“Hockey’s a funny game. You have to prove yourself every shift, every game. It’s not up to anybody else. You have to take pride in yourself.”
About Last Night
Well, since I shirked by ‘Hockey Night’ column duties yesterday, let’s talk about last Sunday, first. The matinee affair tested our theory about starting games before 7:15PM. Hershey’s play in the first period as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead was some of the best hockey I’ve seen on PPL Center ice this season. Their spacing was super and the moved the puck very quickly.
But, it didn’t hold up. The Phantoms made some adjustments perhaps, stayed off the PK, and clawed back into it. I saw one account of the game say we were “crushed” 5-2, but when the game is tied 2-2 with less than 10 minutes left, it’s not crushed. Hershey’s got a good team right now, which is why they’re in first place. It got away from us at the end.
Last night, last place Bridgeport was in town, seemingly content to park three guys in front of the net and try to counter-punch all night. It almost worked as I now have about as many concerns over our PK unit as our chronically under-performing power play. But, we got it tied 2-2 again, and this time it went to OT, where there’s no hiding your goalie and no parking in front of the net. Misha took care of things in short order and we went home with our precious two points.
Too soon to make it to the game last night, F Morgan Frost was re-added from Philadelphia yesterday. They want him playing hockey and in situations and with minutes. It makes no sense to have him on the bench in Philly any more than necessary. In previous interviews, he seems to understand the nature of what’s going on, so I’m not overly concerned that they’re messing with his head or jerking him around. This season was always going to be about him adjusting to the pro game and finding a way to make his game and style fit as a pro. Joel Farabee has a much different game, which was easier to adapt. Ultimately, I think Frost will be the more dynamic player, but it will take him some time to get there.
Injured forwards Carsen Twarynski and Pascal Laberge are due to return this weekend. Maybe.
Veterans TJ Brennan and Chris Stewart have pretty regularly been our “veteran” scratches, lately.
Blueliners Bigras and Welinski are both healthy right now, which helps things. deHaas warmed up last night, I think, but didn’t play.
With a couple guys getting healthy, look for the possibility of Swavely and/or Fitzgerald heading back to Reading at some point. I think Willman has earned the right to stay in the American League for now.
G Alex Lyon is back; he started in goal last night. Young Ustimenko has returned to Reading after one successful outing with the Phantoms.
Lines Last Night:
15 Sushko – 9 O’Reilly – 38 Kaše
12 Andreoff – 24 Vorobyev – 19 Ratcliffe
10 Carey – 51 Criscuolo – 20 Willman
11 Swavely – 21 Fitzgerald – 29 Gabriel
14 Friedman – 39 Prosser
5 Wotherspoon – 3 Welinski
27 Bigras – 44 Willcox
34 Alex Lyon
Discussion: I didn’t think that 11-21-29 line was terribly effective last night, and I’m not loving Fitz’ game right now. Perhaps it will look better versus a different opponent. Friedman was quiet last night, but that could just mean he was playing well and I wasn’t noticing. We’ve had two guys up high on the power play lately, which I really prefer for better zone time. I think O’Reilly needs to shoot more often. I didn’t think Ratcliffe had the best game last night either–he’s so tall his center of gravity is high and he gets knocked around too easily, sometimes, it seems to me. All stuff to watch tonight–I don’t always know what they’re being asked to do or what role they’re playing. The quality and style of these AHL opponents can vary, too, and as I said above, Bridgeport seemed content to clog lanes and disrupt things and didn’t seem to play with a lot of strategy other than that.
They’re no longer in first–that’s Hershey–but Hartford had been, almost having us go from the worst opponent in the division (Bridgeport) to the first-place team in back-to-back games. The last time Hartford was in town, I wasn’t so impressed with them that I thought they were going to stay in first place, and alas they’ve fallen off somewhat, but are still 5-3-2 in their last 10. They come in having won two in a row at home: Wednesday versus the Penguins and last night against Laval. However, they lost a defender to the Rangers yesterday and have added a couple players from ECHL Maine recently. I think we’ll see the Slovakian, Adam Huska, in net tonight. He’s 10-7-5, but 3.11/.892 doesn’t scare me. Hartford’s PK is pretty good, but their power play is middling.
Tonight is Organ Donation Awareness night.
This is the start of Lehigh Valley Beer Week, although none of the downtown spots have events listed on today’s calendar. If you’re eating further away from the arena, you might run into some, or a couple of the downtown spots that specialize in beer could have some unannounced specials or the like.
Tonight’s game might be available over the air on FMZ-69 (or on your local cable package).
Hartford Wolf Pack vs Lehigh Valley Phantoms Head to Head
Head to Head Record 2019-20 Regular Season: Lehigh Valley 2-2-0-0, Hartford 2-1-1-0
Head to Head Record 2018-19 Regular Season: Lehigh Valley 3-2-1-0, Hartford 3-2-0-1
Last 5 Years record between teams: Lehigh Valley 11-11-4-4, Hartford 19-9-1-1
Lehigh Valley vs. Hartford Last 5 Years record at Lehigh Valley: Lehigh Valley 6-5-2-2, Hartford 9-4-1-1
Lehigh Valley vs. Hartford Last 5 Years record at Hartford: Lehigh Valley 5-6-2-2, Hartford 10-5-0-0
Previous Meetings This Season
Lehigh Valley 2 @ Hartford 4 (Jan 25 2020)
Hartford 2 @ Lehigh Valley 4 (Dec 14 2019)
Lehigh Valley 0 @ Hartford 4 (Dec 13 2019)
Hartford 1 @ Lehigh Valley 2 (Nov 30 2019)
Referee Brandon Blandina (#39)
Referee Tyson Stewart (#85)
Linesman Julien Fournier (#56)
Linesman Tyler Loftus (#11)
Five (or more) Things To Watch
- Expecting Berube in net tonight. He seemed to be thriving while carrying the load for the Phantoms with Lyon in Philly, but now back to splitting time, how will he look?
- Watch to see if Twarynski or Laberge make it back tonight, and if any last minute roster moves send guys to Reading
- Watch Frost. They were working on something in particular with him before his most recent call-up, and it had to do with the power play. Watch him on the man-advantage and see how he looks. Overtime too, if it gets to that.
- Watch to see if you agree with my assessment of the fourth line as constructed above (it could be very different tonight). Watch to see if Ratcliffe can be more of a physical force to go along with his play-making ability. Watch to see if he can get his shot off a little more quickly.
- There can definitely be a thing about playing up or down to the competition–do we raise our game tonight? Do we look better than last night, in general?
- Watch the special teams, which I think continue to be a glaring weakness of this team. If we have some roster fluctuation tonight, that’s not going to help with continuity
The team has the next four on the road. Have we turned the corner on away games?
Sunday at Hershey
Wednesday at Bridgeport
Friday at Rochester
Saturday at Syracuse
We’ll return home for “Miracle on Ice” games versus Charlotte on 2/28 and 2/29, with special jerseys.
Monday is the first deadline for renewals, and picking up the $50 “vouchers.” I haven’t renewed yet–how is that working? Is it worth it?
See you at the arena,