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October Phantoms report: German Rubtsov is off to a hot start

Ruby’s game is quickly being polished.

Casey Liberatore - SB Nation ©

It feels rather fitting that on the day after Halloween we’ll be taking a closer look at the team that calls themselves the Phantoms. They come out of October with a record of 5-3-1, which is about what we’d expect from them given that five wins every nine games would result in another 40+ win season.

In this month’s addition of the Phantoms’ report, we’ll be discussing German Rubtsov’s impressive start, Philippe Myers underwhelming early season numbers, T.J. Brennan’s incredible start, and a well deserved call-up for Nicolas Aube-Kubel.

With Maddie Campbell delivering weekly rundowns this season, I will be focusing more on specific players and statistical findings from each month rather than summarizing what happened - just a small change from last season.

Weekly rundowns: 10/1 - 10/710/8 - 10/1410/15 - 10/2110/22 - 10/28

After being bounced around from team to team ever since be drafted 22nd overall in the 2016 NHL entry draft, Rubtsov has made an immediate impact in his rookie AHL season. The Russian center scored four goals, all at even strength, and assisted on two power play markers this month.

Much like Oskar Lindblom and Mikhail Vorobyev last season, Rubtsov has been given the opportunity to shine at all situations and has impressed in each area of the game in different ways. On the power play he’s primarily acted as the set-up man along the right boards, a similar role to that of Jakub Voracek in Philadelphia. Primarily is the key word here, as the Phantoms’ power play is a bit more fluid than the Flyers’, and Rubtsov has had a few power play shifts where he was positioned at the side of, or behind, the net.

At 5-on-5 Rubtsov’s on-ice metrics were a roller coaster ride through nine games. After posting a poor 23.53% CF in game one, he bounced back in a large way with a CF at or above 60% in his next two games. This up and down pattern would continue for the rest of the month, eventually resulting in a CF% of 50.60, +2.45% relative to his team. In that time, the Phantoms were also able to out-score their opponents seven to five.

Rubtsov’s statistical profile is one of the more interesting ones thus far, with a high danger Corsi for percent sub-50%, yet the Phantoms have owned 53.25% of the scoring chances while he was on the ice. This is driven by medium danger shots. Since there has yet to be a write up on the few changes that have been made to last season’s tracking process, here’s a very quick explanation. Think of a medium danger shot as one of the following:

  • A shot that is taken from inside the two face-off dots north of the middle of the hash marks and no further away than the end of the faceoff circle.
  • A rush or rebound shot taken from a low danger (anything further from the goal than bullet point above) area of the ice.
  • A shot taken from the low danger area of the ice that was set up by a behind the net or royal road pass.

Those are the types of shots that the Phantoms tend to take while Rubtsov is on the ice. Individually, he has taken six medium danger shots himself and has a total of twelve scoring chances.

There was one shift in particular during the three-in-three weekend that stood out to me, not because Rubtsov picked up a point, but because he showed off a bit of his transition game and then followed it up by setting up two high danger scoring chances in a matter of 20 seconds.

After the Penguins steal the puck following his faceoff win, Rubtsov drops back into the defensive zone to support the puck carrier, in this case Brennan, in his attempt to start a breakout. Although he deviates from Brennan a bit, he’s still a viable outlet option should Brennan decide to bank it off the boards. As we can see, Brennan decides to make a stretch pass to Taylor Leier instead, and with Rubtsov exiting the zone early he is now in a position to support the entry. It’s mostly off camera, but Leier makes a fantastic play in the neutral zone by handling Brennan’s long saucer pass and making a quick pass of his own to the speeding Rubtsov. Once in the zone Rubtsov is able to set up two scoring chances, one for Leier, and the other for Brennan.

Thus far, Myers’ hasn’t reached his level of play from last season

While the points are there for him - three goals and three primary assists in nine games - Myers’ play without the puck hasn’t been where we’ve seen it before. That’s not to say he’s been bad, just that he hasn’t met the expectations he set with his performances a year ago.

Myers’ saving grace is a +6 goal differential at 5-on-5 after nine games, an undoubtedly good thing to be on the right side of. However, the team has scored on a whopping team-high 17.65% of their shots on goal with him on the ice. That’s just over 6% higher than the team’s 11.23 shooting percentage, and even that is a mark that’s a bit too high to be sustainable, even with the talent on this team. Despite being on the ice for all of those scoring chances, Myers also has an on-ice save percentage of 92.41% - the fifth highest among Phantoms that have played in more than one game. It’s fair to think that both his on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage will take a hit even if he does get back to his play driving self from last season.

