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Phantoms weekly rundown: Who’s up, who’s down, who’s still around?

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Stop the madness!

Casey Liberatore / SB Nation

Where we are

Week of Dec. 10 - Dec. 16

GP W L Standing in Division
GP W L Standing in Division
2 1 1 4th

It was another back to back weekend last weekend, and the Phantoms came out of this one with the split. With their roster still depleted, we headed into these two games a little nervous about how it was going to go, but they came out and played a pretty solid on Friday against the Belleville Senators. Despite being outshot pretty handily, the Phantoms were able to pull out a win, care of the efforts of Greg Carey (on the power play), Connor Bunnaman, and Carsen Twarynski (twice!). It wasn’t their cleanest effort, but they got the job done.

But Saturday in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton against the Penguins is when things got really interesting. The bad news is that the Phantoms really struggled to get a whole lot going. They got goals from Philip Samuelsson and Mike Vecchione, but their power play stagnated, they gave up five goals, and couldn’t come up with the late-game push to quite get themselves back in it. But this one was certainly chippy. We had a couple of roughing minors handed out, a couple of fighting majors, and two game misconducts in what turned into quite the spirited affairs. So at least there’s that? Sure.

News

We have just two things to hit on here, but really they’re pretty major. First, Monday saw Carter Hart recalled to the Flyers, and he made his NHL debut last night against the Red Wings, and Alex Lyon was returned to the Phantoms. Additionally (we all know this by now but we have to say it), Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol was fired on Monday, and Scott Gordon was named interim head coach. Kerry Huffman will be taking over as head coach of the Phantoms, with Kjell Samuelsson serving as the assistant.

Just kidding, it’s more than two. In the few hours between when I drafted this section and this afternoon, we got some more news! Phil Varone has been returned to the Phantoms, and Steven Swavely from Reading has been signed to a PTO. Our pal Charlie has also reported that the Flyers have placed Radel Fazleev on unconditional waivers for the purpose of contract termination. And the revolving door continues on.

Leaderboards

Points

Player GP G A1 A2 P
Player GP G A1 A2 P
Greg Carey 26 13 10 6 29
Phil Varone 22 11 9 8 28
TJ Brennan 25 6 6 12 24
Chris Conner 25 10 5 6 21
Mike Vecchione 26 7 6 4 17
Philippe Myers 26 5 7 4 16
Nic Aube-Kubel 18 7 4 2 13
David Kase 20 4 6 3 13
Colin McDonald 25 2 5 4 11
Mark Friedman 26 1 2 8 11

Advanced Stats

Player GP 5v5 iCF 5v5 CF% Avg GS
Player GP 5v5 iCF 5v5 CF% Avg GS
Nic Aube-Kubel 18 36 53.33 0.69
Phil Varone 22 46 51.52 1.17
TJ Brennan 25 67 49.63 0.77
Greg Carey 26 59 49.26 0.97
Jame de Haas 10 26 48.47 0.09
Taylor Leier 22 49 47.29 0.43
Philip Samuelsson 25 53 47.17 0.19
Mike Vecchione 26 55 46.72 0.56
Chris Conner 25 51 46.42 0.66
Mark Friedman 26 72 46.05 0.3

Three Stars

1. Carter Hart

First star of the night last night in Philly, first star of our weekly rundown. It’s Carter Hart again, friends! With Lyon called up to the Flyers for the back half of their road trip, it was all Hart with the Phantoms, as the veritable last man standing, of the goalies in their regular rotation. It wasn’t a perfect showing for him, but he was solid in his second back-to-back of the season, and appeared to be working to capitalize on the momentum he was building. Even in Saturday’s game, where he let in four goals on 34 shots, his technique looked as sound as it has, of late, but the support in front left a bit to be desired. And, as a further mark of continued improvement, Hart was able to bring his season save percentage up above .900 (it currently sits at .901) for the first time all season. It’s incremental improvement that we’ve been seeing, and it certainly makes the call-up feel deserved.

