The Hamilton Street Heroes began their home schedule for the new decade with back-to-back 2-0 wins. It is 2020 after all! Can they keep it going versus a tough Northern Division schedule in perhaps the season’s most important home stand?
Pivotal Home Stand
Amidst five straight home games versus the AHL North, the Phantoms are now 2-0 following a 2-0 win against Laval Saturday night, and a 2-0 win over Cleveland Sunday afternoon. Those two teams are in fifth and seventh place, respectively, in the North. Enter high-flying Syracuse tonight, for a mid-week tilt. They’re the sixth-place team, but they score goals in bunches with heavy contribution from our old friend Danick Martel.
Last season, I remember trying to break the season into small chunks based on the rhythm of the schedule, in an effort to identify mile posts where the season could turn–for better or worse. Ultimately, it felt like we just played inconsistent .500 hockey with the occasional losing streak and there was never an important turning point.
This season, you can spot the call-ups of Farabee, Frost and Andreoff alongside a rash of injuries, which sent the team into a semi-funk in November from which they haven’t really recovered. They remain in 7th place in the AHL Atlantic, a full seven points behind the Penguins, who are also struggling somewhat lately. Could these five games at home, coming just before a short New England road trip and the All Star Break, change our fortunes? We keep holding up what the Bears did last season as an example, but if we’re going to follow that, we’re going to need to get going. We’re off to a good start.
We serve at the pleasure of the Flyers, to be sure, and in seasons where the big club is challenging for a playoff spot, the fortunes of the minor league team become even more of a secondary concern than usual. The Flyers said before the season they envisioned a “constant stream” of players from the Phantoms to come up and help the Flyers. Indeed, I think something like seven different players have scored their first NHL point this season for the Flyers? Twelve players have gone up. It’s been a lot–more than usual and more than other teams.
But that could be changing. Word out of Philadelphia is that Braun could be back as soon as Saturday, and Gostisbehere could return by January 31 versus Pittsburgh. That could bring a player or two back to the Phantoms. Today, Alex Lyon was activated for the Flyers game in St Louis, and Joel Farabee was sent back to the Phantoms in order to have cap space necessary.
We heard yesterday that Lyon was on the St Louis trip, but I believe they were waiting to find out the extent of Carter Hart’s injury before making the move. That probably means Farabee was on the trip as well, so I wouldn’t plan on seeing him at the PPL Center tonight. However, he could be here for the weekend, depending on how long Lyon is needed and the status of those other players. It is generally considered that this is just a cap-related move that will get reversed in due time, and that he might not play for the Phantoms.
Then there’s this: Chris Stewart was put on waivers. He could get claimed, or assigned to the Phantoms, or released. Or, none of those, sometimes they just go through the motions with these things so that they have flexibility and in anticipation of other moves. It’s not clear whether that particular move will have a good or bad effect on the Phantoms roster. The other thing that’s been written this past week, is that the Flyers are looking for centers in trades. That could cost prospects (read: Phantoms) but then again, the salary cap is such an issue right now it might not be something they can really pull off without also trading away some salary. The Stewart move may be so that they can get Farabee active for the Flyers sooner rather than later.
On the home front, Welinski and Twarynski have been injured. German Rubtsov missed for personal reasons over the weekend. TJ Brennan has been the veteran scratch. Kaše just got back from Philadelphia, and should be available tonight. Blue line injuries have Eric Knodel and David Drake up from Reading, with Mark Friedman in Philadelphia. Connor Bunnaman is in Philly as well. Sandstrom will be added today in place of Lyon.
It’s “dollar dog” day at the PPL Center for a mid-week tilt versus the Syracuse Crunch, AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Danick Martel returns along with a whole team of small, fast players. As mentioned above, they score a lot, but also give up a lot of scores. The Phantoms will need to light the lamp some tonight to get the win. I’d imagine Berube back in net; I don’t think they’ll throw Sandstrom to the
wolves Crunch. He’s been mostly out-played by Ustimenko while with Reading, but he’s been here before and has been better lately.
Dollar hot dogs until the end of the first intermission. I’m unsure of which concession stands will have them at that price. I remember one time going to Wilkes-Barre hockey on dollar dog and dollar beer night. It was a Friday. You could walk up and get three hot dogs and two beers (not full size–probably 10 oz of beer in a 12 oz cup) for $5. Pretty cool. I think they cut it off at the start of the game, or perhaps it was first intermission. That might move the needle on attendance. I’m not sure dollar dogs alone will do it. We get dollar dogs on Mondays at the IronPigs, and on Thursdays during pre-game happy hour. At Reading for baseball, I get a free hot dog every game with my ticket. I do get kinda tired of hot dogs, but it does keep the food budget under control somewhat.
Parking Update: In addition to the “head in” parking which has been instituted, the next thing is that they’re going to start checking meters on Sundays within the arena zone, on event days. So much for that loophole.
Referee Andrew Howard (#50)
Referee Jason Williams (#18)
Linesman Bill Lyons (#27)
Linesman Tom George (#61)
Five Things To Watch Tonight
- Watch to see if Sandstrom goes in there–but more likely Berube, and how he responds following his shutout effort on Sunday.
- Watch Ratcliffe. I think he’s been playing better lately, and with more confidence. It’s good to see. See if he can get on the score sheet tonight.
- With the team so far down the standings, I’m not doing the match-up breakdowns right now. We’ve been a bad team. But, some of that is because the power play has been so putrid. Watch to see if we can get that going tonight. Syracuse has the 16th ranked road PK unit–not impossible to beat.
- Watch the defense and the goalie. With two shut-outs on the weekend, good efforts on home ice and not missing a beat without Frieds. But this is a high-scoring club. How do we hold up? How do Knodel and/or Drake do?
- Watch for Martel jerseys. He was such a favorite for so many of us–and for good reason. [However, after following my old jersey tradition this past weekend, and two wins, I’m back in the swing and will be forced to wear white tonight rather than my black Martel.]
Friday and Saturday will close out the five straight home games. Friday is Binghamton, and Saturday Rochester. It will be “racing weekend” with a racing jersey for warm-ups, to be auctioned following the game on Saturday. I believe the Phantoms race car/truck and driver will be around this weekend.
See you at the arena,
Cover image by Jack Mitroka.
2-0 2-0 to start 2020 at home first noted by Bob Rotruck on the post-game radio show on Sunday.