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Checkers 6, Phantoms 0: And then there was pain

Some observations for your morning...

Gregory Vasil/Getty Images

I think the title just about says it all, huh? We got pretty excited after the Game 1 win, and weren’t really ready for the bloodbath* that followed. But, all the same, we’re still here, and we’ve got ten things we learned to go through. Let’s get into it.

*maybe that’s a little dramatic, but you get the idea

1. It’s bad

In fact, it is very not good at all. We came into the first period of this game with the thought “OK so yesterday’s first period was rough, it was weird, but the ice was bad, and the teams were still feeling each other out,” and there was just a whole lot of stuff going on. But all that’s over now. The Phantoms can start over and get a better start this time.” And that didn’t quite happen.

The Phantoms didn’t exactly come out slow, but the Checkers had their number early—drawing eight penalty minutes in the first period, scoring a goal on each of their power play attempts, and keeping the Phantoms from generating many of the high danger plays that they’ve done so well with kept them largely frustrated. The Phantoms closed out the period with 10 shots, but nine of them came from the outside, and didn’t have much of a chance to turn into anything. They hit the first intermission down two and the air was already starting to seep from the building. It had a chance to get rough (spoiler: it did).

But at the risk of getting too grumbly already—there’s plenty of time for it but it’s still very early—let’s move on to something a little lighter. Right this way, everybody.

2. Welcome back Samuel!

We predicted yesterday that we would be seeing more of these welcome back sections in the future, and we didn’t have to wait very long for another. With Sanheim sidelined for the rest of the series, it was time for Morin to make his step back into the lineup for the first time since January 20th. And how’d he do?

Well, it was a bit of a rocky start, as a misread on an odd-man rush on the Checkers’ first power play burned him, and led to their first goal of the game. Gordon took responsibility for that, as being a result of a miscommunication on what was expected on that kind of play, but still, the result stands.

But otherwise? He was pretty good!

Elsewhere on the penalty kill, he was making plays like that one up there, and doing well to break up odd-man rushes. We said it yesterday regarding Vorobyev, and the same applies to Morin—he showed little sign of struggling to get back to game speed. He kept up and made a big impression, bringing with his return some of the physicality that’s become a hallmark of his game. In short, he was solid, and Gordon said it best in his press conference: when he was off, he was only a little bit off, but he wasn’t off often.

3. Oh, and the PK

We might as well get to the elephant in the room, right? The penalty kill was not good last night. The fact that the Checkers—already with a good power play—were given eight (eight!) chances on it was an issue all its own, but their actual play when down a man didn’t do a whole lot to bail them out.

Their first attempt on the kill showed a bit of promise, but just as we were starting to get excited about that, it was the Kuokkanen goal that we talked about in our last point, and it was all downhill from there. We’ll keep it simple: the Checkers went four for eight on their attempts and it looked about as rocky for the Phantoms as that figure suggests. They just weren’t as aggressive on the puck, couldn’t get clears as easily, and weren’t able to keep Charlotte as completely to the outside as they would have liked. The one positive we might find, if we wanted to go looking for it? The later part of the game saw shorthanded attempts from Lindblom and Aube-Kubel, but they just couldn’t seem to close on them.

And, as our last thought for this section, Aube-Kubel really needs to get it together. It’s too early at this point to speculate on whether there will be supplementary discipline, but with his high hit on Didier that drew the interference call, he’s risking what could be his third suspension in this season alone for an illegal check to the head. He’s a good player, he’s being noticed for his skill, and, to be blunt, he doesn’t need to be pulling this kind of nonsense.

4. The power play cannot do the thing (or anything)

We can also use that last section as a segue into our next—we have more special teams lamenting to do here, folks. Because again the power play was sort of a mess.

While the Phantoms weren’t exactly the pinnacles of discipline in yesterday’s game, neither were the Checkers, who gave up six chances on the power play, including about 30 seconds of 5-on-3 time. The Phantoms had their own chances to swing the momentum of the game, especially early, but they just couldn’t do it. The title with the score tells you where this is going—zero power play goals on the night.

And to a certain degree you get it—with Varone out and now Sanheim too, they’re missing some firepower on the top unit, and have had to do a bit of shuffling to make up for it. But all the same, we’ve seen this power play struggle to convert—they’re getting chances, but they’re unable to close on them. And that’s starting to get a little worrisome.

5. Stepping in / stepping up

One bit of that shuffling on the top unit that we mentioned above (we are just full of smooth transitions tonight, aren’t we?) included Phil Myers being bumped up from the second unit in Sanheim’s stead. We’ve talked a bit about how his play alongside Sanheim has been very good, but now with him out, he had the chance to step up and take a bit of extra responsibility, as well as present a bit of individual flash.

