The Phantoms got pasted last night in the Wyoming Valley by a 7-1 score. Crappy, mis-colored ice, and clue-less officials didn’t help matters, but the fact was they were beaten and beaten soundly. And, they didn’t respond well: They lost their composure and gave up on the game very similarly to the game exactly two weeks prior at the PPL Center when they took a 9-1 drubbing from Providence.
Rather than save this for Wednesday’s “Hockey Night” post, I’ll share some thoughts right now based on what I’m reading around the inter-webs about our Hamilton Street Heroes.
“When they lose they always get blown out.”
“When they win they only ever win close games.”
“This shows that they’re a flawed team.”
“For this reason they’re not a very good team and need not be taken seriously as we look forward to the playoffs.”
Cause For Concern
There are a couple things for us to look at, if we’re to objectively evaluate our own squad:
- Goal-tending I like Alex Lyon and Stolie just fine, but neither one of them are “shut-down” goalies at this juncture. As we approach the playoffs, I think we might need to get one of them in a rhythm to start more consistently. It’s tough, with the holiday break and Stolie coming back from the Flyers and now the time off from All Star. And remember, Stolie didn’t play that hot in the second half of last season, either.
- Defense In the two blow-out losses–and there’s really only been the two despite what the naysayers will tell you–coaches were careful to not point the finger at the goalies. That’s all well and good, but that also means the defensive pairs need to tighten things up, mind their responsibilities and protect their netminder.
- Composure I love TJ Brennan. I love his game and I love having him on this team. But he needs to be a leader for guys like Morin and Sanheim and Hagg–and he’s more valuable out on the ice than he is sitting in the penalty box or chilling out a misconduct back in “the room.” Lately TJ has taken a bunch of penalties and a fair few were wholly unnecessary. Brennan needs to keep it under control and Morin needs to follow his lead. If they need to throw down, then so be it–just be smarter about it.
- Injuries and Interference I’ve said it before–this team has the depth and talent to withstand an injury or two or a call-up or two from Philadelphia. Leier and McDonald are nicked up right now. We can cover that, but I always get the feeling there’s a possibility the Foundering Flyers do something drastic that will ruin our fun.
- Standings It would be easy for me to point out that we’re in second place and have the second best winning percentage in the entire AHL. But I could also point out that the margin between us and Wilkes Barre is larger than us and fifth place–the place where we’d miss the playoffs for the eighth straight year.
- Saturday Night Fever Not only have the recent horrible losses happened on Saturday nights, our Saturday record is downright alarming: 7-7-1. Remove Saturdays from our season record and we’re 23-6-1 and would easily be the best team in the league. It’s not clear what this means for the future.
“What, Me Worry?”
The sky is not falling. As I’ve pointed out, the Phantoms have the second best record in the entire league and are one of only two teams in the league with 30 wins. They’ve been at or near the top of the league in scoring all season. Special teams have been solid on both ends of the ice. The team has a special combination of young talent and proven veterans, all of whom are capable of taking this team the distance. While neither goalie has completely stepped up thus far, both are solid and capable of making that jump at any moment–and should one get injured or called up, it wouldn’t spell disaster for the team.
The previous Saturday disaster came the night after a rousing win over these same Penguins. This one came after a difficult road win achieved in comeback fashion. They’ll need to even things out, but they responded to the last drubbing by smacking Hershey. We’ll have to wait until Wednesday at home versus Binghamton to see how they respond this time.
7-2, 5-1, 6-2, 4-1, 7-1
Those are all scores of recent Phantoms wins.
3-2, 6-4, 2-1, 4-3
Those are the scores of the last four Phantoms losses–other than the two blow-outs. And remember, the Phantoms are still 2-1 on the season versus the Penguins, and have their own 7-1 win over Providence from December.
It’s difficult to look ahead with any certainty. Despite the horrible loss last night, the Phantoms are still 2-1 versus the flightless birds, with both teams holding serve at home thus far. There are 9 more meetings yet this season, and as I pointed out above, we’re slightly closer to missing the playoffs than we are to first place.
So we can’t count our chickens or anything like that. Plus, there’s the part where I touched the Calder Cup when it was in town.
OK, maybe I kissed it.
But no tongue, I promise!
But my point is, I’m not sure what any of this means in a 5-game playoff series. It will have to do with how the team is playing at the time. How will they respond to the playoff atmosphere? (Oh and you can bet we’re bringing a “playoff atmosphere” up in the PPL Center.) How are the goalies playing? And what shape is the opponent in? Have they been ravaged by their NHL parent? And what if players get assigned to the Phantoms who actually make us better?
We don’t know any of that stuff right now. Getting first place in the division isn’t crucial, of course. However, remaining second might give us home-ice in the first round and enough buffer to get things set as it gets closer. And we need to avoid a lengthy losing streak like Hershey had recently–and which they’re now climbing out of.
So, one game at a time.
They don’t become cliches unless there’s a modicum of truth to them….
See you at the arena,