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Phantoms weekly rundown: Midseason form

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We really are in the swing of things, eh?

Heather Barry ©

Where we are

Week of Oct. 8 - Oct. 14

GP Wins Losses Points Standing in Division
GP Wins Losses Points Standing in Division
2 1 1 4 4

The Phantoms are very lucky that this wasn’t another one of their single game weekends, because hoo boy was that first game rough. After looking very sharp in their first game, we were hoping they could keep that momentum rolling into Friday’s game, and they, uh, did not do that. They got blown out 7-0, and that’s just about the result you can expect when you take 16 penalty minutes and your penalty kill allows five goals (more on that later). Saturday’s rematch in Springfield would prove a chance for the Phantoms to redeem themselves, and this of course could only unfold in the most dramatic fashion possible. Tied heading into the third period, the Phantoms gave up two goals in the span on 18 seconds and things started to look bleak. But the late game push was coming, and all it took was goals from Greg Carey and David Kase exactly two minutes apart (at 17:37 and 19:37) to send this thing to overtime. And then ultimately to the shootout. Taylor Leier notched a goal to keep them in it, but it was German Rubtsov to sweep in with the game winner to redeem the weekend and send them home with the split.

News

Not a whole lot to report on this front. Alex Lyon is now officially a Phantom, after being officially activated and loaned to Lehigh Valley. We haven’t seen him play yet, as his presence also brings the goaltender total to three, but the Phantoms play three games at the end of this week, so maybe we’ll see him then? In any event, he’s back.

Leaderboards

Points

Player G A1 A2 P
Player G A1 A2 P
Greg Carey 3 0 2 5
Nicolas Aube-Kubel 2 0 1 3
TJ Brennan 1 1 1 3
Phil Varone 1 2 0 3
David Kase 1 1 0 2
Mark Friedman 0 0 2 2
Colin McDonald 0 1 1 2
Cole Bardreau 1 0 0 1
German Rubtsov 1 0 0 1
Tyrell Goulbourne 0 0 1 1

Advanced Stats

Player CF CF% HDCF%
Player CF CF% HDCF%
Philip Samuelsson 34 70.59% 33.33%
Phil Varone 38 67.86% 64.29%
Nic Aube-Kubel 36 65.45% 58.33%
Greg Carey 40 64.52% 64.29%
Philippe Myers 38 60.32% 64.29%
Carsen Twarynski 20 58.82% 62.50%
Taylor Leier 16 57.14% 50%
Chris Conner 28 56% 50%
Mike Vecchione 29 56.86% 54.55%
Colin McDonald 28 52.83% 46.15%

Three Stars

1.Anthony Stolarz

To put it plainly, the Phantoms are lucky that they had that second game because I would have otherwise been very grouchy with them in this article. There may well have been no stars this week. It would have been tough to find a standout in the tire fire of the loss at home. But they redeemed themselves. So here we are.

Anyway, our first star is Anthony Stolarz. He came in in relief of Carter Hart on Friday after Hart let in the first four goals, and Scott Gordon was trying to spark something with his team. It didn’t quiet work, the wheels were off, and Stolarz couldn’t stop the spiral, couldn’t stop the last three Springfield goals (two of which came on the penalty kill), but all told, he didn’t look bad. And when he was given the nod for the start on Saturday, he did well to build on his performance.

Stolarz stopped 27 of the 31 shots he faced on Saturday, for an .871 save percentage—not an excellent figure but fine enough. But what was even more important than the number was the late game play that came with it—the Phantoms fell into a two goal hole and the Thunderbirds were still surging, and Stolarz made some timely saves to keep the Phantoms in the game, until they could capitalize on the chances they were creating. And that’s all you can really ask for.

2.Phil Myers

Just missing out on stardom last week, Myers kept building had himself a quietly pretty solid weekend. He wasn’t great on Friday—we should reiterate, really no one was—but he was one of the better Phantoms on the whole. When the defense was floundering, it looked like he was the only one not giving in to soft coverages, and that’s not nothing.

Saturday was a better night for Myers, as he did, well, just about everything that we’ve come to expect from him. He was active on the rush and put up a 57.74 CF% at 5-on-5 on the weekend, but it was his defensive side that stuck out the most. As we noted above, his gaps were tight and he did well at breaking up would-be chances on the rush, flexing that speed and smooth skating to catch up to opponents and chase them past the net. Such was true on special teams, as well, as on an otherwise pretty rough penalty kill, Myers put up good work, showing tenacity and aggression in getting after the puck. Nothing too terribly flashy about all that, but solid work all the same.

The only non-star worthy behavior? The six penalty minutes he took in Saturday’s game. The first call for interference was a weak one, as the player he allegedly interfered with just as much tangled himself up with Myers to draw the call. But so it goes, I suppose.

3.Greg Carey

As I said in Stolarz’s section, after Friday’s game, staring down the prospect of having to select a third standout after That Game seemed a little rough, and there was a pretty real feeling of “okay, whoever emerges as the Saturday night hero will be the third star.” And then we had a couple of heroes to choose from, but Carey elevated himself just a little bit more.

