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Marlies 3, Phantoms 2: Down, but still not out

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Some observations for your morning...

Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Well, we hate to be the bearers if bad news on a Monday, but here we are. This weekend, the Phantoms had two Good Games, playing well and hanging with the Marlies, but still came up short on the scoreboard, came up with the less than ideal result. They’re coming home this week down 2-0 after dropping yesterday’s Game 2. What did we learn? I’m glad you asked…

1. Offense from defense(men)

We’re upset about the result, but there was still a fair bit to like. Let’s start with a bit of that flash.

Yesterday we talked about how Oskar Lindblom was getting a pretty rough go of things so far this series, getting dinging up in Game 1, but he’s not the only one. Mark Friedman’s been having this kind of luck through the whole of these playoffs. Remember in the Checkers series, when he was literally checked through the boards? So hard into them that the Zamboni door opened and he just kind of tumbled right through? Why? Just why? Yesterday wasn’t quite that dramatic, but it still saw him taken out in front of his own net, and didn’t even draw a call. I don’t know how he became a target like this, but we sympathize with you, Mark.

But really what we should be talking about is what happened after he took that big hit in his own end—on his next shift, he and Brennan collected the puck from their end and went blasting down ice. Friedman took the cross-ice feed and just zipped it right past Garret Sparks, and the Phantoms had their first lead of the game. And this has been one of the emerging stories of the series, that of offense coming from everywhere, and the defensemen stepping up and being active on the rush, and working to create something. It’s exactly what they need to be doing against these high-powered Marlies, and last night Friedman was the one to reap the benefits. More of that, please.

2. Offense from defense(men) (vol. 2)

Oh, but there is more. That more up there was a want for more in the deeper future, but I guess this will… you know what, it doesn’t matter. Let’s just get into the section.

A peek behind the curtain: the working title for this section, when I was just jotting notes down, was “oh my god, Sanheim is so good.” And, you guys, he is so good.

We saw him return to the lineup on Saturday after suffering the knee injury in Round 2, and he immediately made his presence known. No rust to be seen, here. By the numbers, Sanheim didn’t have as stellar of a night in Game 2, putting up just one shot and taking two penalty minutes. But this isn’t the end of the story, and worth even more commending are the chances he was creating that didn’t actually wind up resulting in a chance on net, like…well, like this one right here.

And maybe we have some mixed feelings about this one, as it’s the play that earned him the interference call, but maybe that call was a little ambiguous, I don’t know, I’m not an official. But that rush was just one example of what he’s been doing since he came back down to Lehigh Valley—skating circles around guys and asserting dominance. And do we want these chances to start going on goal, and then into the goal? Yeah. Absolutely. But we also shouldn’t be worried yet that this is too far away, at all.

3. Lyon time continues

So I seem to recall, after Game 1, typing some words to the effect of “Lyon did fine and well enough, but if he doesn’t play both games in this back to back, we won’t be surprised.” But then he did play both games and somehow that wasn’t surprising, either. He’s been very good, to date, and it was nice to see Gordon not jumping ship. But let’s talk some more about his play in Game 2.

Let’s start again with the raw numbers: he stopped 44 of 47 shots faced in just over 70 minutes of play, for a .936 save percentage, which is not too shabby. Lyon had a busy night, and a particularly busy first period, but he came up big for them in a number of cases. All in all, he didn’t look all that different than he did on Saturday, and that’s not exactly the worst thing. There wasn’t a ton of flash to his game—there rarely is—and he kept them in it when the Marlies were firing on all cylinders, and the Phantoms were trying to keep up. The overtime goal wasn’t a great one, but rarely do they seem to be. So we return to our earlier consensus—he was good and fine and did his job, but just like those supporting in front of him, we want to see just a little bit more.

4. Killing penalties

This feels inevitable, at this point, right? And maybe even doubly so, because of the tone set in Game 1, and just because of the fact that this is the Phantoms we’re talking about, here. We’ll be talking about taking and killing penalties. This is just what it is now.

Let’s start with just some raw numbers: the Phantoms took 10 penalty minutes and gave up one power play goal. And half of that seems not so bad—the Marlies have a very good power play, and the Phantoms kept them neutralized, for the most part. It was the prettiest series of showings—far from it, in fact, as we spent a fair few shifts waiting with bated breath as the Marlies came close to scoring, but were somehow still stopped. But they still did some good work—blocking lanes and getting after them enough that they couldn’t pass as cleanly as they wanted—and in the end, they got the job done.

But the other half of that figure is distinctly less good. Ten penalty minutes taken—particularly when compared to the four PIM drawn—is not spectacular. And while at least one of those calls (the interference on Sanheim) was questionable, that’s still not a great differential, and one that they need to clean up. Discipline, boys. Keep it together, please. No more giving up chances for free.

5. The power play

We mentioned it up there, and despite the fact that they took a ton of penalties, the Phantoms also drew a couple themselves. The power play hasn’t been stellar during this playoff run, and, well, that didn’t really change at all last night.

They had two chances on the man-advantage, and it brought them exactly zero goals to show for it. Their first attempt was really just kind of a mess—they were never really able to get set, and then the puck was cleared and everybody had to go down ice to retrieve because the Marlies were pushing, and then a miscue behind the net nearly allowed for a shorthanded chance. Yikes. The second attempt was better, as they did spend some time in the zone and were able to generate a bit of pressure, but they weren’t able to put up a particularly dangerous chance, and came out of it without a goal.

