped to start the two games in net (with Ouellette backing up), the offense was sure to be hit now lacking Cousins, Straka (inj), and Brent (inj).
But it didn’t really start out that way, thanks to speedy left winger Danick Martel. He was able to net a hat trick (You’ll have to trust that I threw my hat while sitting in my den on Friday night; I then quickly received it back thanks to the two Golden Retrievers in attendance.) in Bridgeport Friday night to keep the Phantoms in the game. Alas, it was the defense that let the team down, giving up 5 goals before an empty-netter concluded the game in the 6-3 loss.
The play of the young Martel, as well as the Cornell product Cole Bardreau–who has recently been centering the second line–had me optimistic headed into Hershey on Saturday. It’s a difficult place to play, to be sure, but it’s a place the Phantoms have had some success this season. A point would have been nice.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. The team came out flat and again gave up a bunch of goals. The best I could tell from the radio and the tweets, it wasn’t necessarily poor play by the netminder LaBarbera. It sounded like poor play in front of him mostly left him hung out to dry. Could it be that the forwards aren’t getting back to help the defenders? Are the defenders pressing to help the attack in light of the recent injuries and call-ups from the top two lines? Those questions remain to be answered, but reports out of Hershey have the overall effort sub-par, and Phantoms now having yielded 11 goals in two games since the break.
we come home. After taking 10 of 10 points, we took 0 of 4. This week has 6 available points, all at home with three games Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The Phantoms home record has been something less than desirable this season; however, they seem to have righted the ship on home ice during the recent win streak. It will be of utmost importance to get a bunch of these points coming up. How many do they need? What can they afford to lose?
I can’t really say. It’s still too soon in the season to give up and resign ourselves to yet another season without the Phantoms in the playoffs. Mathematical elimination isn’t upon us, but perhaps practical elimination is. They certainly need to “take one game at a time” and “string together points” and all the other cliches of the day. But let me break down the upcoming groups of games:
This Week: 6 available points
Wednesday: Home for Binghamton. The lowly B-Sens are 0-3 and 3-7 (last 10) heading into Allentown. They’ve played us tough, but this is a close to a “must win” game as you’re likely to see in February.
Friday: Home for Portland. The Pirates are a playoff team at this juncture, but we played them tough up in Maine recently, and they are currently 0-3 / 5-5 as of this writing. It’s a winnable game; I’d like to see us get a point at least.
Saturday: Home for Utica. This is a tough one. The Comets are poised for the post-season in the North division, and are currently on a 4-0 run with points in 7 of their last 10 games. This is the toughest game this week.
Of these six points, it would be nice to get at least 4. It is imperative that we get 3. Less than three could be the beginning of the end.
This Month: 18 available points
There are two away games this month: Sunday the 21st in Springfield Mass to cap a three-in-three next weekend, and Sunday the 28th in Hartford to cap another 3/3 the following weekend. There are many reasons that they could and should get points in those two games, but for now let’s consider them losses.
With 4 points this week, the Hamilton Street Heroes will then have four more home games this month: Springfield, Bridgeport, Hartford and Utica (again).
Springfield has been playing some better hockey of late, but they’re the last-place team in our division and it’s of utmost importance to get those two points. Bridgeport is on the bubble for a playoff spot right now, and has been playing some good hockey of late. However, they by-far lead the division in penalty minutes, we just played them, and they’ll be on our ice this time. It’s another game we should really take care of. With two games against Hartford and two against Utica this month, it seems like a couple points should be coming our way if even by pushing a game to extra time or penalty shots. Let’s take a point each there.
Put it all together and I’ve got 4 points this week, 4 from beating Springfield and Bridgeport, and two more from the double games with Utica and Hartford. That gives us 10 out of 18 for the balance of February.
Will that push us up the standings into playoff position? Likely, not. But it will allow us to remain relevant in the discussion headed into March for all intents and purposes. It would be nice to get more, of course, but less will have only the most delusional fans (and players and press and coaches and broadcasters) still thinking playoffs headed into the first part of March where 6 of 7 games are on the road.
It seems this team has played up or down to its competition this season–often rising up to the challenge of a tough team but also perhaps underestimating the weaker teams. Coach Gordon once said, “At the end of the day, all you can control is your effort…”
We’re going to need top effort from everybody for the rest of this month.
See you on “Hockey Night,”