In the vein of our ringing endorsements to this point, in the mess of performances that we got on Friday Carey was just fine, which, relatively speaking, was stellar. He came out of this game with a pretty nice 69.23 CF% at 5-on-5, a figure we can still respect, despite the larger result of the game.

It was Saturday, though, where Carey really came on. His line with Phil Varone and Nicolas Aube-Kubel was buzzing, and they put up an average CF% of 73.64 percent (with Carey at 76.47 percent individually). And then, of course, there was the flash brought with the final goal inside the last minute of play that would send them to overtime.

It wasn’t exactly a performance that was surprising—he was second in scoring on the team last season, after all—but it was still a solid on, and timely as well. Offense in general is good (no kidding), but when it can be timely is perhaps even more valuable. And Carey was able to bring that this weekend.

Two observations

1.Conceding chances in close

A figure we haven’t focused in on too much to this point, but which we probably should: 11. That Phantoms gave up 11 goals in a single weekend. And this might just as easily be a time to say “wow the goalies all played like trash this weekend, eh?” but that wouldn’t quite be the whole story, it wouldn’t be correct.

Rather, just as much to blame in this (along with the lack of success on the penalty kill, but we’re not quite there yet), is the quality of chances they were giving up. The Phantoms allowed five HDCA on Friday, and seven on Saturday at 5-on-5, and while this in isolation doesn’t sound too bad, when we consider that these were games in which 26 and 32 total penalty minutes were taken, 5-on-5 could be, uh, a little hard to come by. So the allowance looks a little rougher, matches the mess that appeared to the eye.

And, it’s true, the Phantoms do have three good goalies, we can feel pretty comfortable saying that, and there may well be days where they can bail the team in front of them out when they’re giving up higher quality chances, but this isn’t something they should bank on. They can’t hang their goalies out to dry.

2.The penalty kill is rough

And now, after teasing it for just about this whole article, it’s time to talk about the penalty kill, because it was not a banner showing that we were given this weekend. All told, the Phantoms allowed five power play goals for Springfield on the first night, going 5/7 on the night. And it looked just as rough as that figure would lead us to believe—they weren’t as aggressive in getting after the puck carrier, instead focusing on trying to block passing lanes, looking decidedly passive. I’m sure you’ve heard this one before.

When I asked him about it after the game, if he was thinking of this as a personnel or structural issue, Scott Gordon leaned decidedly to the former:

“Well I mean, there are some new guys on there but, you know, there’s opportunities where you have to clear the puck, that’s first and foremost. You cannot win faceoffs and not get the puck down the ice. That happened the other night, 5-on-3, we won three faceoffs and we didn’t get one of them down. We essentially killed the whole 5-on-3, and then as our guy came out of the box they scored. Tonight was more a case of not getting the puck down when we had the opportunity, I didn’t think that… there was some stuff that we were off, as far as our forwards and where we pressured and how we pressured. And then, your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer, you’re gonna give up shots. We give up shots on the power play and the goalies save them. So that’s something that goes with the territory, and you know, your goaltender’s gonna have nights where it just isn’t going for them, and that’s not to say that they didn’t make any saves, it’s not saying that it’s one hundred percent their fault, but everything has to work. So it’s not one person that’s at fault, it’s the whole team.”

Exactly this happened the following night, as the Phantoms kept the Thunderbirds without a power play goal, largely as a result of Stolarz’s efforts. He came up big for them, and it could have easily gotten uglier.

And all of this leaves us wondering—which is it? Players or system? Maybe it’s a little of both. We’ve seen this system fail so far for the Phantoms, and fail up in the NHL for the Flyers. But it’s just about the same system as they ran last season, where it didn’t look this rough. So you start to wonder, how much is the loss of players like Mikhail Vorobyev, Oskar Lindblom, and Corban Knight hurting them? These players found ways to be effective in a system that is want to fall flat, so are we just stuck now, until someone else emerges as a dominant presence here? What’s going to be the piece to give? We’ll be waiting with bated breath to see.

A look forward

Strap in, folks, because we’ve got a whole lot coming. The Phantoms play their first three-in-three of the season, and we all better make sure we get our naps in, because oh boy, that it is a whole lot of games.

They’ll be kicking things off at home on Friday against the third in the division Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and then hitting the road to play them again on Saturday, and here’s where we’re supposed to start talking about rivalries and matchups that breed chippiness, and maybe we get some of that. If nothing else, it’s two teams who have done well already looking to slug it out.

And did you love the home opener? I know we did. The Phantoms are playing the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on the road on Sunday, and maybe they’ll be able to replicate their performance against them for this meeting? Maybe this will be Bridgeport looking for revenge after they kind of got embarrassed in that first meeting? Do we just love narratives, here? This weekend’s rife with them. Do with them what you will. We’ll see you next week.

All stats via theahl.com and Phancy Stats (part one) (part two)