We’ll be talking more later about seizing chances when they’re presented, but this is the area where it seems to be needed the most. We’ve seen this power play look little short of lethal, and now with all of its main personnel returned to the lineup, there’s no good reason for them not to be able to do anything. We’ve seen that Toronto hasn’t given them a ton of space to work with at 5-on-5, and they’re giving up even fewer power play chances. So, that said, when they do get a chance like this, they need to bear down and find a way to run with it.

6. Misha Vorobyev. Hello.

Okay, okay, I hear you. It’s getting a little doom and gloom in here. I told you there were things to like about this game, let’s get back to those. Okay, I can do that. Let’s talk about Mikhail Vorobyev.

He had himself quite the night, let me tell you. We’ve talked a lot, recently, about his play on the penalty kill, and how he’s been more or less running the show there. And this remained true last night, but it also saw him really turning and shining at 5-on-5. Let’s start with the Big Thing.

With the Marlies tying things up not long after Friedman gave the Phantoms the lead, they spent much of the second period trying to break back into the scoring race, but to no avail. But the early part of the third period saw Vorobyev’s line taking over, offensively, and refusing to let up. They put up that goal that we saw up there, and then nearly got themselves another. After Carl Grundstrom tied the game up following Vorobyev’s first goal, Vorobyev got to work again. His line played keep away in Toronto’s zone, holding onto the puck long enough to set Vorobyev up with another high danger chance in front, but it just wouldn’t go. But this line was creating all night, and at the head of the charge was their center, finally picking up his first playoff goal, and (hopefully) bursting the dam wide open.

7. The waiting game

So since we just talk about a guy who’s finally broken into the playoff scoring race after some initial good work, maybe it’s time that we move on to someone who hasn’t quite broken out in this same way yet.

Enter: Nic Aube-Kubel

We welcomed him back on Saturday, after he served his three game suspension, and talked about how he hadn’t been much of a presence in the Providence series, and the first part of Round 2, and how we were looking for more from him, in this higher stakes series. And still, he hasn’t quite delivered.

On Saturday, we saw him attempt a few shots, but only put one on goal. Yesterday? Zero shots. And still he holds fast to the “zero playoff points” figure. It’s not like we’re looking at a complete absence, where his work is concerned, he just can’t seem to connect in the ways that matter.

And you know how we hate to do this, narrativizing, and this isn’t us doing the “look at this schlump who disappears in the playoffs” thing. But his absence is still worth pointing out, wondering about. Hextall plainly said during exit interviews that Aube-Kubel would be one to get a longer look, come training camp, but he isn’t doing much to earn that right now. And maybe that changes, we hope that it does. We need it to.

8. A note on opportunism

If you watched this game, or even if you couldn’t watch, and just picked up the recap, you probably picked up on what was one of the bigger trends of the game—the Phantoms were doing a lot of good work, but they just couldn’t seem to close. We saw them taking a good number of perimeter shots, sure, but they did so with traffic in front, and they did even more of the chipping away at pucks in front of the net after they’d been centered. Sparks was on, and robbed them more than once, but they still had their chances.

And maybe this is implicit at this point, something we shouldn’t even have to point out, but here we are, still. The Phantoms are down in a seven game series, but not out, and it’s proven to be more even than this series record would suggest. It’s been even, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. And maybe it’s easier said than done, easy for us to roll up like “well, they just have to close on their chances,” but they do. There isn’t much that they have to change in their approach, when it comes to generating quality chances—it’s a matter of sticking with this game, and the results seem soon to follow.

9. Storming back

But, with all that said, their play hasn’t been without its faults. We talked earlier in this article about how they started the game and just looked sharp, how they were generating pressure and looking like they were close to running the table. But, in the midst of all that, they weren’t actually putting any shots on goal. Friedman’s goal came just shy of the eight minute mark, and was only the Phantoms’ second official shot of the game. And things sort of spiraled from there—they gave up a goal during the first period, and allowed 20 shots for the Marlies, while only putting up seven more of their own. The score remained tied, but they had still, in a way, dug themselves a hole that they had to find a way to clamber out of.

And they were more or less able to do this—through each of the next two periods, plus the overtime period, there was no more than a single shot deficit between the two sides. Things evened back out. So we can commend them for the work well done in coming back when things looked a little rocky, like the Marlies might be getting ready to run away with this, while also acknowledging that they shouldn’t have gotten into the position to need to, in the first place. Myers mentioned after Game 1 that they needed to get a better start, and they both did and didn’t do that. Scoring first is always a plus, to be sure, but imagine what they could have done if they hadn’t been caught giving up 20 shots in one period.

10. The only damn thing I know

Guys. I am conflicted. The Phantoms are down 2-0 in the series, but they’re still alive. They played tough and they’re heading home with a chance to get back on track. But I worry that the Marlies have won the series pump up video song selection game. Let me explain.

So the Phantoms have been using a video with that Arkells song. You know the one. We talked about it already. “Knocking at the Door.” It’s rad. But on yesterday’s broadcast, they showed a snippet of the Marlies’ video, where they used “Ophelia” by the Lumineers. And, as much as I like that Arkells song, I love the Lumineers way more. My allegiances are being tested here, folks. The Phantoms better do something to pull me back in. Please and thank you.