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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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