We’ve seen him drive play while taking on the heaviest minutes last season with a few different partners, but for some reason it just hasn’t been the case this year. Both he and his defensive partner Zach Palmquist have allowed more dangerous shot attempts than any other pair. Palmquist has been on the ice for 31 high danger scoring chances against, and his HDCF% of 31.11 puts him among the bottom five skaters on the team. Myers’ looks a bit better than he does by the numbers with a HDCF of 43.4%, but it’s hard to think of that number as a positive. More than anything it feels like turnovers on exit attempts have been the pair’s biggest downfall, and if they don’t shore things up soon, and start to get scored on, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the two broken up.

Brennan’s incredible start doesn’t stop at point production

If you’ve been keeping tabs on the Phantoms, you probably know that Brennan has four goals and eight assists through the first nine games. If you haven’t, well, now you know! However, unlike last season, Brennan is also dominating the shot share at 5-on-5 this year.

Brennan 5v5 Statistics

Brennan Games CF CA CF% CF% Rel
Brennan Games CF CA CF% CF% Rel
2017-18 63 863 964 47.24 -4.41
2018-19 9 136 108 55.74 10.69

It’s still a very small sample size, but this nine game stretch of games from a play driving standpoint is better than any nine game stretch that he had last season. Without time on ice it’s hard to say whether this is due to he and the team suppressing shots better than last season or it’s due to an increase in shots taken while he’s on the ice. In all likelihood it’s a combination of both, but the true driving factor behind this isn’t obvious with the minimal data we have.

Brennan has kind of been the opposite of Myers so far, in that he has the positive underlying numbers, yet he’s the one with the negative goal differential. So that leads us to shot quality. Could it be that Brennan’s CF% is being propped up by a high number of low danger shots for and the Phantoms are allowing an inordinate amount of dangerous chances against when he’s on the ice? If so, that would explain the seven goals that he’s been on the ice for.

In short, no. Brennan has been on the ice for 25 high danger shots against which less than Myers, Palmquist, and Friedman. Without rate stats it’s hard to compare the three, but what we can gather from this is that Brennan hasn’t gotten stops from his goaltender that Myers has. This carries over to his most common partner as well, Philip Samuelsson, who has the worst 5-on-5 goal differential on the team at -5 and the second-lowest PDO at 91.22.

The team’s most effective even strength forward is now with Philadelphia

One of the biggest surprises from last season had to be Aube-Kubel’s play, especially at even strength. Not only did he lead the league in 5-on-5 primary points for an extended period of time, he, along with Mikhail Vorobyev, were far and away the Phantoms’ two best play drivers and it’s no surprise that they have both since made their NHL debuts. This season Aube-Kubel has done more of the same with a team-leading 58.13% CF (+13.27% rel) through eight games, and has scored at just under a point per game pace.

Prior to his recall, Aube-Kubel had generated the most high danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 with eight in eight games despite not shooting as much as say, Taylor Leier or Greg Carey. With Aube-Kubel it’s not about being a volume shooter, it’s about getting to the dangerous areas and getting a shot off from there. Only five of his 18 shot attempts at 5-on-5 were low danger, meaning that 77.22% of his individual shots qualified as a scoring chance.

His line with reigning Les Cunningham award winner Phil Varone and Greg Carey has unsurprisingly been the team’s best unit so far, with the latter two averaging over a point per game. The three each have a 5-on-5 CF% north of 55% and the next closest forward to have played in more than one game (Vorobyev is at 54.55%) is Colin McDonald at 51.61%. While Varone and Carey were the team’s highest scoring duo, they both finished the season with a negative Corsi relative to the team, so it will be interesting to see how they do moving forward without Aube-Kubel beside them. Should he return and the line be reunited, the added offense this line would see could very well push Varone’s point totals even higher than his league-leading 70 from just a year ago.

Here’s to hoping that Aube-Kubel gets more than five and a half minutes to prove himself at the NHL level moving forward, he really deserves this chance.

Most of the data used can be found on Phancy Stats, and the rest will be there soon.