Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defenseman Cameron Gaunce (# 24), the off-season minor league free agent signing who has already been promoted to the National Hockey League by the Pittsburgh Penguins twice thus far, effectively takes Lehigh Valley Phantoms veteran winger Chris Conner off his skates during an always exciting American Hockey League contest played earlier this term … (photo courtesy Dave Scherbenko / Scranton Times-Tribune)
Clearly shouldering the full weight of acute withdrawal syndrome from all the hype and hoopla associated with the American Hockey League’s 2017 installment of the “All-Star Classic” that was just held at the PPL Center in Allentown roughly one month ago, the slumping Lehigh Valley Phantoms have now dropped five of their last seven AHL games following Saturday evening’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Yes, the very same unflappable WBS Baby Pens outfit that had just lost their last four AHL games on the trot coming into Saturday night’s clash at the corner of Seventh & Hamilton Streets. That is absolutely correct, the very same indefatigable WBS Baby Pens team that had managed to score a grand total of four goals during the those four previous defeats just mentioned. Affirmative, the very same WBS Baby Pens crew that are currently without no fewer than five key players — defensemen Steve Oleksy, Cameron Gaunce and Chad Ruhwedel as well as forwards Jake Guentzel and Carter Rowney — who are all now on the National Hockey League roster of the parent Pittsburgh Penguins.
Interestingly enough, it was the unheralded Ruhwedel who netted a huge insurance goal late in the third period of the Penguins’ outdoor game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Saturday night to essentially put the contest beyond the reach of the low-scoring Philadelphia Flyers. It is also worth noting that the defending Stanley Cup champions iced no less than six players against Philadelphia — goaltender Matt Murray, the defensemen Gaunce and Ruhwedel in addition to forwards Scott Wilson, Tom Kuehnhackl and Guentzel — who have all been promoted from the AHL farm club within the past season and a half or so. Guentzel, who, by the way, still leads the Phantoms’ intra-state rivals to the north with 21 AHL goals this season, had the primary assist on two of the four goals that Pittsburgh scored in this NHL Stadium Series contest versus Philadelphia and also ended up with a healthy + 2 defensive rating.
Meanwhile, over on the east side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, there was a case study in organizational depth and player development going on at the PPL Center in Allentown, too.
After all, it was Jarrett Burton, the undrafted 26-year-old Canadian import by way of Clarkson University, who grabbed a vital goal late in the second period to haul the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins level with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday evening. It was only the second goal of this 2016/17 AHL campaign for Burton, who has spent the majority of his three seasons as a professional skating for the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers. To put things in proper perspective, the Hamilton Street Heroes are still waiting to get even one goal from any player promoted from their ECHL affiliate, the Reading Royals, this term.
Furthermore, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s overtime winner from blueliner Barry Goers can not be interpreted as anything other than extremely symbolic. This because the undrafted and undersized 30-year-old native of Ivyland, Pennsylvania, who, like Ruhwedel, also played his college hockey at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, has always epitomized terms such as “role player”, “spare part”and “seventh defenseman” over the course of his tenure with WBS at the AHL level. Given that the veteran’s last AHL goal prior to Saturday night’s decider at the PPL Center came 678 days ago versus the since-demoted-to-ECHL Norfolk Admirals all the way back on April 18, 2015, it is rather amazing that Goers would be the one to stand and deliver in a intra-state rivalry game which has now been labeled some sort of “pre-playoff” extravaganza.
The ironic thing is, though, that the Lehigh Valley Phantoms look every bit the part of a crumbling team on the verge of being swept right out of the 2017 Calder Cup playoffs in the very first round. The teams that the Heroes have been losing to as of late — the St. John’s Canadiens, the Hartford Wolf Pack and the Springfield Falcons — are unquestionably below average and no amount of propaganda utilizing cliches such as “on any given night” is going to mitigate those undeniable facts of AHL life. Perhaps most troubling of all is this latest trend that has seen Lehigh Valley concede four or more goals in six of their last seven games — this in obvious spite of the fact that the Phantoms currently do NOT have any goaltenders or defensemen either out injured or currently away on NHL recall to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Ich bin in diesen Tagen gaenzlich unbeeindruckt.
Categories: Phantoms Hockey