“I found out that if you are going to win games, you had better be ready to adapt.”
– Scotty Bowman
Every day, Twitter tells me what a horrible job Dave Hakstol is doing coaching the NHL Flyers in Philadelphia. Fans, bloggers, and prospect-watchers alike have been critical of his performance since joining the Flyers. Is he putting together lines that make sense? Is he giving young talented players a chance to prove themselves? Is he giving veterans, established in their mediocrity, too much benefit of the doubt? Is he trying to help build the franchise? Or, win hockey games? Both? Neither?
It’s not for me to say. I watched one Flyers game at the Wells Fargo Center this season, and zero on TV. All I really know is what I’ve been told. General Manger Ron Hextall has said that Hakstol’s job is safe. The dreaded ‘vote of confidence’? We’ll see, I guess.
Here in the “Mecca of Minor League Sports” (® der Eishockeyzuschauer) head coach Scott Gordon gets much less criticism. In fact, of all the critical things I’ve read about him, probably 98% have been right here on these pages, and written by yours truly. Each year it seems we hear about “learning the system” and how the “system” is responsible for early season losses. Occasionally in the past, teams have hit the ice for the start of the first period and looked like they weren’t prepared to play that evening. During his first season in Allentown, the Phantoms were 29th out of 30 as a home team, but 7th on the road. What made them so poor in their home arena, the ever-gorgeous gem at 7th and Hamilton? Why can’t we ever–and I mean ever–get an honest update on the injury status of a player, while the Philadelphia beat reporters can find out about Phantoms players with no trouble at all?
But now in his third season with the Phantoms, Gordon might be having his best season as a coach. The team got off to a 7-2-1 record in October, proving that the “systems” might not need to be the scapegoat they once were. The team is ranked 5th in the league as a home squad, and 5th on the road as well. They’ve fell behind a couple times, but the team rarely looks un-ready to play at the start of the games, and they’ve been finishing well to boot. Special Teams have been a problem this season (PP 22/30, PK 27/30) but that can be down to the player mix on those units. And speaking of player mix, Gordon has accomplished all of this, thus far this season, with an ever-changing carousel of players at every position–goalie, defenceman, and forward. The Phantoms currently have 7 injury scratches, and at least 2 AHL regulars on the Flyers. He’s been able to adapt with the ever-changing lineup and continue to guide the Phantoms towards winning hockey games.
With the job he’s done this season, plus his familiarity with the younger players, plus fans with pitch-forks lining up outside the Wells Fargo Center (not inside–just try to get one of those through security)…Can you envision a scenario where Gordon is the coach of the Flyers before April, 2018?
Now, if we could just get some injury information…
I know I’ve told this story before….but in case you missed it:
Prior to last season, when season ticket holders had the opportunity to watch the Phantoms practice in early October, I saw one player who stood out. To my untrained eye, it seemed that his skating ability and footwork were better than the other players. It seemed like his movements were more effortless and at the same time more precise. He game looked more detailed than the other players on the ice. We had many new players on the team last season, so I had to look at my sheet to find out who that was.
#14 Corban Knight. So he’s been one of my favorites ever since. He can play in the top six or on the fourth line. He can play at center or on the wing. He can help on the special teams units. He’s been a veteran leader for the team. And, he’s on a tremendous tear right now with a point streak and a team “player of the week” honor and all that (see below).
While the coaching should get credit for the success of the team to this juncture, the veteran players and returning prospects have provided a nice framework for the squad, and leadership on the ice.
The Suffering Seven
Here’s what I know about the following seven injured players who were scratched for the game in Bridgeport last Sunday:
- D Sam Morin: Was in Philly to see medical on Monday. It is thought that he’s at least a week or more away, but nothing official (of course).
- D Phil Myers: He made the trip to Bridgeport with the team on Sunday. He didn’t skate I don’t think, nor play of course, but may be close.
- D Max Lamarche: Ditto Myers. He may be close.
- F Cole Bardreau: Hand, injured (re-injured?) in a confrontation with an unruly Marlie in early November. I’d expect him perhaps after the new year.
- F Colin McDonald (C): Injury and time frame unknown.
- F Mikhail (Misha) Vorobyev: Injury and time frame unknown.
- F Mike Vecchione: Unknown, but I remember reading somewhere it may be week-to-week with him.
D Mark Alt could return to the Phantoms once Brandon Manning is healthy, which could be within a week or so. Neuvirth is skating, so I’d expect G Alex Lyon to return shortly. Also of note: NHL Rosters lock for the holidays, so we’ll need to keep that in mind that no trades or waiver moves can be made since 12 last night and for the next 8 days.
