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Marlies 3, Phantoms 1: That’s all she wrote

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Some observations for your morning...

Toronto Star via Getty Images

Well, I guess that’s it. Another loss. Another elimination. Another season closed out. With their loss to the Marlies last night, the Phantoms were swept and their playoff run came to a close. No more games for us to observe things about, this is the last one. It’s bittersweet, right? Let’s not get too mushy yet, though. Let’s just get right to the prepared points.

All stats via theahl.com

1.And we’ve got a pulse!

So, Wednesday was rough. I don’t have to tell you that. We watched in real time as pretty much everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, they lost steam, and all the air went out of the room. We worried about what that said, but wondered even more about how they would respond for Game 4. And that response was overwhelmingly a good one.

The Phantoms came out with jump that was noticeable pretty much from the get go. None of the deflation carried over, they showed no signs of hesitation, like they might try to feel things out and then reestablish themselves. They were off.

They punctuated their strong start with a nifty sequence—a blocked shot in front of Lyon was turned the other way for an end to end rush that culminated in a feed for and shot by Aube-Kubel, but Sparks was there to stop it. Stopped as it was, it felt like they were close to getting something going.

But it was one of the same old problems that again presented itself—they had all the pressure going, but they just couldn’t seem to hit the net. Whether it was a shot sailing wide or the Marlies’ effective shot blocking, there just wasn’t a whole lot there, in a tangible sense. And then… well we’re about to get to it…

2.Killing penalties

Honestly, this section’s presence should probably be implied, by this point. We’re putting it towards the front because you know it’s coming, there’s no sense delaying the inevitable. And also, you know, because we go through the game notes more or less chronologically, and we got our first penalty early. But it’s mostly that first thing. Details.

We hinted at it earlier, but the momentum that the Phantoms had been steadily building up through the early part of the game was effectively killed off when Varone took a tripping penalty just after the eight minute mark. And we all let out a collective sigh. Here we go.

But then it happened. Or, I should say, it didn’t happen. The Phantoms were able to get after the puck, block some lanes, get a clear or two, and kill the penalty. No goals were allowed. They were alive.

And from here, the story starts to feel familiar. You may recall, when we talked about the penalty kill from Wednesday’s game, us saying that it was good and solid and effective, except for the part where a cold goalie came in for a five minute power play, and what can you really do there? The sentiment remains for last night, except this time it was the Marlies getting 41 seconds of 5-on-3. It was a collapse in front, and Johnsson’s first goal, and really the beginning of the end. So we begrudge that one. But we can also note that the Phantoms did some good work at 4-on-5, both last night and across the series.

3.Propaganda time

This point was a question mark in my notes for a while, last night, but you know what, I’m going for it. This is a pro-Misha Vorobyev blog now. We’re going in.

While I wouldn’t call last night a bad game, by any stretch of the imagination, it was a strange one, in that it was quiet in the way of individual performances. We had some players who had good nights, but none (save maybe Alex Lyon, who we’ll get to soon) who had huge or flashy nights. But in that good nights category, once again, Vorobyev found himself. More than anything else, it was a strong defensive game for him—again he kind of ran the show on the penalty kill when he was on the ice, chasing down puck holders and pressuring them before they could make a high quality shot, and holding onto it for dear life, eating up time, when he was able to get possession for himself. Additionally, he reinforced what’s been a weak spot of the Phantoms game this series—play along the boards—as he brought a bit of extra strength and stability, winning a few puck battles and also just trapping the puck in the corner at the close of the second period, tying things up and keeping the puck away from the pressuring Marlies so time could wind down. Not terribly flashy stuff, but good, all the same.

And maybe part of this extra recognition granted is us looking big picture—in exit interviews, Hextall left Vorobyev’s name off the list of players who figured to have a longer look, come training camp. And maybe that changes. I hope it does. Because, quietly as it may have been, Vorobyev had a very solid playoff run, and he’s earned a longer look, as well.

4.A brief note on discipline

Okay, so now we’re going to circle back. We just talked about how the Phantoms did in killing off their penalties last night, but let’s also talk for a moment about how they got there, in the first place.

We talked about poor judgement calls after Game 3, and we’re back to it again. Rarely, we’ll concede, can you call a penalty a good penalty, but last night seemed to feature a few particularly poorly timed missteps. Like Wilcox taking a slashing penalty while already on the penalty kill? Not a great move. And while we have some questions about the call on Myers for holding, maybe there was still something there and late in the game when you’re trying to come back isn’t the time to play on the edge (honestly I’m hedging on this one a little bit, I didn’t love the call). And I don’t know how much of a breakdown you can have on this—they’ve just got to rein it in.

Also, the Phantoms had another too many men on the ice penalty last night. I don’t know what the average frequency of a team committing this is, but it sure feels like the Phantoms have had an excess of them. This is just a feeling. But also why is this happening?

5.Lyon time!

Last night was Lyon time again, and for the last time all season, we’re talking about it. Let’s get right to the point: he was, as he has been through this whole stretch, very solid for the Phantoms. Let’s start with a bit of tape.

Look at that save. Look how nice that was. And, in a way, it’s leading us up to saying what we’ve been saying about him in each of these Lyon time sections—that he’s stopped a respectable portion of the shots he faced (26 of 28 last night), and kept his team in the game while facing a much higher level of activity than Sparks on the other side of the ice. We had some of those very flashy saves like the one we showed above, and but even more not-so-flashy saves, as he just kept his head down and did his work. The goals he gave up weren’t bad ones—the first with Toronto on the two-man advantage, and the second on a no-look shot from Johnsson, when I don’t know if anyone thought he was going to shoot. We don’t like the result, but there’s not much you can do on those.

