ALLENTOWN— A four-day All-Star break was no help for the struggling Phantoms, who allowed the Albany Devils to take an important two points in a 4-1 defeat on home ice. With tonight's contest being their final meeting of the regular season, the Devils sweep the series 4-0 over their formal state rivals.
The Phantoms struggled in the first period, turning over and mishandling the puck in their offensive zone.
"We had a very poor start," Terry Murray said, referencing a breakdown in fundamentals. "I think our mind was still someplace else."
The Phantoms sent 36 shots at Albany goaltender Scott Wedgewood, but the team had little variation in shots. Most were sent directly to the center of his chest. With the exception of a few tough glove saves, Wedgewood earned his seventh win of the season handily.
Rob Zepp returned to Lehigh Valley for the first time in his first Phantoms start since Dec. 10 and the 33-year-old goaltender said it was nice to be back on the ice. Zepp had 28 saves and is now 11-6-4-2-1 on the season.
Zack Stortini received credit for the lone Phantoms goal on a 5-on-3 opportunity for Lehigh Valley midway through the third period, as he tipped a slapshot from Brandon Manning past Wedgewood, denying the 22-year-old his first shutout of the season.
In a late push to get themselves back into the game, the Phantoms out-shot Albany 13-7 in the third period. While Murray was disheartened by the Phantoms start in the first period, the team's third-period push is what the head coach hopes the team will continue into tomorrow's matchup against Hershey.
- While this loss is detrimental to the Phantoms points race, Lehigh Valley will play East Division rivals Hershey and Wilkes-Barre back-to-back this weekend in hopes to move up the division ladder.
- Thanks to this mid-week game the Bears now have a game in-hand over the Phantoms and a comfortable six-point lead in the division. The Penguins are five-points ahead of Lehigh Valley, while the Phantoms hold two games in-hand over Wilkes-Barre.
- With Zepp back in Lehigh Valley, and a three-in-three weekend, it is unclear who Terry Murray will start tomorrow versus Hershey. While resting Zepp would be his first thought, No. 2 goaltender Anthony Stolarz has been average so far in 2015, and is 1-3 against the Bears.
- While the Phantoms struggled to put points on the board in Lehigh Valley, Phantoms alumni were successfully leading the Flyers to a 5-2 win over Winnipeg. VandeVelde, Straka and White each had a point in tonight’s victory in Philadelphia.
Mark Alt: The d-man has been out with a broken hand since blocking a shot on Dec. 31. After surgery he was projected to be out for more than four weeks, likely due back in mid-February. He’s been wearing a soft cast since his surgery and has since removed it, but the 23-year-old still cannot grip his stick properly.
Shayne Gostisbehere: Since a bad fall on Nov. 7, Ghost has been out with an ACL injury as Flyers fans continued to grip to the hope that Gostisbehere could be the end to a rocky defense in Philadelphia. As of last week Ron Hextall confirmed that he doesn’t think mid-February is "far off from where [his return is] going to be."
Blair Jones: The last time the Phantoms took on the Devils (Jan. 16), Blair Jones left the game early after suffering a lower-body injury. Jones has not skated since his injury, and Murray confirmed that he will be out long-term, at least six to seven weeks.
Darroll Powe: He skated this morning but was a scratch come game time for a "nagging" upper body injury. Powe has missed six games since his injury (likely recurring concussion symptoms) resurfaced at practice on Dec. 30.