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Phantoms weekly rundown: Playing with the big kids

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Tough matchups abound

Casey Liberatore / SB Nation

Where we are

Week of Nov. 5 - Nov. 11

GP W L Standing in Division
GP W L Standing in Division
2 1 1 T-3

Well this was certainly an action packed weekend that we just wrapped up. No tight checking slog hockey to be had here, folks, it was all offense all the way. The Phantoms kicked off their back to backs at home on Friday against the Springfield Thunderbirds, a team that’s given them some trouble so far this season, and dispatched of them with relative ease. The Phantoms were peppering the Thunderbirds early, but fell behind 1-0 in the first period. They came back in a big way, though, scoring eight goals in the next two periods (two for Greg Carey and Taylor Leier, and one each for Chris Conner, Mike Vecchione, German Rubtsov, and Cole Bardreau) while only allowing one more, neutralizing the Thunderbirds and bringing them just their second regulation loss of the season.

On Saturday the Phantoms met the Charlotte Checkers for the first time this season, and it was another high-scoring affair. Just not quite so lopsided this time. Or, you know, with as good of a result for the Phantoms. They dropped the first two goals of the game, but then came back with three unanswered (thanks to Greg Carey, Zach Palmquist, and Chris Conner) to take the lead. They couldn’t hold, it though—David Kase got the Phantoms their fourth goal of the night, but it would be four more even strength goals for the Checkers, and an empty netter to seal things off 7-4. And the Phantoms came out of the weekend with a split.

News

Can we make it three weeks in a row? In which I start talking about how we don’t have any massive pieces of news to report this week, only to have the Flyers drop a massive piece of news and make me change everything up? We’re about to find out.

So we just have a couple of little tidbits to touch on here. We’ve got some milestones: with his assist on Greg Carey’s first goal on Friday night, Chris Conner picked up his 300th career assist, and Taylor Leier also played his 200th game as a Phantom, and that’s pretty neat!

Less neat is that we may have a couple of injuries for the Phantoms. German Rubtsov sat out of Saturday’s game with some sort of injury situation (nothing specific was disclosed, other than the fact that he wasn’t a healthy scratch). Additionally, Mark Friedman blocked a shot it appeared somewhere in the midsection on Saturday and left the game. Here too, we haven’t been given an update on his condition or if he’ll miss any time, but it’s something to watch as we head into this week’s games.

And, finally, the Phantoms will be without Tyrell Goubourne for the next two games, after receiving a suspension for a slew foot committed late in Saturday’s game against Charlotte.

Okay. Whew. We made it.

Leaderboards

Points

Player GP G A1 A2 P
Player GP G A1 A2 P
Phil Varone 13 4 6 6 16
TJ Brennan 13 4 4 8 16
Greg Carey 13 8 5 2 15
German Rubtsov 12 6 3 1 10
Chris Conner 12 6 3 1 10
Philippe Myers 13 3 4 2 9
David Kase 10 4 4 1 9
Mike Vecchione 13 4 2 2 8
Nic Aube-Kubel 8 3 3 1 7
Mark Friedman 13 1 0 6 7

Advanced Stats

Player GP 5v5 iCF 5v5 CF% Avg GS
Player GP 5v5 iCF 5v5 CF% Avg GS
Nic Aube-Kubel 8 18 58.13 0.94
TJ Brennan 13 39 53.15 0.99
Greg Carey 13 30 52.1 1.07
Phil Varone 13 28 51.67 1.14
Taylor Leier 9 29 51.04 0.72
James de Haas 5 12 50.49 0.15
Philip Samuelsson 12 35 48.44 0.26
Colin McDonald 12 24 47.88 0.29
Chris Conner 12 18 46.61 0.7
German Rubtsov 12 22 46.38 0.68

Three Stars

1.Taylor Leier

It was a pretty big weekend for one Taylor Leier! Well, it was actually more like a pretty big Friday and a regularly solid Saturday, but let’s not get caught up in semantics. As we noted above, it was a two goal game for Leier on Friday, on his 200th game as a Phantom, and that just all feels right. His first goal of the night was a beauty—he was given an admittedly pretty weak holding call early in the first period, but his teammates killed the penalty, and then it was Goulbourne who sprung him for a breakaway just as he was exiting the box. But away from the flash of the scoring plays, he had an overall very solid night—with five shots and a 65.38 CF% at 5-on-5. Saturday was quieter, with just three shots and zero points, but by the eye he remained solid.

He’s getting well settled back in in Allentown, and, if nothing else, it’s nice to see him playing hockey again.

2.David Kase

And now our spotlight starts to turn towards the rookies. David Kase was very solid this weekend. One of the Phantoms’ biggest points getters, he came out of the weekend with four points—he put up two assists on Friday and then registered another and a goal on Saturday. And, while we can’t weigh assists, that’s not a real thing that happens here, it’s worth noting that the assist on Chris Conner’s goal on Saturday was a big one—Kase did all the work in setting it up, putting the shot on net where Conner was able to just tip it in on the power play. Conner was in the right spot to make the play, we won’t take that away from him. But Kase did a lot of the heavy lifting there.

