With a whole week to prepare, “Failing Phantoms” could manage only one standings point last weekend. Now, after another week off, they head to New England looking for points–and answers.
Let’s be honest, it didn’t go well last weekend. The Phantoms were unable to beat a non-playoff Springfield team on the road on Friday night, then they came home to face a foundering Penguins squad decimated by injuries and call-ups and once again couldn’t win on a Saturday. They might still lead the league in scoring, but of late they are merely a .500 hockey club who can’t seem to tighten things up on defense. They’ve slipped to fourth place and are four points–one more bad weekend–away from falling out of the final playoff position.
They need answers and they need them now. Just the team, on the road, for three straight days. Let’s see if they can answer the bell. Here are the questions that face them as they return to Springfield for tonight’s game:
- Where are we going to find some defense? It’s a team game, right? Last Friday I looked at the box score to see if I could figure out if there was one D-pair most guilty of allowing goals. Do you know what I found? I found an attack line with the big minus numbers. Defense isn’t just for defenders; they need to tighten things up all around and take responsibility in their own end. Coach Gordon wants the defenders to “join the rush” but it can’t come at the expense of easy chances in our own end. Partially because…
- Are we getting to the point where we have to pick a goalie? Who’s going to step up? Sometimes the goalie has to rise to the occasion. Despite best efforts, sometimes he’s going to be left out to dry by his defenders and need to make a big stop. Do we have the guy who can do that? I think it was Bill Parcells who said, “If you have two quarterbacks you have none.” In this case it might also be true with goalies. I like both Stolie and Lyon, but at some point soon I think we might need to pick one and try to get him in a rhythm for the stretch run and the playoffs, should we make it. If the one we pick fails, then we still have time to switch it. The best this team looked all season was when Stolie was with the Flyers and Lyon got into the swing on a consistent basis. That might not be a bad plan.
- What’s the deal with Saturdays? Are we going to be able to string together a couple good games in a playoff series? This is a big question. The inability to string two solid games together–even against mediocre opponents–is very troubling. It goes to compete-level. It goes to team leadership. It goes to coaching. These three games in a row, on the road, represent a time to answer that challenge and prepare for the challenge that a playoff series might present.
- How is this team going to deal with adversity? The roster made it through the trade deadline unscathed. They might still get a foreign or college or juniors player or two down the stretch. While I’m not sure there’s “room” on the roster for such, perhaps a young, hungry player could help break some of these veteran guys out of the “dog days of winter” just by helping raise the compete-level. It sounds like Weal will be back at some time perhaps soon, so that will be good as well. But what happens if we get a couple more injuries or “lingering issues”–or if the Flyers decide they want to take a few guys? Can we play winning hockey under those circumstances? I’m not sure.
- Coach Scott Gordon, are we sure he’s good? At least this isn’t the sloppy, penalty-driven team of 2014-15. Gordon seems to say a lot of the right things, and remember that coaches coach and players play so he can’t be expected to make the plays out on the ice. But still, how many times has this team opened a game and immediately been out-shot 8-1 in the first two minutes? When quotes emerge like “next time we’ll be prepared” and “this time we emptied the tanks” it makes one wonder how well the team is prepared and how focused they are on a night-to-night basis. There might be a lack of consistency here. Any time you want to know what the standard is, all you need to do is look north towards Casey Plaza: The Penguins changed coaches in the middle of last season and all they did was keep on winning (except in the playoffs). Last year, Gordon was given a bevy of veteran, experienced players to coach. Ultimately, it turned out that some of them weren’t good. This season, he’s been gifted with a high-priced roster with prospects and goal-scorers alike. The Flyers don’t appear to be going anywhere right now and it’s up to Gordon to try to instill a winning culture in the organization. Is he up to the task?
- Will Taylor Leier ever return to the ice? What about Boyd Gordon and Steve Swavely? I’m sure it’s not just fans who are frustrated with the lack of injury information. They can say “a couple weeks” about Boyd Gordon all they want, but his knee got crunched and I’m not planning on seeing him any time soon. Also, go back and look at our record and goals for/against during the games he played. I’m not sure we need him. Swavely is a good dude and a swing guy from Reading/Phantoms, but he has a cast on his wrist right now, so he’ll be on the shelf for a while. Leier is the big question mark. He’s a top-6 left wing and AHL All Star who is missing out on opportunities on the AHL and NHL level while he’s
injuredbattling a “lingering issue.” It’s rumored to be a concussion and current research tells us that each one in each athlete will improve at a different rate. The protocols have been established. So we’ll just wait–but why they refuse to speak of it (not to mention go out of their way to almost deny it) is beyond me. Since they’re not going to put him back out on the ice until he’s 100% (and they shouldn’t) what’s the worry? If other teams are going to target his head, that would be bad regardless. It’s not a problem unique to the Phantoms, but it certainly is troubling to observe on a team on the verge of dropping out of the playoffs.
- Are we going to feel ripped off by playoff ticket prices? Despite my deep concern that this team has begun the process of extraordinarily disappointing us and missing the playoffs for an eighth straight year, the fact is that a playoff spot is well within their grasp and that they do “control their own destiny” as the sports cliche goes. It’s completely appropriate for the organization to begin planning for playoff games. Packages are available if you call your rep. Leaked information about the pricing suggests that the price goes up with each round of the playoffs. While that feels awfully poor of them, I do like the “pay as you go” manner in which they’ve set it up, so that you don’t have to purchase every possible game and let the team keep the money all off-season (the “IronPigs method.”) They’ll charge your card on file in advance of each round and email the tickets, which is more on-par with the way the Reading Fightins did things last season, and much preferred. It certainly remains to be seen how many games we’ll actually play–if any–but I’m hoping it’s more than a few. It’s not just playoff hockey I desire, it’s the free German beer I stand to win if I can capitalize on an attendance bet with dE I made last fall! 😉
See you at the arena next weekend,