ALLENTOWN— In a Sunday matinee performance, the Phantoms were taken down by the league's best, falling 3-1 to the Manchester Monarchs, who clinched the first playoff spot of the Eastern Conference last night.
The Phantoms season has been on a downward spiral since the first of the year. Saturday the Phantoms got a glimpse of their "old selves" against Wilkes-Barre, playing 40 minutes of their best hockey all season, beating the Penguins in a much-need momentum-boosting battle thanks to a fight at puck drop from Brett Hextall and a two-goal performance from Laughton.
But that momentum didn't last long as the Phantoms welcomed the No. 1 team in the league, Sunday. Despite valiant efforts from Lehigh Valley, they could not contain the Monarchs cycle and speed. Rob Zepp and the defense worked hard to keep the score close, but the offense struggled to get shots on, as it took the team nearly 47 minutes to send 10 shots on net.
Zepp had another 30-save performance against the most powerful shots in the league.
- Midway through the first period Scott Laughton netted his third goal in 1.5 days on the Phantoms second shot of the period. In their last 30 minutes of play between Saturday and Sunday, the Phantoms had been out shot 28-3 by Manchester and Wilkes-Barre. But two of the Phantoms three shots came from Laughton, who scored on both attempts. Saturday, Laughton, who started his pro career scoring four goals in his first three games, said he finally felt like he did at the beginning of the season before his NHL debut.
- Jason Akeson has assisted four of the Phantoms last five goals but has had difficulty finding the net himself. Akeson said he's felt "snake-bitten" in his last few games.
- Paul Bissonnette scored late in the first period for the Monarchs, deflecting a shot from the top of the right circle. The winger would complete a Gordie Howe Hat Trick in the second period after dropping the gloves against Oliver Lauirdsen, and assisting the Monarchs second goal, scored by Ryan Horvat. Sunday was Bissonnette’s first goal of the season and fourth assist.
- The Phantoms are now 13 points behind the eighth place Portland Pirates with 10 games remaining in the regular seasons. The team is not "mathematically" out of the playoff picture, but the team has begun to realize that their playoff run is over.
"I think it's important to stay focused," Mark Alt said. "[We're] obviously out of the playoff picture, but to take each game and try to get two points...stay focused, stick to the game plan and finish off the season strong with the right mentality."
Mark Alt and Oliver Lauridsen returned to the lineup Sunday after playing for Philadelphia early Saturday afternoon and traveling back to Lehigh Valley to watch the Phantoms take down their East Division rival, Wilkes-Barre.
Lauridsen had an assist and a fight in the Phantoms' loss on Sunday. The d-man fought Paul Bassonnette in the second period.
Steven Delisle, who netted his second goal of the season Saturday against Wilkes-Barre, fought d-man Kevin Raine, who challenged Delisle mid-way through the second period. Raine, however, was unaware that Delisle, a 6-6, 206-pound powerhouse, was a lefty. Delisle plowed blow after blow on an unsuspecting Raine, who fell to the ice before attempting a shot at Delisle.
In Alt and Lauridsen’s absence, ECHL call up Maxim Lamarche and ATO signee Nick Luukko took to the ice Saturday, but watched from the bench against Manchester as the Phantoms welcomed back their most recent NHLers.