Where we are
Week of Nov. 26 - Dec. 2
|GP||W||L||OTW||Standing in Division|
|GP||W||L||OTW||Standing in Division|
We had a jam packed weekend and a whole lot to recap (and it was all good!) so we’re just going to dive right in. The Phantoms kicked off their Canadian road trip on Friday against the Laval Rocket and it was… well we’ll be honest, it was kind of a yawner. Lots of defense being done. But two goals from Phil Varone kept the Phantoms in it long enough to get to overtime, where a rush and goal for Nicolas Aube-Kubel sealed up the win.
They were right back at it on Saturday night in Belleville to meet the Senators, and boy was this ever a dramatic affair. After falling to an early two goal deficit, the Phantoms were able to rally and make the push to tie things up, with efforts from Chris Conner and Mike Vecchione. We were tied until the final seconds of the third period, when Conner drew a penalty and was awarded a penalty shot, which he successfully converted on. A Taylor Leier empty netter in the final seconds of play closed out the scoring, and the Phantoms came away with a 4-2 win.
And finally, the Phantoms met the Toronto Marlies for the first time since the Marlies knocked them out of the playoffs last spring, and this time, things went decidedly more ideally for them. The Phantoms really controlled this one the whole way, never trailing in the contest. Varone recorded two goals to get them the early lead, but Toronto came back in the second to tie things up. This would be as far as they could get, as the Phantoms kept them quite and further goals from Aube-Kubel, Conner, and Leier let them cruise on for the win.
We’ve got a pretty quick turnaround this week, with last week closing out on Sunday and us getting back at it today already, so there wasn’t a whole lot of time for news happenings. We’ve just got two quick things:
Yesterday, the Phantoms loaned Alex Krushelnyski to the Reading Royals. Ostensibly, they called him up to serve as an extra body on the road trip, and opted to send him back down, now that they’ve returned home. So there’s that.
Also, with their win over Toronto on Sunday, Scott Gordon picked up his 363rd win as a coach, jumped into ninth place on the AHL’s all-time wins list.
|Player||GP||5v5 iCF||5v5 CF%||Avg GS|
|Player||GP||5v5 iCF||5v5 CF%||Avg GS|
|Jame de Haas||8||19||49.72||0.12|
1. Phil Varone
We talked a lot about consistency last week, about the players who have been able to produce consistently throughout the season to date, even when the team at large has been a bit up and down, and now we’re extending a nod for just that to Phil Varone. And how could we not? He came out of the weekend with five points (four goals and an assist) bringing him up to 29 points on the season, and landing him at first in the AHL in scoring. And we really can’t overstate how big of a deal this is. He’s producing well at 5-on-5, producing points while driving play positively (he’s posted a +5.89 CF% Rel, third among forwards), while serving as a key piece in the Phantoms’ power play success so far.
And what’s maybe the best part? He’s the reigning league MVP, and he’s looking even better so far this season. We’re on the up and up, friends.
2. Chris Conner
We’re also rewarding heroics this week, folks, so we’re kicking those talks off with Chris Conner. He picked up an assist in Friday’s game, but he really came on in terms of flash in the final two games of the weekend. After they tied things up in the second period in Belleville and things were tied through almost all of the third period, Conner drew a penalty on a breakaway and earned himself a penalty shot with 13 seconds left in the period, and, in scoring, won his team the game in regulation
Chris Conner netted his second goal of the night on this penalty shot with only 13 seconds remaining in tonight's contest. pic.twitter.com/23CIfUY2J5— LehighValleyPhantoms (@LVPhantoms) December 2, 2018
(okay technically the game winner was Taylor Leier’s empty netter. But Conner’s goal got them there). He then picked up another goal in the game on Sunday in Toronto, as he scored to give the Phantoms back their two goal lead after the Marlies were able to get themselves within one. This all feeds into a respectable points total 17 on the season, but man was it a solid weekend, to boot.
3. Nic Aube-Kubel
Our other bringer of flair and dramatics on the weekend was one Nic Aube-Kubel. We talked last week about how he’s assimilating himself back into the lineup easily since he’s been sent down from the Flyers, and it seems he’s only been picking up steam since then. He brought us a coupe of highlight reel moments this weekend. Let’s go to the tape.
Whatcha gonna do with NAK-A-MANIA runs wild on you? pic.twitter.com/hZ58fTTiWR— LehighValleyPhantoms (@LVPhantoms) December 1, 2018
Take a look at this overtime winner in Laval. Everything about it is a masterpiece—Aube-Kubel outmuscling former teammate Maxime Lamarche, getting around him for a rush in on goal, the perfectly placed shot. But don’t go away yet. Come for the goal, stay for the tug on his collar Mark Friedman sweeps in with, to keep him from getting into a full-on altercation of some sort. Everything about it is great.
Aube-Kubel puts the Phantoms up by 2. pic.twitter.com/NIdvqBpuWS— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) December 2, 2018
And then there was the goal from Sunday’s game in Toronto. After Eamon McAdam robbed him on a shot the previous shift, Aube-Kubel came back with a chance on the next one, and wouldn’t be beaten this time. From his knees, he zipped it right past McAdam to cushion the Phantoms lead. And the momentum building continues.
I guess the Phantoms got sick of us talking about how they’ve been doing good work on the penalty kill recently, but it wasn’t reflected in the standings because they aren’t shorthanded terribly often. Well, they had ample chances to help boost their penalty kill percentage this weekend. Over the course of those three games, they were shorthanded 17 times.
The good news is that they were able to kill off each of those penalties, and have brought their season average up to 87.4 percent, tying them for third in the league. They’re continuing to do really solid work on the penalty kill, have done well to limit the number and quality of chances they’re giving up. And maybe we can give them a bit of a break—there were a couple of soft calls in there, making the total feel a little worse. But the work to kill off all of them was good.
That said, let’s maybe not give our opponents that many chances going forward, yeah?
We touched on the styles of these three games in our recap way back in the start of this thing, but it’s worth getting back to. Friday’s game in Laval was a tight one—a favorite term to describe the Rocket’s style is one of a “suffocating defense” and that’s entirely correct. Not a whole lot was given up in that one. But in the following two games, they were allowed to play a bit of run and gun, and it worked out for them. That’s when they looked the most dangerous, when they were leaning into their transition play and activating on the rush. They’re hard to stop when they’re creating that much speed and space for themselves.
The flip side of this is where the room for growth comes in—this weekend wasn’t the first time they saw a tight defensive style like in Laval, and it wasn’t the first time we saw them caught up in it. It’s just as much a credit to the good work Laval did, but the Phantoms need to find a way to dictate the style of play, going forward, to break out of purely defensive play and get to their own game. Friday they did enough to get them to the end result they wanted, but there’s room to make the getting there just a little bit easier.
Where we’re going
We’ve got three more games this week! But at least they’re a bit more spread out. The Phantoms have two games against the Cleveland Monsters, tonight and Saturday, and it’s the first time we’re seeing the Monsters this season. They’re off to a good start, sitting at third in the Northern division. That said, they’re not without their vulnerabilities—the Phantoms who have been doing very well at scoring goals so far this season will be meeting a team with a -9 goal differential. So they’ll be looking to see if they can exploit that.
And in between those two, we have another game against the Hershey Bears on Friday. Since we saw them last a couple weeks ago, the Bears have held onto that position of last in the Atlantic division. And that last game? A pretty nice 6-2 victory for the Phantoms. They shouldn’t look past this team, though. Let’s just do more of that last time stuff, yeah?