Phantoms: Sand In The Transmission

Lehigh Valley Phantoms right wing Chris Conner (# 22), the skillful yet undersized veteran from Michigan Tech University now in his eleventh season as a professional player, netted a dramatic third period goal to haul the home side level on Saturday night but the Hamilton Street Heroes were still only able to grab one of the four possible points available from the two American Hockey League games at the PPL Center this past weekend. Photo: Cheryl Pursell

Lehigh Valley Phantoms right wing Chris Conner (# 22), the skillful yet undersized veteran from Michigan Tech University now in his eleventh season as a professional player, netted a dramatic third period goal to haul the home side level on Saturday night but the Hamilton Street Heroes were still only able to grab one of the four possible points available from the two American Hockey League games at the PPL Center this past weekend. Photo: Cheryl Pursell

der Eishockeyzuschauer

ALLENTOWN, PA

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“Sand in das Getriebe” — sand in the transmission — is a phrase that one sometimes encounters in the lexicon of German sports vocabulary that is describing a team which is not quite firing on all cylinders.  Perhaps the biggest impression resulting from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ two losses to divisional opponents on home ice at the PPL Center this past weekend was the apparent need for a little language arts counseling for many among the loyal patronage to be found at the corner of Seventh & Hamilton Streets in downtown Allentown.

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Oft-repeated phrases such as “getting pucks deep” and “getting pucks on net” are no longer a relevant part of any meaningful conversation to be found in this brave new offensive world that the Hamilton Street Heroes now find themselves dwelling in.  One Phantoms pundit, who shall remain nameless, even went so far as to suggest that Lehigh Valley, on the heels of Friday night’s 5-2 debacle versus the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, would have to “simplify” things against the Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday night.  The obvious problem with that strategy as well as the above referenced comments, however, is/was the fundamental fact that this particular Phantoms team is certainly not constructed to play the rudimentary style of ice hockey known as “dump and chase” by any stretch of the imagination.
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Simply put, this particular Phantoms roster of forwards and defensemen was specifically assembled this summer so that Lehigh Valley might play a much more technically skilled game which revolves around skating, passing and puck possession.  As noted in previous blog pieces, integral but smaller players such as Danick Martel (166), Andy Miele (170), Jordan Weal (171), Taylor Leier (177) and Chris Conner (181) who staff the Phantoms’ top three scoring lines just do not weigh enough to be consistently winning battles along the boards against American Hockey League defensemen, a clear majority of whom tip the scales in excess of two hundred pounds if not more.  In other words, this particular Lehigh Valley team is not very well suited to use dump and chase tactics even if head coach Scott Gordon and the rest of his coaching staff wanted to.
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So, to summarize in a nutshell, this 2016/17 edition of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms will sink or swim in this AHL this season largely based on its ability to master the technical skills of skating, passing and shooting accuracy. The days of blindly shooting the puck from center ice into the offensive third and hoping for the best are as long gone as tough guy Jay Rosehill, who is now skating for the Braehead Clan in Scotland.  Brand new phrases such as “off the puck movement”, “quick one and two-touch passing” and “creating odd-man rushes” have become the talking points that should be dominating conversations among supporters down at the PPL Center nowadays.
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It was an abysmal level of basic technical skill that was directly responsible for Lehigh Valley’s defeat on Friday night.  It certainly seemed as if whatever could go wrong for the Phantoms offense did:  Defensemen were having trouble connecting with open players on outlet passes, players receiving accurate passes in the neutral zone were either allowing the puck to jump over their stick altogether or fumbling the little black disc long enough before getting rid of it so as to throw off the timing of an otherwise promising breakout play, overanxious attackers were not able to stay onsides.  Most symbolic of the Hamilton Street Heroes’ technical difficulties all night long was the 2-on-1 rush in the scoreless first period that saw the puck hop over Martel’s stick with a good part of the Sound Tigers’ net staring the Phantoms’ leading goal-scorer last season in the face — and no one can say for sure whether or not the entire complexion of the game at the PPL Center on Friday would have been altered had the home team been able to strike first.
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The overall quality of play from the Phantoms in the basic technical skills department was certainly much improved during Saturday’s overtime loss to the Wolf Pack even if a lethal final pass in the offensive third was noticeably lacking oftentimes.  Considering the fact that Lehigh Valley have still only skated together in a grand total of five games this fall even including the two pre-season AHL exhibition contests opposite the Charlotte Checkers during training camp, it must be taken into consideration that a certain amount of cohesion among all the new arrivals this term is still a work in progress.  There has definitely appeared to be a certain amount of sand in the Phantoms’ gearbox during the first three regular season games played at the PPL Center thus far but it also has to be seen as encouraging that the Hamilton Street Heroes have been able to score four or more regulation time goals in two of its first three matches.
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Meanwhile, it should be noted for the historical record that a goaltender who can make the big save at the critical moment to bail the team out of a bona fide jam as well as a defensive corps that can collectively assert itself in a more physical but legal fashion would have to be at the very top of my own pre-Halloween Christmas Wish List for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms—what would you be inclined to ask from Santa Claus at this point in time?