Defensively…well it’s hard to say much was working defensively for the Phantoms in general. Myers was on the ice for four goals against (two on the power play and two at even strength), and while this sounds very bad—it’s still not great—he wasn’t really directly to blame for any of them. What’s the short version of this thought? Defensively he was fine. Just fine.

Offensively, his presence was still felt, as he put up two shots on the night and remained active on the rush. It wasn’t the same level of activity that we might normally see—he spent much of the game paired with Wilcox, who isn’t exactly a stylistic one-for-one substitution for Sanheim—but he was able to more or less stick to his game, and came up one of the better Phantoms on the ice for it.

6. A note on shot quality

This section had been good news, the past few times we’ve invoked it, but less so on this occasion. Some numbers for you: the Phantoms put up 26 shots over the course of last night’s game, but only 10 of them could be considered high danger (and seven of those HDCF came during the second period alone). The Checkers did well to keep them to the outside, and they struggled to create more chances in close.

But it wasn’t for lack of trying—the Phantoms could have had a handful more HDCF, had their positioning been a little sharper. The back half of the game saw them trying to return to their centering pass from below the red line for a deflection in front play, and it showed some promise or might have, if they could have gotten someone in front in time to receive the pass. Instead, more often the puck sailed straight across the crease, and another chance was gone. So it goes.

7. Pressing

And when you start to combine all these little issues, bounces not going and chances slipping away, the result you start to see is that of a team pressing, of working too hard, but not necessarily smarter. If you had some moments during last night’s game where you saw too many little moves, a drop pass back when a lateral or forward lane was available, a weird spin with the puck, or even a bit of hesitation and wondered “what the heck are they doing out there?” well, you wouldn’t be alone.

The sentiment coming out of post-game interviews on Friday night was that of “we’ll just need to keep it simple, going forward,” but they couldn’t quite stick to this plan. You get it, and we’ve seen it before, that things start to not go your way and then you start to try to do too much (it’s the Flyers’ whole brand after all!) but that doesn’t mean you want to see much more of it. Tuesday will need to see them sticking to the “keep it simple” model, will need to see them keeping cool and playing smarter. Let’s learn from this, friends. Please?

8. Murphy’s Law

After a pretty rough first period, the Phantoms needed to come out with some jump, they just needed to be better. And they showed a bit of promise—they dominated territorially for the first half of the period, and didn’t allow a single Checkers shot for more than 13 (!!!) minutes. The bounces weren’t working in their favor, and there was that pressing that we talked about in our last point, but they still felt close.

And then it all fell apart.

That’s right, they allowed the first Charlotte shot, and then one more, and then that second shot was a goal. Yep. One bad shift sends them in the opposite direction and the puck ends up in the back of the net. And that’s kind of just the type of game it was—the Phantoms only allowed four shots through the whole of the second period, and the checkers scored on two of them. And I don’t know how much of a breakdown I have on this—the Phantoms’ defense wasn’t stellar, but it also wasn’t atrocious, they just couldn’t catch a break. They’ll still need to tighten up, but also hope that the bad luck streak is snapped soon.

9. Loose ends

It’s that time again, folks. Time to wrap up all of our loose threads and small thoughts before we continue on with our weekend.

First, Danick Martel was doing that thing again where he was all over the place and looked like he was ready to create a very pretty scoring chance, and on at least two of those occasions he just totally wiped out. And this isn’t me saying he’s a bad skater, quite the contrary, and this seemed more like a bad break than anything. But man, he would be so much better, still, if he could just stay upright.

Second, we’ve got to talk some more about discipline. Giving the Checkers any more chances on the power play was the last thing they needed to do, but somehow in the last five minutes of regulation, the Phantoms managed to take a whopping total of 18 penalty minutes. And maybe at the point you say whatever, the game’s over, it doesn’t matter. But you still hate the see the wheels completely fall off, to see the spiral deepen.

Finally, we should take a minute to acknowledge that, no matter how ugly this was, it’s still just one game in a seven game series. Charlotte was hungry after losing Game 1, and the Phantoms just gave them too many chances. But a tied series is hardly a death blow, and they’ll be ready for them, come Game 3 on Tuesday. They didn’t lose the battle at 5-on-5, and they know what they need to tighten up, elsewhere. And with home versus the road not mattering so much at this point in the season, Gordon says, they’re just ready to buckle down and play their game the right way, and come back home strong.

10. The only damn thing I know

A thing that I really appreciate is hockey teams’ commitment to reminding you, unsolicited, of The Flyers thing was fine enough—an omnipresent graphic floating across the Wells Fargo Center’s various screens declaring “it’s the weekend!”—but the Phantoms have really one upped them in this department? Their thing? Blasting Panic! at the Disco’s “Say Amen (Saturday Night)” over the speakers at least once during a stoppage of play.

And maybe this doesn’t work for you, and that’s fine I guess, but I like Panic! at the Disco, so I’m into it. Thanks.