ALLENTOWN— Mid-way through the second period of tonight's matchup between the Phantoms and the Bears, the sold-out crowd of 8,481 cheered sarcastically as Hershey goaltender Philipp Grubauer stopped the Phantoms second (!) shot of the night.
But in spite of their slow start, the Phantoms were able to shutout the Bears 2-0.
Turnovers were detrimental to the Phantoms during the first period, limiting their time in front of the Hershey net. With 16 SOG for Hershey in the first 20 minutes, nearly half came from botched Phantoms passes intercepted by black jerseys.The Phantoms made their way to the locker room after the first period out shot 16-1.
The game began to even out as the Phantoms became more physical and more competitive against their East Division rival. And largely thanks to Stolarz’s superb goaltending, the Phantoms found their way past the Bears despite being out shot 32-18.
So should this lopsided game be attributed to good Phantoms goaltending, or lack of goal-scoring ability from Hershey? Friday, it was a combination of both. Anthony Stolarz looked phenomenal in his second shutout of his professional career-- and Hershey has struggled offensively in December, going 3-3 outscoring opponents just 16-15.
Despite registering just six shots through 40 minutes of play, the Phantoms earned two points thanks to a shorthanded breakaway goal and an empty netter by Jason Akeson. With 10 minutes remaining in the second period Kevin Goumas was sent to the box for holding, and the Phantoms had to take on an offense that had outshot them 2/1 with just four skaters on the ice.
However, after Brett Hextall intercepted a pass at the blue line, Akeson was already making his way through the neutral zone with no one around. The right winger sent a shot through Philipp Grubauer’s five-hole for the Phantoms third shorthanded goal of the season.
At 13-10-3-1 the Phantoms are just one point behind the Bears (14-11-2-1) in the East Division standings. Their last three wins have been against East Division opponents, and after sitting in fourth place for the entire month of November, the Phantoms are moving their way up the rankings. Now in third place the Phantoms are feeling more comfortable in a very competitive division.
- The Phantoms signed a one-day emergency PTO with Matt Di Girolamo, the current goaltending coach for the University of Delaware club hockey team, to fill the void Rob Zepp left while on his way to Toronto.
- The Phantoms were unable to call up a goaltender from the Reading Royals since they were on the road, but head coach Terry Murray said a Royals goaltender (likely Martin Ouellette) will meet the team in Hartford tomorrow.
Rob Zepp recalled to the Flyers:
Just an hour before puck drop the Phantoms announced that the Flyers had recalled 33-year-old goaltender Rob Zepp on an emergency transaction due to Steve Mason sustaining an upper body injury at practice on Friday. Zepp has a 8-5-4 record, posting a 0.918 save percentage. He has spent the last seven seasons in Berlin, and started his first season back in the states 4-0. After just his first game with the Phantoms head coach Terry Murray commented on Zepp’s lightning fast transaction back to the NHL format.
Last season in Berlin, Zepp put up the best numbers of his career, ending the season 25-14 with a solid 0.931 save percentage after 38 games. He also won his fifth Deutsche Liga Championship last season, and his third consecutive.
Despite a lower body injury early this season which had him sidelined for about a week, the 33-year-old has not had an issue with fatigue or injuries, and has played a relatively consistent 60+ minutes during every one of his 17 starts for the Phantoms. His dependability could come in handy for the Flyers if Ray Emery’s hips become an issue during Mason’s absence.
Ironic, right? Possibly replacing a 32-year-old goaltender with one who is a year older and hasn’t played in the league in 10 years?
If Zepp has the opportunity to play while traveling with Philadelphia, he’ll surprise a lot of people, especially those who doubted that a 33-year-old could come back from 10 years in Europe and succeed.
During his time in Lehigh Valley Zepp has not put up league-leading numbers, but he’s given a low-scoring team the opportunity to win no matter who the opponent is. More times than not, his teammates have attributed wins to him, rather than the points on the board. He can handle pressure in front of the net. Zepp has played seven games with 35+ shots faced, and seven overtimes (3-4 in extra time).
However, the defense in front of the net in Lehigh Valley is also phenomenal. Robert Hagg, Steven Delisle and Oliver Lauridsen are a main component in Zepp’s save percentage every night, blocking shots and getting physical with the opposition. Without a core defense in front of him—a defense that Zepp has praised multiple times for giving him an opportunity to stay with the puck—his success in Philadelphia may not mirror his time with the Phantoms.