The conclusion of tonight’s game represents the primary bifurcation of the season–and just now we get down to business with the division-leading Penguins. Here’s what you need to know to get ready for tonight’s game:
Last weekend began with a rousing and decisive victory over the visiting Bears on Friday night, followed by the revenge of the Bears in Hershey the following night. After a day of rest on Sunday, the Phantoms made their way to Springfield Mass for an MLK matinee. The scuffling Thunderbirds, penultimate team in the standings, jumped out to an early lead against a Phantoms team which looked disinterested in playing competitive hockey–at least according to those with eyes on the game. But remember this is a third-period team. They came roaring back to tie–and win–all in regulation.
Stolarz and Lyon alternated in that order Friday and Saturday, with Stolie’s Friday win carrying him to the Monday start in the current “hot hand” goalie climate.
The first-place Penguins arrive tonight for what is ostensibly the start of the second half of the season, which will include 11 head-to-head match-ups. The Pens beat the Bears in Hershey on Wednesday to extend their point lead in the division, but have played three more games than the Phantoms.
While the Phantoms were coming back to beat the Thunderbirds, the Penguins were not; their win streak was halted in Syracuse, in a rematch of Saturday’s game which Wilkes-Barre won. But the Pens got back to their winning ways on Wednesday:
The Phantoms are currently the highest-scoring team in the American Hockey League averaging 3.68 goals per game. Much of Lehigh Valley’s production has come in the third period where the Phantoms have produced a league-best 55 goals and are outscoring their opposition 55-27 in the final frame of regulation.
- Lehigh Valley is 23-3-2 when scoring three or more goals this season. Meanwhile, the Phantoms are 23-3 when allowing three goals or fewer this year.
- The Phantoms have scored at least one power play in five consecutive games. Lehigh Valley’s man-advantage is 9-for-29 (31.0 percent) during that stretch. The Phantoms lead the Eastern Conference with 43 power play conversions and their man-advantage is fifth overall in the AHL at 23.5 percent.
- Just prior to Friday night’s game with Hershey, we learned that 4C Boyd Gordon was waived from the Flyers to make room for D Mark Streit under the salary cap. He cleared waivers and was loaned to the Phantoms, but did not report in time for the game in Hershey on Saturday, nor did he make the trip to Springfield for Monday’s game. He’s been practicing with the team this week, and should take the ice tonight wearing jersey number 27 and centering the fourth line. Depending on how he’s holding up physically–he had been nursing a back injury–will determine additional lineup presence over the weekend.
- LW Danick Martel was nicked up in Friday’s game, sat out Saturday, but returned on Monday.
- D Reece Willcox got a start on Monday as D Will O’Neill took a break; no injury was reported. F Radel Fazleev was the other healthy scratch Monday.
- All-Star forward Jordan Weal is currently first among Lehigh Valley skaters and tied for second among active AHL-ers in total scoring with 37 points (12 goals, 25 assists) this season. Weal has tallied at least one point in 11 of his last 13 games overall and has produced an impressive 13 points (3 goals, 10 assists) during his recent surge.
- Forward Greg Carey currently leads all Phantoms and is the AHL’s active leader with 21 goals this season. He’s found the back of the net in eight of Lehigh Valley’s last 12 games and has compiled 10 goals over that stretch.
- Forward Chris Conner is currently in the midst of a five-game scoring streak (1/7-present) (goal, 7 assists). It’s his second five-game streak of the season as the veteran forward has compiled an impressive 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists) since December 9 (14 games). His patented move behind the net–“The Conner”–was responsible for the primary assist on Miele’s game-winning goal on Monday.
The Royals took 2 out of 3 from last-place Elmira last weekend, outscoring them a combined 18-7. They’re home tonight for Adirondack and tomorrow night for Wheeling (Pittsburgh). They’ve dropped to fourth place in their division.
It’s a scheduling oddity in the Pennsylvania Series: While the Phantoms have played–and virtually split–8 of their 12 games with Hershey, the series with the Penguins is just getting started. This is the second game of 12, with the first match a Phantoms win at home in November. That means a lot of hockey to play between the first-place AHL-leading Pens and the Hamilton Street Heroes!
