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Series Preview: Lehigh Valley Phantoms vs Charlotte Checkers

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The Phantoms are four wins away from going to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2005.

Gregory Vasil/Getty Images

Thanks to Alex Lyon’s 49 saves and Max Lamarche’s overtime heroics, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms are moving on to round 2 and will face the Charlotte Checkers. This won’t be an easy series by any means as Charlotte, maybe more than any other team during the regular season, has given the Phantoms a fair bit of trouble.

Team Stats

Team Wins Losses OT/SOL GF/GP GA/GP Goal Diff. PP% PK%
Team Wins Losses OT/SOL GF/GP GA/GP Goal Diff. PP% PK%
LV 47 19 10 3.42 2.87 42 17.45% 83.10%
CHA 46 26 4 3.45 2.79 50 20.40% 81.21%

Phantoms vs Checkers Head-to-Head

Venue Result GF GA 5v5 CF 5v5 CA 5v5 CF% 5v5 SCF 5v5 SCA 5v5 SCF%
Venue Result GF GA 5v5 CF 5v5 CA 5v5 CF% 5v5 SCF 5v5 SCA 5v5 SCF%
Away W 6 3 46 32 58.97% 25 22 53.19%
Away L 5 2 42 20 67.74% 25 13 65.79%
Home W 3 1 47 37 55.95% 24 16 60.00%
Home L 2 5 27 38 41.54% 13 17 43.33%
Home W 3 2 40 51 43.96% 18 22 45.00%
Home W 4 3 42 37 53.16% 28 15 65.12%
Away L 1 3 31 47 39.74% 14 29 32.56%
Away L 1 6 43 24 64.18% 19 10 65.52%
All 4-4-0 25 25 318 286 52.65% 166 144 53.55%

An even record and positive results at 5-on-5 won’t paint this match-up as that dangerous for the Phantoms, but given that the Checkers improved as the season went on, and recently got plenty of reinforcements from the Hurricanes, they’re nowhere near the same team that they were back in December.

When the teams met in the regular season the home team won 75% of the time, including the final two games that were played almost exactly one month ago today. The biggest thing going for the Checkers is their power play. Their 20.40% success rate in the regular season was the third-best mark in the league, although so far in the playoffs they’ve scored on just one of their fifteen opportunities. It’s unlikely that they’ll continue to convert on just 6.7% of their power plays and it’s a unit that, if it gets going, can be very tough to stop.

Leading Scorers - Regular Season

Player Games Played Goals Assists Points Points Per Game
Player Games Played Goals Assists Points Points Per Game
Phil Varone - LV 74 23 47 70 0.95
Lucas Wallmark - CHA 45 17 38 55 1.22
Valentin Zykov - CHA 63 33 21 54 0.86
Greg Carey - LV 72 31 22 53 0.74
Andrew Miller - CHA 55 15 37 52 0.95
Nicolas Aube-Kubel - LV 72 18 28 46 0.64

We’re all about sample size here which is why we’re going to focus mostly on regular season production. Lucas Wallmark’s 55 points in 45 games clearly stands out, and for good reason. Among all AHL skaters who played in at least 10 games, Wallmark’s points per game of 1.22 puts him at the top of the list. Not to be outdone, Valentin Zykov led the league in goals with 33 during the regular season and put up 7 points in his brief 10-game stay in the NHL with the Hurricanes. These two are legitimate threats every time they’re on the ice and can change the game at any time. However, so far in the playoffs it’s been Greg McKegg leading the charge offensively. He scored a goal and picked up 4 assists in the three games and has been a major threat ever since joining the Checkers back in late February. In 19 regular season games with Charlotte he scored 9 goals and assisted on 14 others for 23 total points; a 1.21 points per game pace.

The bad news for the Phantoms is that AHL points leader Phil Varone, who missed the final game of the first round, may not be ready to return in time for Game 1. On May 1st he was at practice in a no-contact jersey, which isn’t exactly the most positive sign. Greg Carey should continue to be a weapon for Lehigh Valley, as he followed up his 53-point regular season campaign with a point per game round one, including 2 goals. Chris Conner, who wasn’t even among the Phantoms top five scorers during the regular season, wound up tied for the team lead in points after round one. The veteran winger who put up 37 points in 65 games during the regular season had an offensive explosion in round 1, scoring twice and assisting on 3 other goals. Tied with him for the team lead in points was Danick Martel, who had the exact same stat line; 2 goals and 3 assists in 4 games played. Finally, the impact of NHL players Oskar Lindblom and Travis Sanheim returning to the lineup has been made clear. Lindblom scored twice in his first game back in the AHL, and followed that up with an assist in Game 4. Sanheim, who picked up an assist in Game 3, was the best player to suit up for the Phantoms this season. With 16 points and a +8.96 5-on-5 CF% rel in 18 regular season games, calling him a game changer would be an understatement. In Game 4 he played over 34 minutes and was tremendous at both ends of the ice.

Goaltenders

Player Games Played Wins Losses OT/SOL SV% GAA
Player Games Played Wins Losses OT/SOL SV% GAA
Alex Nedeljkovic - CHA 49 31 12 3 0.903 2.55
Alex Lyon - LV 27 16 8 2 0.913 2.75

During the regular season Alex Nedeljkovic won 31 games, putting him in a tie for first in the league, and while his save percentage and goals against average may have left more to be desired, his numbers skyrocketed once the playoffs began. In round one he started, and won, all three games while posting a .929 save percentage and a 1.97 goals against average.

Alex Lyon’s regular season performance has been talked about enough before, so let’s get right into his playoff performance. He started three of the Phantoms’ four games, winning twice, and posting a .930 save percentage while doing so. His 2.76 goals against average isn’t great, but that’s basically a team stat anyway. The Phantoms gave up a ton of shots during their first round series against Providence and some were bound to go in. He was the Phantoms’ best player in their series clinching win in Game 4, making 49 saves on 52 shots.

Players To Watch

LV – Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Yeah, I know, he was my player to watch in the first round and he wound up being one of two Phantoms to play in all 4 games and go pointless. However, that’s exactly why I chose him again. He’s due. Aube-Kubel is currently on a five game pointless streak which is tied for his longest drought this season. The only other time that he went without a point for five straight was a stretch of games starting in late December. Look for him to leave his mark on this series.

CHA – Warren Foegle

Foegle scored 28 goals during the regular season, second to only Valentin Zykov among Checkers’ skaters, and went goalless in the Checkers’ first round sweep of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He’s not the type of player that will remain without a goal for long, and if Charlotte goes on to win the series, Foegle will likely be a key contributor.

The series will begin tomorrow, May 4th, at 7:05 PM, in Lehigh Valley.

Series Schedule

Game Date Time Away Team at Home Team
Game Date Time Away Team at Home Team
One May 4th 7:05 PM Charlotte at Lehigh Valley
Two May 5th 7:05 PM Charlotte at Lehigh Valley
Three May 8th 7:00 PM Lehigh Valley at Charlotte
Four May 9th 7:00 PM Lehigh Valley at Charlotte
Five* May 12th 6:00 PM Lehigh Valley at Charlotte
Six* May 14th 7:05 PM Charlotte at Lehigh Valley
Seven* May 15th 7:05 PM Charlotte at Lehigh Valley