Categories: Kram's Korner - From the Club Level, Lehigh Valley IronPigs

2 replies

  1. Points all well-taken.

    There is a place, though, for throwing the puck at the net and hoping for a deflection or a greasy sort of goal off the rebound. Perhaps it’s on a night when the ice is crappy and the puck won’t settle down. And, there have been instances of the “extra pass” resulting in no shot when the opportunity to snipe for an upper corner was lost. However, had that extra pass resulted in an easy goal. well, then I’m not complaining about it, am I? Mea culpa.

    “…is still a work in progress”
    d.E. making excuses? 😉

    “…been able to score four or more regulation time goals…”
    d.E. with “feel-good B.S.? 😉

    I’m just kidding of course–just taking the opportunity to be the “bad cop” checking out the glass half-empty. I don’t like the losses at all, but it is still very early. Five straight games on the road should provide this team with plenty of time for team building and cohesion with less emphasis on hanging out with fans.

    And as for my Halloween/Xmas/Santa wish? How about: Good health for Mark Alt.

    If this passing/puck movement/rushes offense is going to work, we’re going to need both technical skill and defensive responsibility from the blue-liners to get things started in our own zone. Alt may not be the savior or anything, but his experience and leadership should have a stabilizing effect. Kinda the same wish, I guess.

  2. Notes To Kram :

    Was I “making excuses”? — My first inclination is to say, “Of course not, I leave the outright propaganda non-sense stuff up to the ‘pros’ in the lame stream media”. The correct answer is “maybe a little since no one ever seems to give my articles any thumbs up over at Noise Nation’s Facebook page a clear 99% of the time” … Although it is a fact that it is very hard to develop any kind of cohesion among a bunch of new arrivals after just two exhibition games, regular readers can rest assured that such charity and leniency on behalf of the Hamilton Street Heroes has a very limited life span.

    Was I engaging in “feel-good BS” — No, never. I only do ‘old school’ sports journalism in terms of merely reporting the facts and sports editorials which offer intellectual analysis and projections based upon the facts. For example, the simple fact is that the Lehigh Valley Phantoms managed to score more than three regulation time goals in just 26 of 76 games played last season (in other words, roughly one-third of the time) so if the Phantoms have scored four or more regulation time goals in two of three games played so far this season (which they have and would be two-thirds of the time) then that would provide concrete evidence that Lehigh Valley’s offense has improved this season. “Small sample sizes”, perhaps, but certainly not deporable feel-good BS.

    PS – Philadelphia Flyers now have a record of two overall wins versus four overall losses and heart throb Travis Konecny still hunts his first real NHL goal after six real NHL games. It was fun to watch the Montreal Canadiens players go after Konecny after each and every whistle – welcome to the big time kid, this isn’t the Bridgeport Sound Tigers or Albany Devils dressed up in NHL sweaters! Mark my words, the teams that have more overall wins than overall losses will be the ones who make the playoffs, I don’t care what league is in question.

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