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Phantoms 2, Checkers 1: A win’s a win (BUT AT WHAT COST)

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Some observations for your morning...

NHLI via Getty Images

It’s Round 2 of the Calder Cup playoffs and we’ve got news for you all! It’s good news (well, mostly). The Phantoms picked up a late game winning goal to wrap up a Game 1 win in regulation, and we’ve got a 1-0 series. Let’s talk about it.

1.Hemming and hawing

Or, how the Phantoms somehow orchestrated the weirdest of first period starts.

Let’s break it down. It wasn’t an altogether awful start for the Phantoms, but it was at least certainly less than ideal. It saw them spending much of the first few minutes of the period stuck in their own zone, struggling to hold onto the puck long enough to make a clean exit. And this might sound like it made for a dangerous predicament, were it not for the fact that the Phantoms didn’t allow a single shot on goal during these first few minutes, or indeed for the first six and a half (even more on this later). So the defense was working even if the offense had a bit of a slow start.

And maybe this was to be expected, at least in some capacity—Krushelnyski touched on this after the game, that the starts to the first period in Game 1s can be a little weird, while the teams try to feel each other out. They’ll need to get off to a better start tonight, of course, but it was at least encouraging to see them not burned by a loaded Checkers offense while they tested them out.

2.Welcome back, Misha!

It’s looking like we’re going to have a couple of these welcome back sections in the relative near future, but for now it’s time to focus on Mikhail Vorobyev, who made his return after missing all of the first round. It was a big night to come in, with the series opener at home, and the potential tone of that series at stake. So how’d he do?

By and large, it was a pretty quiet night for Vorobyev—his line was able to generate a handful of chances, and he showed no signs of struggling to get back up to game speed, but individually he was able to register just one shot on goal, and zero points on the night. But while his 5-on-5 play was, as we said, quiet, the real moment of flash came on the penalty kill, when he broke up what was very close to a point blank chance with a lot of open net to work with, chasing McKegg right out of the crease and to below the red line. So the return was quiet enough, with one nice little exclamation point, and served as, if nothing else, a fine reintroduction, and a solid foundation for future play in the series.

3.Some messiness

A peek behind the curtain: the working title to this section started out as “control a dang entry, ya jerks,” and was set to see me talk about how, while the Phantoms weren’t pushed to resorting exclusively to chip and chase, they had trouble consistently generating controlled entries, and how this gave them trouble. And all of this would be correct, of course, but there’s also more to the story.

Beyond their entry troubles, we also saw the Phantoms struggling to connect on what looked, on the surface, like they should be simple and easy tape to tape passes. And while part of this likely comes down to a combination of solid defending by the Checkers, as well a bit of being out of sync, we also saw these same issues on Charlotte’s side. So there’s something else going on here, and we have a sneaking suspicion* of what it is.

*because we have eyes and also because Scott Gordon straight up pointed it out after the game.

It hit close to 90 degrees in Allentown yesterday, so, as could have been expected, the ice was a bit of a mess. And with it not cooling down too much today, or in Charlotte this week, we can reasonably expect this to be something of a lingering issue. It will be a question of rolling with the punches and keeping it simple, with this one. We’ll see how it goes.

4.The power play

This section was very close to being a talk about the power play, laden with heavy sighs as it underachieved again, but not today! We have, however narrowly, escaped this fate. Let’s break it down.

We came into the game with the feeling that the Phantoms needed to take a step forward on the man-advantage—they had been very good at drawing penalties in the Providence series, but couldn’t seem to close on them—but their first chance wasn’t exactly the introduction we wanted. The Phantoms found themselves caught in their own zone and giving up the first shot of the game for Charlotte while they were on the power play, and just didn’t look like they really had it together. And while part of this likely had to do with those poor ice conditions we talked about in our last point, the pressure, or lack thereof, still left us wanting.

But the lackluster showing didn’t extend to the whole of the night—their abbreviated chance on their return to the ice after the first intermission saw two high quality scoring chances that just missed, ringing off the post not once but twice. But the real redemption came late in the third period, where, after Travis Sanheim went down, the team stayed disciplined and didn’t take any kind of offsetting roughing penalty, and took their power play chance and ran with it.

Mere seconds into the attempt, it was Carey who seized the chance in front for the game winning goal, and redeemed the power play, for now at least. It’s not a full fix, of course, and we’ll need more going forward, but we can also accept this result. Not too shabby.

5.Travis Sanheim is so good y’all

This was my working title while I just tried to get my thoughts down and organized during the game, but you know what, I’m keeping it. Because you all need to boldly hear how good Sanheim is, as if you didn’t know already. He’s really good.