The Pens come in not necessarily at 100% as All Star Center Jake Guentzel and D Chad Ruhwedel were called to Pittsburgh on Monday. Tuesday, defenceman David Warsofsky was returned to Wilkes Barre in exchange for defenceman Cameron Gaunce. They do have their full compliment of goalies, though, with the All Star Jarry back in the fold to go along with DeSmith. Don’t cry for Wilkes-Barre, though, through all the roster changes they’ve won 8 of their last 9–7 in regulation, and highly regarded defenceman Derrick Pouliot is expected back from injury tonight.
Puck Drop: 7:05PM
Tickets: A fair few upper-level seats are available at this writing. There are also a bunch available on the secondary markets.
Parking: A source tells me there are some policy changes afoot. Stay tuned for details and confirmation. Otherwise, park as per usual and make sure to have $6 handy as some credit card processing may still be limited.
Promotion: “Pre-All Star Celebration and Rivalry Night” Phantoms will be wearing special commemorative All Star Jerseys–perhaps tomorrow as well:
**Those attending the All Star Game festivities, be sure to pick up your souvenir tickets and lanyards at the All Star Table near the Tim Horton’s entrance, and order your commemorative glass for the tailgate/beer tasting.
Media Kit: pens-12017
Broadcast: Video: TV-2 Audio: AM-790, Phantoms365 App, Phantomshockey.com, FM-89.9 (arena)
PreGame: As per usual, radio at 6:20PM for your drive, TV 6:30PM at Chickie’s.
Mrs. Kram and I might head back to The Bay Leaf for some end-of-the-week/pre-game relaxation and nourishment. We haven’t been in a while.
Last week Ziggy and I took on the BrewWorks beer list pre-game in honor of their new beer release and had some nice snacks as well. The new tripel was outstanding. I’m rarely disappointed with a trip to the BrewWorks–food, drink, service, everything–but somehow that was my first trip there this season. Will return soon!
What To Watch
- Three games this weekend, and Stolie seems to have the hot hand right this second. Stolie tonight, Lyon tomorrow and hot hand Sunday? That’s what it feels like…
- Watch to see if Boyd Gordon makes his Phantoms and PPL Center debut tonight. If he’s on that fourth line, keep in mind it’s not a “checking line” per se, and look for him to perhaps get involved in the scoring.
- Watch Gordon taking face-offs; he’s supposed to be a good one.
- Watch to see who the scratches are.
- It seems like Miele is heating up. Keep an eye on him tonight.
- It seems like Brennan has been quiet lately–look for him to contribute on the scoreboard tonight.
- Strong possibility my guy Corban Knight will be one of the scratches tonight. What’s our record in games without Knight? I seem to remember it’s not that good. Plus, he had in important goal in that first matchup with the Penguins.
- The team is rested and has no reason not to be motivated for this game. Look for some serious “buzz.”
- Penguin goalies have traditionally played very, very well at the PPL Center. Will that continue tonight?
- For that reason, watch for quality shots from the Phantoms tonight–not necessarily quantity.
- Watch special teams. One minute I think the power play is humming, the next I’m not so sure. Same thing goes for the PK. The Pens have good “teams” as well.
- Watch how the officials call tonight’s game. I feel like one of the differences last weekend with Hershey was how much the officials were letting the brown team get away with their shenanigans one night versus the next.
- But, don’t expect the same level of extracurriculars with Wilkes-Barre. They usually just beat you at hockey. Sestito is the only one you really need to watch for rough stuff, and lately he’s been contributing on the scoreboard instead.
Right back at it tomorrow night at the PPL Center as the red-hot P-Bruins come to town for Kid’s Jersey Night. Beer tasting at Coca Cola Park tomorrow afternoon and then straight over for pre-game festivities. Gonna be a long day.
Sunday the Phantoms will head back down to Hershey for a Sunday afternoon tilt with the Bears to complete three games this weekend.
Wednesday at home for Binghamton.
See you at the arena,