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Marlies 5, Phantoms 0: What the heck even was that

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Some observations for your morning...

Toronto Star via Getty Images

Good Morning, all. The Phantoms lost last night. This is my introduction section and I don’t really know what to say. A whole bunch of things went wrong and the Phantoms got shut out and now they’re on the brink of elimination. Things aren’t going very well. But we’ve also pulled out some salient points from this game (as we do) so let’s get into those.

Stats via the AHL (that’s all, thanks pals).

  1. Yikes

Now would probably be a fitting time for me to employ my favorite schtick—you know the one, talk about how it’s really important that, given the state of the series and the type of game the Marlies have been playing, that it’s really important that the Phantoms do one thing, and then I drop the “oh, what was that? They’ve already done the exact opposite of what I literally just said?” But I’ll spare the theatrics.

The Phantoms needed to get off to a strong start and find the back of the net with their chances, and they didn’t. They gave up a goal just about a minute into the period, and it was just about a full systems failure. Travis Sanheim turned the puck over low in the zone. Phil Myers left space open in the front of the net. Alex Lyon just wasn’t quite in position. And it was a goal for Carl Grundstrom. And maybe you say that’s a freak play where everything just goes wrong and then you get back on track after. But that didn’t happen either. The Phantoms put up three whole shots over the first twenty minutes (a whole lot more on that later) and didn’t give themselves much of a chance to come back. So the title of this section says it all: yikes.

2. *sigh* the power play

And, oh, I guess that’s a pretty good segue into this next section, seeing as our initial thoughts on the Phantoms’ power play is also “yikes.”

Let’s start a little more generally: we mentioned in the last section that the Phantoms only had three shots in the first period. They also had four minutes on the power play in the first period. And that is… well you don’t need me to tell you that it’s not good.

Would it be dramatic to say that the first chance was little short of an unmitigated disaster? Maybe, but we wouldn’t be too far off. Their first go at the man-advantage actually saw them spending more time in their own zone, giving up what ended up being a handful of shorthanded chances. Their second attempt was better, in that they were able to get set up in the zone and get the puck moving around. It was something, but it didn’t amount to anything in the way of dangerous looking chances. And we hit another game where the power play comes up short, when needed the most.

3. Killing penalties

But let’s take this as our chance to move to the other side of the special teams coin, and talk about the penalty kill. This game was sort of a weird one in a number of ways, but the penalty and penalty killing situation fell to the higher end of that spectrum. So we’ll split the talk into sections, for the sake of ease.

Through the first, we’ll say 49 minutes of the game, we could say that the Phantoms’ penalty kill was doing well. They had given up two chances on the power play (and took two more concurrent penalties) but they were able to keep the Marlies tied up during these four minutes. In fact, two of their better chances actually came shorthanded—one for Vorobyev, and then another when Lamarche had a steal, nearly a shorthanded chance, and then another steal to eat up some more time. So, again, they took a dangerous Marlies power play and neutralized them.

And then, well, all hell sort of broke loose. At 9:41 in the third, Lyon took a match penalty for kicking (more on that soon) and was ejected from the game, Tokarski came in, and the Marlies had a five minute continuous power play. They could score as many times as they could manage in that time. And they did it twice, all towards the back half. You could feel it coming—goalie comes in cold and all the air has already left the building anyway. I don’t even know how much weight we should give that whole attempt. Let’s just throw the whole thing away? Is that how this works?

4. Lyon time!

And we just keep on rolling! Lyon’s been pretty good through this series and he’s got Scott Gordon’s trust, so Lyon time continues, still. And while he didn’t have an awful night, it wasn’t spectacular, either.

The first goal saw a defensive breakdown in front, and Lyon getting beat, and the same went with the Marchement goal (a second attempt on a rebound beating him five hole), but the Johnsson goal was a bad bounce off of Cole Bardreau, and can’t be blamed too much on Lyon. And beyond this, he still did well enough for them—he faced much more activity than Sparks through the whole of his time on the ice, and in the end he stopped 23 of the 26 shots he faced, which is a respectable margin.

So Lyon time was fine I guess until it ended abruptly (this is when we get into some of the weirdness), when Lyon was called for a match penalty for delivering a kick in the crease. And maybe it’s hard to say if you’re not there or whatever, but I’m skeptical. But you can take a look at the tape yourself.

So… yeah, okay, whatever. Lyon was tossed, the Marlies had a five minute power play, and Dustin Tokarski came in and gave up two goals. It was over by then, anyway, and they were still power play goals, but they weren’t very pretty, either. And that’s about the end of the story. It’s hard to judge Tokarski, having come in cold and not even playing half of a period, but he still didn’t give a stellar showing. Might we expect to see Lyon back in on Friday? I’m leaning towards yes.

5. A glimmer

So we made it through that first period, down a goal, outshot 11-3, and reeling. But we took a moment, a deep breath, and we thought “okay so that was rough, but this first intermission is a chance to take a breath and regroup. It’s only one goal they’re down, and there’s plenty of time. Just be better.” And they gave us a little bit of hope to work with.

The second period started immediately with some more jump for the Phantoms—they looked like they had finally gotten their legs back under them, and they were starting to threaten the Marlies. For the first time all game, they were able to sustain a presence in Toronto’s zone, and they got to work. They had a handful of close chances in there, one in particular with a shot from Colin McDonald, and then two chances for Tyrell Goubourne and T.J. Brennan, who both missed on the rebounds. And maybe that’s the story of the game. A chance was there, but they sort of flubbed. But they were getting some chances, there. That is, before the second goal and the air kind of went out again.