Lyon was given the third star of the night, and while I don’t always give that a ton of weight, he really deserved it. He kept his team in it until the bitter end.

6.*smaller sigh* the power play

And now it’s time to switch over and finish talking about special teams. We gave penalty taking and penalty killing more than their fair share of allotted time, now let’s talk about the power play.

If you couldn’t tell from the title of this section, we have some mixed feelings about the Phantoms’ power play. First of all, it took them forever to draw one. And maybe this isn’t all their fault (it isn’t at all, really) but they had already given up six penalty minutes by the time they were given their first chance on the man-advantage (thanks to a Pierre Engvall slash at 11:45 in the second) and could get going.

But even then, it was a slow start—the first minute of that attempt saw the Phantoms doing a lo of circling back, being chased out of the zone. The Marlies were pressuring, and the Phantoms just couldn’t seem to get past them and through the neutral zone. But just as we were starting to get worried, they broke through and got set up. And then, after a bit of shuffling of the puck, came the feed from Varone down low to Sanheim between the faceoff circles, who threw in an absolute laser of a shot, to tie up the game and pick up his first goal of the playoffs.

They had another chance just under three minutes later, and maybe we got too excited by a little bit of results, but they just couldn’t seem to replicate. There was a bit of pressure, but not a lot of substance. And, in true Flyers organization fashion, the power play came up short when it was needed the most.

7.Let’s talk about shots

There were not a lot of them! And that’s the end of the point! Moving on…

Okay, okay, we’re sorry for the joke. We’ll actually give this thought some time to develop. The short summary is that the Phantoms did not win the shots battle last night, and again struggled to generate early in the game. They registered just 20 shots on goal across 60 minutes, and were only able to put up four in the first period, to the Marlies’ nine. And in there you could make a small note about good work done in shot suppression—nine shots in one period is not a lot for the high powered Marlies—but we’re going to focus more on generation.

Maybe this sounds facile, but this is kind of the whole objective of the game. It’s a favorite adage of I suspect every hockey player who’s ever lived, we just have to put pucks on net. Maybe you can even hear that in a particular player’s voice. It’s the most basic starting point of the game, and in it, the Phantoms failed. And part of it, of course, is the Marlies running their system—of which pressuring and blocking shots are particular hallmarks—very well, but it’s also the Phantoms not putting themselves in the best position to do something.

8.Loose ends

Yes, it’s back! For the last time for a bit, probably, we have our last collection (it’s actually just two) of small thoughts to wrap up. Let’s get into it.

First, while we can probably say that the second period was the Phantoms’ best—they picked up a goal and tied the Marlies with nine shots apiece—their push at the end of the third period was perhaps some of their nicest flash of the game. Gordon went a little aggressive with pulling Lyon with a little over two and a half minutes to go, and the Phantoms were able to get to work right away. They had a handful of close chances as they really ran the show, and the Marlies couldn’t seem to get settled and take control back of the puck. They were chasing, and the Phantoms looked like they were right there. And then the Marlies broke out, had a chance on the empty net, broke a stick, had everybody scrambling a little bit more, and then finally put it away. And then… it was just kind of over. Sigh.

And second, let’s take a moment to extend one final nod to the Myers-Sanheim pair. They were a real treat to watch through pretty much the whole of their time together during this playoff run, and they closed things out with a pretty solid night. The two combined for a quarter of the Phantoms’ total shots (three for Sanheim and two for Myers) on the night, and kept with their style that has worked for them down this stretch. But they really shone in that last shift with the goalie pulled that we just talked about liking so much. Serving as the primary puck distributors for that cycle, they had it in their hands, working to set up those close chances and keeping the play alive. Good stuff.

But also RIP to this pair. It would be great to see Myers make the team out of camp, as well, next season, but we shouldn’t expect to see this pair assembled with the big club in the near future. Not because they’re not ready, or it wouldn’t work but because…well because Hakstol. Need I say any more?

9.Anti-grumbling

As you can probably tell from the enumeration of these points, we’re now nearing the end of this article. And I know we’re bummed because there were things that went poorly, and because the Phantoms were eliminated, but I wanted to sort of pull back and try and go out on a more positive note. I know they say there’s no such thing as a moral victory, that we can’t have those here, but there are still some positive to take from this.

For the most part, (we can say 75 percent of it) this was a tight series. Things could have gone differently, even if they didn’t, and they still flexed some strength. But the even bigger piece is the glimpse it gave us into the future—the guys sent down from the Flyers had, on the whole, solid playoff runs, as did some of they other players who had been laboring away in Allentown pretty much this whole time. You know who they are, by now, and I imagine we’ll be talking more about them in the near future. The pieces are there, we know the Flyers were watching, and things are looking good for the big club. They stand to get some reinforcements come October, and we just got a firsthand look at what they can do, deep in the playoffs.

10.The only damn thing I know

I’ve had to do this twice, now, and it doesn’t feel any less strange the second time around. It’s been a nice run, but the season’s over, and these are my last ten observations until next season. Unless I get sent to some other league where a Flyer is Flyers adjacent person is playing. Which is a possibility.

But on the off-chance that this doesn’t happen, I’ll still be kicking around here, putting more words and numbers and bad jokes on the internet, as I’ve been doing pretty much this whole time. And I wanted to thank you guys for hanging around. This is now twice that we’ve had to say “this isn’t the way we wanted it to end, but…” It’s been interesting, and I’m glad we got to experience it together. Until next time.