2. Carsen Twarynski

It’s been an idea that we’ve been hitting on in these past few weeks, that of “with guys being called up or going down with injury, the players who are left are going to have the chance to step up and run with an increased role.” We saw it with Bunnaman in his new role on the top line and power play units. But this weekend it was Twarynski stepping up and making an impact.

It’s been something of a slow start to the season for him (as he registered just one goal and three assists in his first 20 games), but with the Phantoms needing offense from new sources with some of their biggest contributors out of the lineup, Twarynski stepped up. He had the two goals on Friday, as we mentioned in the recap, and very nearly had a hat trick on one last chance in the final minutes of play, and looked dangerous in those chances he was generating on the rush. In short, he was looking more like the player we were expecting to see when he came down after that excellent preseason with the Flyers. We’ll have to see if he can keep with this impact level, but it was certainly a nice bit of flash brought when it was sorely needed.

3. Mark Friedman

We’re going to take a break from giving nods to players who stepped up with increased roles and move on to talk about one of our more consistent contributors, on the season—one Mark Friedman. He’s quietly been hanging out on our top ten list in points for just about the whole season, and is up to 11 points so far, and has registered a +1.12 5v5 CF% Rel. He hasn’t brought a ton of flash so far—which admittedly can be hard when you’re paired with someone like T.J. Brennan who’s zipping around the ice trying to do All Of The Offense—but really it’s just as well. He’s the defensively sound side of that pairing, and he’s been reliable across the whole of the season, and that’s something we can’t really say for the whole defense. There’s something to be said for consistency, particularly in the face of all of the movement and tumult this team has seen so far, and Friedman’s been doing his part in providing that.

Two observations

1. Making tweaks

We’ve been talking a lot about “making it work,” when your regular lineup is depleted. We’ve talked about players stepping up, and now we’re going to talk about making systems tweaks to get around the missing regulars.

Somewhere we saw this at work was on the power play, particularly on Friday. Generally speaking, we’ve seen the top unit being pretty mobile, with a good amount of emphasis placed on collapsing the defenders to get a bit of traffic in front for chances in close (like the set up that led to Connor Bunnaman’s goal the weekend before last). This weekend we did see hints of this, but the primary focus seemed to center around getting the puck to Greg Carey at the right faceoff circle to set him up for one-timers. And it worked, but just, well, the one time. So you make due with what you have, and maybe you lose some of the variability that brings some of the danger to opponents. So it goes.

2. Making it work

And, indeed, so it does go. This sort of thinning of the lineup feels pretty extreme, but it’s something that happens to every team, to a certain extent, every season. And this weekend felt like a pretty good show of just what can happen when the roster situation gets a little tenuous. Sometimes the system can bail you out, and when you’re getting contributions from your depth players (as was the case on Friday), you can mask some of the weaknesses in the lineup and still find positive results. But when those contributions aren’t coming, your opponent can get a fair bit of space to work with, and things can get dicier.

It’s hard to look at a loss and just shrug it off, as fans we don’t want to accept that. But in this case, we can still feel pretty comfortable looking at what they were left to work with last weekend feel good that they were still able to bank some points, in spite of the messiness. We’ll take it.

Where we’re going

Do you love watching the Phantoms play the Hershey Bears? Well, you’re in luck! The Phantoms play them twice this week, first tonight at home and then again on Saturday in Hershey. Tonight will be their fourth meeting of the season, and the Phantoms currently hold the edge in the series with a 2-1 record. And the Bears, just like when we saw (and beat) them last, are still hanging out at last in the division.

And, if you hate the Bears and never want to see them ever... well... we’re sorry.

You will have a chance to break things up on Friday, when they play the Syracuse Crunch for the first time this season. They’ve had a solid start to the season, and have been hanging out around the top of the Northern division, where they currently sit third (but second by points percentage). They’re also second in their division in goals for on the season (with 92 in 24 games), so the Phantoms’ defense may well have their work cut out for them in this one.

All stats via Phancy Stats and theAHL.com