And maybe we’re giving too much weight to one brief period before the wheels started coming off again, but maybe it’s also an encouraging sign—the Phantoms are capable of getting chances, and getting close with them, they’re not dead in the water and hopelessly outmatched. We’re trying to do more of that deep breathing here, folks. Let’s just go with it.

6./extremely the 1975 voice/ Giving it up again

I’m not going to wind into this with a fancy or verbose introduction—we’ve got to talk about turnovers and giveaways, pals.

We’ll be talking throughout this whole article about what the Phantoms’ Big Problem was in yesterday’s game, and maybe there’s not just one answer, but a big piece is that they just could not seem to hold onto the puck for the life of them. The first part of this is turnovers (we talked about how one led to the first goal) and giveaways (they had 17 of them by the time we reached the second intermission), and do I even have to say this? That you won’t score hockey goals if you keep giving the puck back to your opponent? So that was a problem.

But the other part of the equation is a little more general. During the game, I found myself jotting down in my notes “complete a pass, control an entry, I feel like I’m watching the dang Flyers watching this whole mess.” And the joke’s a joke but the sentiment around it remains—the Phantoms just couldn’t seem to connect on any of their passes, couldn’t move cleanly into the offensive zone.

As a tangent: if you were watching the Caps/Lightning game last night, at some point I think it was Pierre said something about how you should maybe just chip the puck into the zone to mix things up, see what happens. The Phantoms, I hope you weren’t listening. Pierre is wrong. Control your entries. If you chip, the Marlies will get it first. We’ve seen it. We know that’s what’s bound to happen.

So what do we do with this? Is it as simple as saying they just need to clean up their passing? Maybe. The Marlies have also been effective in swarming the puck and not giving up a lot of time and space. So maybe they have to be more decisive too.

7. Looking for something

As the game wound down, and it was becoming clearer and clearer that this article was going to feature more than its fair share of grumbling, I started trying to think of ways to offset it. Who can I talk about that had a good game? What’s there to praise here? Let’s go to the quick hits.

Corban Knight and Max Lamarche led the team with three shots each, and Lamarche had that very nice penalty kill sequence that we mentioned a few sections up.

Mark Friedman kept at it inside the last two minutes of the game, creating one last chance in front, not calling it quits even when the game was all but sealed.

Chris Conner almost had a chance on a breakaway.

Misha Vorobyev had a couple of nice chances, one at fives, another shorthanded, and looked sharp, before he was also ejected from the game, presumably for arguing with the official after he’d been ejected from a faceoff.

And that’s about all I’ve got. It was a rough night, folks. Give me some more material to work with on Friday, the Phantoms. Please.

8. A note on shots

I have a number for you: 16. That’s how many shots the Phantoms mustered. Not through one period. Through the whole game. The Marlies had almost that many (11) in the first period alone. And I’ll let you sit with that for just a moment.

But maybe we should backtrack a bit, as while this tells not a great story, there’s a little bit more to it than just those numbers suggest. The Phantoms did struggle to create offensively, and more often found themselves kept to the outside, unable to generate very high quality chances in the crease. And this too is part of the problem with looking at just that shots total. We don’t have access to the numbers for shot attempts, but if we did, I suspect the story might not look quite so grim. It was all connected—the Phantoms were attempting more shots, and while some were sailing wide, more were being blocked, and then the Marlies were able to run off with the rebound. They didn’t even need Garret Sparks to control and redistribute the rebounded pucks, they were doing it themselves before they even got to him. And this was one of the biggest troubles the Phantoms faced.

And, of course, we need them to find a way to break down the Marlies’ defenses, to find a way to push them out of the front of the net and to have their shots get through. An effective team will find a way to do so, and that’s how they’ll finally win a hockey game in this series. But we can also acknowledge that Toronto’s game plan was just really working last night.

9. Loose ends

Okay, pals, we’ve talked a lot about all the weirdness and badness and not exactly badness that was this game, and we’ve got just a few more small things to hit on. Thanks for sticking with us. Let’s wrap up.

First, we talked earlier about the penalty kill, and how it was and was not working, but we should also take a moment to talk about the penalties, themselves. The call on Lyon was an admittedly weak one, so maybe we don’t get too mad about him delivering a nudge in his crease. But Myers? Maybe don’t give that guy a slash after a clean hit? And Vorobyev? The refs are bad, but maybe don’t pick a fight and get yourself ejected. I like all of these players, and I’m not ragging on them for kicks (sorry), all I’m saying is they need to tighten up.

Second, I made a joke earlier that this was like watching a Flyers game because of the messy passing, but with all the times when a play went too long, tried to be too cute, it really did feel like I was watching the Flyers. And I don’t know how much of a breakdown I have on this—when you’re trailing, we don’t need the theatrics. The Marlies don’t give up a lot of space to work with, in the first place. Keep it simple, dudes.

And finally, the Phantoms deserved this. We don’t like this result, not one little bit, but when you look at everything we’ve broken down up to this point you get it. It’s hard to say that much was going right in terms of process, and If by some miracle they had pulled out a win in spite of everything that wasn’t working, we would be happy, but unfulfilled. There were just too many pieces faltering to merit a positive result, and that just happens sometimes. Should we slam the panic button yet? Maybe not. But we can hover over it, and hope the Phantoms can shape up, as they hit the brink of elimination.

10. The only damn thing I know

Okay, so who was watching this one at home? It’s nice to be able to actually watch these games on tv, right? But did anyone else have that issue where there was no audio of anyone calling the game through the first few minutes of play? That was weird, right? I know that’s pretty much what it’s like when you’re actually at the game, it’s no commentary, just rink and crowd sounds, but somehow it just feels awkward when it’s coming from your television. A big no thanks on that.