Phantoms: Power Play Ponderings

der Eishockeyzuschauer



(Photo Source Unknown)

(Photo Source Unknown)

[dE takes on the Phantoms’ power play strategy after some gentle prodding from me–I’m always interested in how strategy can put players in a position to succeed, and sometimes make them better and sometimes make them look worse.  Also, I like winning.  If you have thoughts, please share them in the comments section below, which is where you’ll find mine.  -Kram209]


Monday, October 3rd brought the most welcome news that veteran defenseman Will O’Neill had successfully passed through the NHL Waiver Wire after being sent down by the Philadelphia Flyers the previous day.  Of course, this means that the 28-year-old rearguard from the University of Maine, who was given a lucrative salary after signing as a highly regarded minor league free agent this summer, is now formally eligible to skate for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the American Hockey League.  Even more importantly, this means that both of the AHL All-Star caliber defensemen signed by the Flyers organization in the off-season have made it through the waivers process unclaimed–and that particular development should result in very good things for the Hamilton Street Heroes’ power play during the upcoming 2016/17 campaign.
To review, O’Neill finished third among all AHL defensemen after posting 50 points in 74 games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and was rightly honored as a Second Team AHL All-Star for his efforts.  The other truly high octane offensive defenseman who was signed by the Philadelphia Flyers organization this summer, T.J. Brennan, led all AHL defensemen with both 23 goals and 68 points after skating in 69 games for the Toronto Marlies last term–and was named both First Team AHL All-Star as well as the winner of the annual Eddie Shore Award, which is given the American Hockey League’s best defenseman, accordingly.  What’s more, the fact is that the 27-year-old native of Willingboro, New Jersey, has actually been named the AHL’s most valuable blueliner two times in the last three seasons.
The acquisition of a pair of such top shelf offensive defensemen raises obvious questions about what kind of strategies and tactics Lehigh Valley Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon will be using this term.  Right away at the start of last season, this very blog was extremely quick to commend Gordon for the courage required to use a true “umbrella” power play formation with the four forwards on the ice operating at or below the two face-off circles while loosely forming a box-ish shape.  Needless to say, having such a gifted skater and talented offensive defenseman such as Shayne Gostisbehere to man the point certainly made it easier for the Phantoms to use the high risk, high reward alignment.
Then again, as might have been expected, Lehigh Valley had a much more difficult time being successful with the umbrella power play formation after Ghost got his much anticipated call up to the Flyers on November 14th — this being a clear indication of the blatant lack of organizational depth with regards to offensive defensemen that existed last season.  However, with both Brennan and O’Neill now on board, to speak nothing of the arrival of the 20-year-old rookie Travis Sanheim, a shortage of offensive defenseman does not figure to be something that will be troubling the Phantoms too much this season.  But there are obvious questions which still are yet to be answered.
For all of their collective offensive talents, neither Brennan nor O’Neill are actually the best skaters who have ever played the game of ice hockey and neither, particularly the latter, are known to be the greatest defenders who have ever lived, either.  Considering that the umbrella power play alignment is high risk in that, with only one player stationed on the blue line, the formation is more susceptible to surrendering shorthanded breakaways and two on one rushes, one must ponder if Brennan and/or O’Neill are properly prepared to be left all alone on the point. Furthermore, it might very well be that the Lehigh Valley Phantoms coaching staff will conclude that pairing Brennan and O’Neill together on the same power play unit in a traditional formation with two defensemen back on the point is the best option.
It should also be remembered that the Lehigh Valley Phantoms might very well be welcoming back either Andrew MacDonald or Brandon Manning, two players who have each enjoyed a certain amount of success offensively at the AHL level within the last two seasons.  If either MacDonald or Manning were to be sent down by the Philadelphia Flyers and Sanheim, who did have a goal and two assists in four games for the Phantoms last spring, is ready to consistently do the kind of things in the AHL that he did in Canadian junior hockey, then that would provide Lehigh Valley with another set of suitable defensemen for a second power unit.  So, again, everything will depend upon what the Phantoms coaching staff ultimately decide is in the overall best interests for the team.
Certainly, the opportunity to have a first-hand look at what the Lehigh Valley Phantoms are planning do to on the power play is just one of many reasons to attend the two American Hockey League exhibition games versus the Charlotte Checkers at the PPL Center in downtown Allentown this coming Friday and Saturday, October 7th and 8th.

Categories: Phantoms Hockey


4 replies

  1. The minute I heard that the Phantoms had signed the highly-regarded O’Neill and Brennan (along with attacker Miele, three of the top 5 available free agents this past off-season, by most lists) my first thought was: Now we have the personnel to better run the umbrella.

    Indeed it is risky. However, a review of statistics shows that the Phantoms yielded but 5 short-handed goals all of last season, among the league’s best as only 4 other teams had 5 or less. I think much of the “risk” for the Phantoms came with the inability to hold the zone during the attack, resulting in a middling 16th overall ranking in Power Play efficiency. I take this to mean that at times it was working very well and other times it was wholly ineffective. Indeed, that’s what I observed in person, as well.

    Your point about using O’Neill and Brennan together on the PP is an excellent one–and one I hadn’t initially considered. It makes perfect sense, allowing the team to hold the zone better, but also provides two guys with a knack for putting the puck in the net.

    Pucks in nets. That’s what I want. Pucks in nets. (Not our net…)

  2. Oh, you got that right – of the two biggest “risks” associated with only stationing one defenseman on the blue line in an umbrella power play formation, the one that the Phantoms struggled far more with was the keeping the puck in the zone at the point part … I was pleasantly surprised that Lehigh Valley did such a good job to limit the shorthanded odd-man rushes – I would have thought that there would be more … I called for the Phantoms to stop using the umbrella not so long after Gostisbehere was promoted because he was the only one with the necessary skating ability to be able to go ‘sideline to sideline’ and cover the point effectively. We wrote about this last year, that the umbrella IS a difficult formation to play out partly because a team HAS to have a defenseman who skates well enough to be able to cover the kind of ground that he is going to have to cover. Ghost made it look fairly easy but, then again, that is part of what makes Ghost that very special kind of player that certainly does not grow on trees.

    Brennan is said to be a “respectable skater” by NHL standards while O’Neill has always been considered to be something less than that. There is absolutely no doubt that Brennan and O’Neill both have all the offensive tools necessary to each be a dominant quarterback on the point in the umbrella. But I’m not sure that either player skates well enough to be able to do the job the way it is truly meant to be done.

    Meanwhile, of course it is easier to keep the puck in the zone at the point when there are two players stationed on the blue line instead of just one.

    Can’t wait to see what the Phantoms coaching staff ultimately decides upon.


  1. HOCKEY NIGHT IN ALLENTOWN: “Chess For Checkers” 10/7/2016
  2. Phantoms Power Play Revealed

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