“Oh, take the whiskey from my glass and run
Yes, take the whiskey from my glass and run”
“I’m a better fan than you.”
It’s a refrain as old as the internet; I think it came out the same day Al Gore invented this place.
“You should just be happy you have hockey to watch.”
Well, yeah. But I do pay for it you know–with my time and my money, not to mention my emotions. And don’t even get me started on “tax schemes” and whatnot.
“Just calm down.”
Look, for my single friends, let me tell you: This is the quickest and easiest way to escalate an argument with your significant other.
The Phantoms last played at the PPL Center on Saturday, February 25 in an overtime loss to the Penguins. The Wilkes Barre team managed a win on enemy ice for the first non-home-team win in the season series between the two top teams in the AHL Atlantic. The win snapped a four-game slide for the Pens and continued an era of .500 hockey for the home-team Phantoms–not to mention additional Saturday night futility, following a loss the night before in Springfield to a non-playoff team.
It’s a long season, but with the number of games left beginning to dwindle, the Phantoms headed out for 4 games on the road with more questions than answers. I tried to ask those questions, only to have my fandom questioned, my gratitude in doubt, and my emotions belittled.
No worries. I can take it. But as my buddy d.E. rightfully pointed out, we try to tell it like it is around here. There’s no sponsor to satisfy, no checks coming in, no obligations to anyone whatsoever. We do what we like as long as we’re having fun–and if we’re not having fun then we won’t do it.
2016-2017 might be the best Phantoms hockey season we’ve had in Allentown–but it’s not all peaches and cream and besides, some of the last 7 seasons have been pretty dreadful so the bar is set pretty low.
So where are we now? I’ll tell you–and hopefully I’ll find a way to do it without hurting anyone’s feelings.
We’re right in the middle of the playoff hunt, with teams close-by both ahead of us and behind. We trail the division-leading Penguins by only 4 points–but the team to be eliminated from the playoffs, Hershey, trails US by only 4 points. The season continues to hang in the balance despite the big win last night on Casey Plaza, and wins in 3 of the 4 big road games. Some of my questions might soon have some answers, but it’s a matter of whether you see the glass as “half-full” or “half-empty” I suppose:
As I had hoped, perhaps we’re starting to try to get some clarity in our goal-tending situation. Alex Lyon appears to have been given the opportunity to seize the job, with starts in the last three games in a row. He had a really nice showing in Hartford Saturday night–in front of many, many members of Phan Nation who made the trip up there. And, he had a shutout last night at the Mohegan Sun arena versus the division-leading Penguins.
But what about Sunday? The 7-3 loss in Providence might not have been as bad as it looks–they were within 4-3 early on in the third period–but it wasn’t great, either. Lyon was pulled in favor of Stolie in the game. Certainly, the team was selling out at the end of a 3-in-3, in order to try to tie the game. Quality counter-chances are part of that risk–as well as an empty-net goal. But still, what I’m looking to see is consistent, quality goal-tending from one of these guys before we head into a playoff series. I like both guys–just need to find out which one wants to be “the man” for the playoffs. Unfortunately I don’t have a ton of confidence in the organization to be able to do this, given the way they’ve been upsetting people in Philadelphia with how they’ve been handling those two puck tamers.
Last night’s game was a big win–huge no matter how you pronounce it. To go into the Mohegan and beat the top team in division–in the league for much of the season–was an important step. The Phantoms had lost on that ice surface by a combined 12-2 over their previous two visits–and, the Pens had just won at the PPL two Fridays ago, winning on enemy ice to take a slight bit of control of the season-series. The Phantoms got back control and more with the regulation win, and this morning Pens fans were questioning their own team’s chances in the playoffs.
The four road dates in the past week represented games first against two non-playoff teams, then against two Atlantic division playoff contenders. It was notable to take care of business two nights in a row–one a Saturday (*gasp*)–but the big loss in Providence versus a playoff caliber team again raised questions about just how good this Phantoms team really is. We’ve been that team just “playing out the string” before–where the local blogger would rather be at the baseball game. As a playoff team, we need to take care of business versus the non-playoff teams and show that we can be competitive versus the quality squads on a night-to-night basis just like a playoff series. As much as the loss in Providence was troubling, the win last night answered some questions here.
Some of the quotes that came out of the game last night–just across the parking lot from the Wyoming Valley Mall–were good to hear. “Team win,” and things of that nature. Certainly it was a nice performance from the “Lyon King” but it doesn’t happen without the blue-liners and forwards alike taking care of business for 60 minutes. The loss of a couple of talented players to injury and call-up just might have brought us some hungry players fully willing to do the “dirty” work and support the team. The opening goal by an ECHL-call-up last night (McCarthy) was something we’ve been asking to see for some time–particularly versus a team like Scranton who always seems to be able to produce a quality contributor from Wheeling whenever they need it.
However, our depth is being seriously tested. There are no more AHL forwards in Reading. The team will give us no idea when we might see the likes of Martel and Swavely again. Weal doesn’t seem like he wants to give up his opportunity in Philadelphia (and good for him, of course). And the team won’t acknowledge that Leier is even injured at all. We could linger on this issue all the way through playoff elimination and into the summer.
This is still the highest scoring team in the AHL, as it has been all season long. Add in a lethal power play and they’ve been getting the job done most nights. Now, it’s all hands on deck and instead of looking around for who might be the guy to score in a tough, tight game, we’ve got guys looking in the mirror instead. The “team” aspect of this squad might just be improving at the right time–and not to say that we couldn’t benefit from the return of Weal and Leier when the time comes.
But, we’ve used up all our options at this very moment. It’s PTO and ATO time if we need bodies for any additional injuries or call-ups. We’re walking a fine line right now and the cupboard might be pretty much bare.
Going back to last season, d.E. and I were both talking about “system depth” and the need to have quality, talented players–not all washed-up veterans and pugilistic warriors–up and down the organization in order to win in a consistent manner. The organization did respond, and with the news that Greg Carey is signed for two more seasons it looks like the philosophy vis-a-vis AHL and ECHL will continue.
However, the cavalry is not likely on it’s way for this season. While Hershey adds a top-flight goalie and a bunch of reinforcements via trade and college signing, we’re likely to stand pat. While I’d love to see Oskar Lindblom and Mikhail Vorobyov come in this spring, they’ll likely stay in Sweden and Russia respectively–and our resident European hockey expert der Eishockeyzuschauer has explained why, if you’ve been paying attention. And while young guys came in last Spring and played well, that was on a team with nothing to lose. There’s no guarantee that adding outside players right now would have enough positive effect to move the needle on a team that already leads the league in scoring.
Guys will come back, though, and the process of making the playoffs and paying the games will only benefit the young prospects on the team–those who have been here all season long as well as any who might be added. The veteran leadership is strong from guys like TJ Brennan, Chris Conner, Colin McDonald and Greg Carey.
Every single game is important down the stretch, and if this organization wants to sell hockey tickets this spring, that’s the angle they should be selling. Even the most casual of hockey fans knows that playoff hockey is different from regular-season hockey. Fans love a winner, and the atmosphere should be amazing.
Rise up, indeed.
So whether you see things more from the “half empty” or the “half full” side, there’s no mistaking one thing: Tomorrow’s game–and this home stand in particular–looms large. Four games in a row inside the luxurious confines of the PPL Center, and the Hamilton Street Heroes will face the very top teams in the North and Atlantic (Syracuse and Wilkes Barre) divisions, as well as two teams desperate for points in the playoff race in order to avoid elimination (Hershey and Utica.)
By the end of it, perhaps we’ll see just how much whiskey is in my glass–and how quickly I need to drink it.
See you at the arena