Beyond the scoring burst that we saw this weekend, what we could be even more excited about is the role that Kase’s being put into. He was bumped off the top line after last weekend, and this might, on the surface, seem like an indication that there’s something about his play that his coach isn’t liking. But this isn’t the case, it’s just a matter of playing with different fits, and Kase was even the one to get the nod for the top power play unit spot, while Rubtsov was out on Saturday. And, as we noted above, he took that chance and ran with it. He’s settling in well here and producing consistently for anybody, not just a rookie, and that seems like no small feat.

3.German Rubtsov

It was a smaller sample on the weekend for our pal Rubtsov, as he only played in Friday’s game, and sat out on Saturday with an undisclosed injury situation. But, in that one showing on Friday, he looked very good. He picked up a goal on the night, and remained solid in his work on the penalty kill, paired with Mikhail Vorobyev (the other half of what they’re calling the “Russian Bash Brothers”, or so says Greg Carey). He put up a fine enough 47.62 CF% on Friday, and that’s what we want to hone in on.

Rubtsov’s found a way to score consistently so far, this hasn’t been a problem, but a little troubling have been his underlying numbers—it hadn’t appeared that he was figuring out how to drive play positively, across the board. But it looks like things are turning around. After a rough start, Rubtsov is up to a 46.38 CF% on the season, and while this number still isn’t excellent (and is almost certainly hurt by the couple of game in which the team as a whole was positively shelled) it’s fine, and it’s trending upward. And, of course, we won’t know it until we see it, if he’s able to fully turn this around, it’s the next thing that he needs to tackle, as he more or less rocks this whole transition period.

Two Observations

1.Goalie check, please

It’s a complicated talk on the goalies that’s incoming, folks. Let’s just dig right into it.

We saw Carter Hart in Friday’s game against Springfield on Friday, and it was something of a mixed bag. By the numbers, he stopped 16 of the 18 shots he faced, for an .889 save percentage, which is just about in line with what we’ve been seeing so far. And only letting in two goals is good, all things considered. But he also didn’t face a ton of activity. He also had a bit of loud ugliness (a wraparound goal scored when he didn’t seal up the post, a rebound kicked right out to the slot) but where those loud mistakes were greater in the earlier part of the season, they’re becoming fewer and farther between. It’s incremental improvement, but it’s improvement all the same.

Saturday, then, saw Alex Lyon getting the start, and this was something of a weird one for him. Last week we talked about out own tonal dissonance, in regards to the results of the week’s games, and now the same could be said about our impressions of Lyon’s game. His numbers weren’t excellent—six goals allowed on 36 shots for an .833 save percentage—but on the whole we can feel pretty comfortable saying that he played well. The Phantoms were pretty well thrashed through the early part of the game, and Lyon did his best to keep them in it while the team in front tried to find a way to get out of their own end. Charlotte’s strong transition play makes them dangerous on the rush, and they were going on Saturday, and on a couple of those goals, Lyon didn’t stand much of a chance. It was kind of an all-offense sort of game, and Lyon did what he could.

The open question remains of when we’ll see our pal Anthony Stolarz again—he backed up on Saturday and the rotational pattern might suggest that he would get the start today. Unless the pattern starts over with the new week, and that means Hart gets the start. Or they stick with the hot goalie in Lyon, who, like we said, was good in Saturday’s game against Charlotte. You see where we’re going with this? It’s a tenuous situation, as it would be with three goalies, and someone has to be the odd man out. And that might just mean that Stolarz is it.

2.Weighty takeaways

It’s still early in the season, and we’re looking at a small sample in one of these cases, but there’s something to be said for squaring off against two of the top teams in the division and coming out with points, and responding well when they couldn’t.

Springfield had a hot start to the season, and are coming down to earth a little bit now, but they remain a good team and the Phantoms kind of ran right through them. But perhaps the matchup against Charlotte was an even better litmus test—their hot start isn’t a fluke, they’re at the top of the division isn’t a fluke. They have a lot of firepower and their transition play can have them looking nearly lethal. And while the Phantoms didn’t manage to pull out the win, they hung with them just about the whole way. When Charlotte scored, they didn’t get rattled, they kept their heads down and responded right away (it was a fun game to watch for that reason).

In a way, it’s been an interesting turnaround—last weekend they won out and we didn’t really feel all that good about it, but this past weekend they may have left some points on the table, but they came to hang with the teams at the top of their division, teams they might be duking it out against at the end of the season, if things keep up the way they’re going. They’re not just beating up on bad teams and banking points, they’re getting acclimated to the toughest competition, and they’re doing so quickly. And that’s certainly not nothing.

Where we’re going

We have a jam packed week coming up folks! The Phantoms are back at it today against the Checkers again, so we don’t really have to wait all that long to see if they can get their revenge. That would be nice.

Then we get rolling again this weekend with two back to back away games—Friday we’ll see the Providence Bruins for the first time this season, and then we’ll see Springfield for approximately the four thousandth time so far (somehow, it will only be the fourth). The Phantoms beat the Thunderbirds with relative ease last weekend, and are tied with them for third in their division. The Bruins, however… well we can’t say that they’ve been off to the same hot start. It’ll be the first time we’ve seen them since the Phantoms beat them in the first round of least year’s playoffs, and they’re hanging out at last in the division right now. And, let me tell you, that sounds like a trap game if I’ve ever heard of one. Here’s hoping the Phantoms can avoid falling for this one.

All stats via PhancyStats and theAHL.com