Forward Phil Varone enters the week leading all Phantoms and is second among all AHL skaters in scoring with 31 total points (9 goals, 22 assists). The seventh-year center continued his recent torrid scoring stretch with another three points in four games last week as he’s now tallied 23 points (7 goals, 16 assists) over his last 19 outings. In fact, since November 4, no player in the AHL has tallied more points than Varone (23 points).
With another two goals last week, forward Greg Carey remained the AHL’s hottest goal producer in recent weeks. Since November 22, no AHL skater has tallied more goals than Carey (10) as the 27-year-old winger has now produced 10 goals and 12 points over his last 13 games. Carey is currently second among all Phantoms and tied for third among all AHLers with 15 total goals this season.
- Forward Danick Martel continues to lead all Phantoms and is now tied for the AHL lead with 17 goals this season. The third-year winger tallied four points across four games last week and is now second among all Lehigh Valley skaters in total scoring with 26 points (17 goals, 9 assists).
- Since November 22, there’s no hotter player in the AHL than forward Corban Knight. Over his last 13 outings, Knight has produced a league-best 16 points (6 goals, 10 assists) and has managed at least one point in 10 of his last 13 games. He enters the week in the midst of a four-game point streak (2 goals, 5 assists).
Lehigh Valley is 18-1-1-1 when scoring three or more goals this season and is 15-1-0-1 when allowing three goals against or fewer.
- The Phantoms are 10-1-1-1 when scoring first this season. What’s more, Lehigh Valley is 10-1-1-1 when leading after the first period this year and is 13-0-1 when leading after two frames. The Phantoms are 18-0 when scoring more goals than the other team.
- The Phantoms enter the week as the AHL’s third-highest scoring offense averaging 3.67 goals per game. Through 30 games this season, Lehigh Valley has already scored 110 total goals, which is just two goals shy of where the team was through 30 games a year ago. The Phantoms finished last season as the AHL’s most potent offense (3.42 goals/game).
Lines From Bridgeport:
10 Carey 26 Varone 22 Conner
18 Martel 14 Knight 16 Aube-Kubel
28 Lindblom 24 Read 12 Goulbourne
19 Fazleev 11 Swavely 36 Krushelnyski
43 Brennan 44 Willcox
O’Neill 37 Friedman
40 de Haas 39 Comrie
The Royals are currently in third place, just two wins behind first-place Manchester with pesky Wheeling in between. Take a drive down there to support that squad if you have a chance–especially when dudes we know like Muse, Kushelnyski, Comrie, de Haas, Swavely and others might return there.
The Phantoms return from notching an overtime win in Bridgeport and currently sport a 6-2-1 record in 9 December contests while winning both last weekend. Tonight the puck will drop at about 7:15PM for the 7:05PM showtime, as the Hamilton Street Heroes face off against the hated Hartford Wolfpack. The Wolfpack haven’t been beaten in regulation since November 29th and have defeated the Phantoms twice this season. The Wolfpack pasted the Pens last weekend and are a dangerous squad despite their place in the standings.
Good seats are still available for this contest which has no promotion or theme or particular sponsor. It’s all about the hockey tonight!
Referee Peter MacDougall (#45)
Referee Evgenii Romasko (#39)
Linesman Libor Suchanek (#60)
Linesman J.P. Waleski (#14)
Rosters and Stats (Media Kit)
What To Watch
- Watch for who gets the start in goal: Will Lyon be back? Tokarski played well the other night, as has Muse recently. I don’t have a strong feeling, but Gordon has been making the right choice most of the time, I think. If it does happen to be Lyon, keep in mind he could be rusty after having not played for some time now.
- In the game against Syracuse the other night, I thought the defenders did an excellent job keeping pucks off Muse. Watch to see if the blue-liners can help the goalie tonight, whomever it may be.
- Watch to see if any of the wounded return. Lamarche and Myers are thought to be the closest.
- I feel like we’re about due for a big fight. I don’t know why. Maybe I just hate the Wolfpack that much. Watch to see if things get chippy tonight. I’m only guessing.
The Phantoms will head up to the Wyoming Valley for a game this Saturday, then get three days off for the holiday and repeat that match-up next Wednesday on Casey Plaza. We’ll be back home a week from Friday for the first of two with Charlotte.
I was mistaken about holiday jersey–the thing I saw was the “retro” that they’ll wear (and auction) on 12/30. It has a lot of purple.
See you at the arena,