We’ve talked already, since he’s been back down with the Phantoms, about his individual offensive contributions and how well he’s defended alongside Myers (we’ll talk a little bit more about this later, still), but what really stood out last night was his skating—it’s just so fluid and the speed’s all there and he just maneuvers around and through guys like he’s barely even trying, it’s so great.

And that makes the fact of this injury even sadder. I don’t want to watch it anymore (I did too much of it last night), but I’m going to drop a gif of the hit below, because I’m Doing My Job. It’s not great, folks.

And while it’s too early to have any sort of update on his injury situation, we’ll close out and echo Alex Lyon’s sentiments from after the game—we cross our fingers that it’s nothing too serious not just because he’s a good player and has been very good for them in the playoffs, but also because we just like him and want him to be okay.

6.Lyon time continues

After his performance in Game 6 last Saturday, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Lyon earned the start for last night’s Game 1. He came up big for them again—stopping 29 of 30 shots faced and making a handful of very nifty saves along the way—and while it wasn’t quite as flashy of a showing as last weekend’s, it was just as solid, and it got the job done.

But, he noted after the game, he couldn’t have done this alone, and had a fair bit of help from his defensemen in making his job just a little bit easier, sealing off the crease and limiting the number of high quality chances the Checkers could take (looking at you on this one, the Sanheim-Myers pair). Charlotte weren’t without their chances, but they also struggled to park themselves in front of the net to really get to work and bring the real danger. Good defense helped out good goaltending, and we’ll need to see a whole lot more of this down the stretch.

7.Snaps for a good effort

Though one of the quieter contributors in last night’s game, I wanted to take a moment to still extend a nod to Martel. He came up without a point on the game, and only registered one proper shot on goal, but just as we saw for much of the first round, he was just all over the place. He didn’t have a Krushelnyski all over the place type night (a team leading five shots, one goal, and a handful of very close chances that just wouldn’t quite go), but the presence and work at generating chances, even if they didn’t make it on net, didn’t go unnoticed.

And maybe it would be a different story, if after carrying the puck into the zone, controlling along the boards, and spinning and slipping away from a defender in stunning fashion, he hadn’t completely whiffed on what would have been the shot on goal, but it didn’t quite happen that way. But this seems to be the story following Martel, of late—of him doing the little things right, and getting everything but the finish.

8.A note on quality chances

And at last we’ve returned to our old favorite section. This is your favorite, right? Someone help me out, I don’t actually know. I’m just telling you it’s all of our favorites. But I digress. We’re talking quality chances, here, folks.

It was a more or less steady effort across the night by the Phantoms, on paper at least, in the quality chances generating department. In each period, they were able to put up five, seven, and six high danger chances (that’s 18 out of 32 total shots, for those keeping track at home). And this would feel like a respectable enough figure if we only looked on the surface, but when placed in context, it loses a bit of luster. The biggest issue comes with the fact that this wasn’t a sustained effort, and we would see two or three of these HDCFs come in bunches over one particular shift or two, and on more than one occasion, on the power play. They would be able to create a flurry of activity, but couldn’t sustain it over a longer stretch of time. And this brings us to the second piece of this—remember the first period of Game 3 in the first round? Where they put up 15 HDCF? This may also be an extreme example, but we’ve seen them be able to operate at a whole other level, in this area. So while last night’s work still remains respectable enough, we know that they can do better.

9.Momentum grabbing and momentum keeping

Since apparently we’re going to a bit of symmetry here, it seems only fitting that after starting out this article talking about the first few minutes of the first period (which were not quite excellent) that we move on and talk about the last few minutes of the third (which were more excellent).

If the first period was weird and more or less even, and the second saw the Checkers getting some of their best opportunities (with the help of some power play time), the third finally saw the Phantoms grabbing back some of that momentum and running with it. After putting up 19 shots in the first 40 minutes in the third period alone they registered 13, and were able to generate more of the sustained offensive pressure that they had been after all game. We talked already about the power play heroics that got them the ultimate lead and win, but they were working well towards closing on a quality chance before that, And, at the very least, it was encouraging to see them not sitting back at the end of a game, to keep pushing. The setting was different from the one when we saw them sitting back, in that they didn’t already have the lead for most of it, that’s a given, but it was still something.

10. The only damn thing I know

Hey, guys. So, uh, you’re welcome. I was very worried, heading into last night’s game, because like a dummy I rolled up to cover the Phantoms playing the red and white team wearing red and white. I worried it would be some kind of bad omen, or, at the very least, I would just look like a jerk. But, instead, some kind of weird reverse jinx happened, or something. I am so powerful. I think I made this happen. The Phantoms are up 1-0 in their series. You’re welcome, the Phantoms.