(Hi pals, please note that this is rundown is for last week’s games, and in the interest of continuity, we’ll be talking about last night’s with next week’s rundown. Okay, note concluded)
Where we are
Week of Jan 7. - Jan. 13
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The Phantoms kicked things off at home on Friday against Binghamton, where they got a couple of breakaway chances early (care of Nic Aube-Kubel and Colin McDonald), but neither could close on those chances, and things stayed even and tied until well into the second period. This would be when the Devils took a two goal lead and forced the Phantoms into chase-mode. Zach Palmquist got them within one on a weird shot from the angle, but that was all they could manage.
They looked to prevent themselves from entering another losing skid on Saturday, with the first game of a home-and-home with Hershey, but, well, they didn’t have much luck there. After another relatively even first period, we hit the second with no score and saw another scoring burst from the opposition, this time as Ryan Sproul put up one and Riley Barber registered two, and the Phantoms struggled to generate much of anything. In the end, despite their efforts and chances, couldn’t get one past Samsonov, and they Bears left Allentown with a shutout.
But Sunday was redemption time, or could have been, as the Phantoms were off to Hershey to try and even the score. They came close, but couldn’t pull it all together. Two goals in the first period from Taylor Leier had the Phantoms within one, and Connor Bunnaman tied things up early in the second, and we had a game again. Hershey put up two more, and the Phantoms had to bear down to try and get themselves back in it. Mike Vecchione got them one back inside the last two minutes of regulation, but that was all they could muster. Alas.
We’ve got a milestone! Philip Samuelsson played in his 500th professional game on Sunday in Hershey!
And we’ve also got, well, maybe a news item. Dale Weise was placed on waivers yesterday and just cleared, but he hasn’t been assigned to the Phantoms, but still might be? We’ll keep an eye on that one.
1. Taylor Leier
It wouldn’t be much of an understatement to say that offense was hard to come by this weekend, and that makes it that much easier to present our first star of the week. Taylor Leier put up two goals in Sunday’s game in Hershey, and as such generated 40 percent of the team’s tangible offense of the weekend, which is as much a “yikes” to the rest of the team as it is a mark for praise for Leier. He’s been somewhat quiet, of late, and his offense has been coming in spurts, but this weekend he brought it, when the team needed it most.
And maybe it’s more narrative than anything else, these talks of timely contributions, but the importance still holds—the Phantoms were looking to stage a comeback on Sunday to get themselves at least one win on the weekend, and Leier was key in making that almost happen.
2. Alex Lyon
Weeks like this one that we just had can be tough when it comes to pulling standout performances, because things were rough and we want to get a little wrapped up in that and be grumpy. It’s natural, but we’re resisting and our job becomes just a little bit easier when you have the coach telling you who was a standout. So that’s helpful.
This week, that came in the form of Kerry Huffman noting that Lyon’s performance was one of the only bright spots we could glean from Saturday’s game, but this strength in performance really could be extended to the duration of the weekend. He got back to back starts on Friday and Saturday, and then came in in relief of Branden Komm on Sunday, and had himself a pretty heavy workload. The Phantoms gave up 61 shots in total in all situation and 12 high danger chances at 5-on-5, making for a difficult task for their netminder. He still gave up seven goals on the weekend, but it could have been much worse, given the quality of the chances that the team in front was giving up. He did the best that he could for them, all things considered.
3. Connor Bunnaman
And now we’re doing more of that rewarding offense thing, as we give a nod to Bunnaman, who came out of the weekend with a goal and an assist in two games. He missed Saturday’s game with what we’re told was a minor injury, but on either side of that absence, he was solid. The numbers weren’t really there, but that’s not a condemnation of Bunnaman’s play, as we can’t really say that the numbers were there for just about anybody this weekend. But what we can say is that he’s continuing to thrive in his role up in the lineup while sticking to his game, and he’s continuing to bank points along the way. Snaps for that.
1. The Curious Case of T.J. Brennan
This may be a teeny tiny nitpick, but we’re going to be getting into some more substantive talk in a bit and this thought has been weighing on me since Saturday.
Saturday saw what appeared to be some last minute changes to the lineup, because of Bunnaman being out with that injury and Leier being out with illness, which meant that the Phantoms were left to roll with 11F/7D. And again this meant putting T.J. Brennan up on the left wing of the line with Mikhail Vorobyev and Nic Aube-Kubel. Which was fine enough and we can appreciate it as also being something of a weird novelty however: if you’re putting a defenseman at left wing and all but knowing that this means that things could get a little weird, why have him playing in your top six? Why give him All Of The Minutes? Might you want to shelter him, a little bit? Maybe…?
And maybe it’s just a matter of trust, who knows, I’m not the coach of this hockey team. I’m just thinking out loud, here.
2. Should we be worried about the numbers?
We posed this question a few weeks ago, that of if we should be worried about the Phantoms’ underlying numbers, and what they mean for their future success. We were worried that they might be performing a bit over their heads and that they might come back down to earth sooner or later. So, is that what’s going on here? Is this the real Phantoms that we’ve seen over this last seven game stretch? I’d like to direct you to this thread by our pal Brad to answer that.
In their last 7 games the Phantoms are 1-6-0 and have been out-scored 19-9 at 5v5. So, what do the numbers say?— Brad Keffer (@brad_keffer) January 15, 2019
They've barely lost the raw shot share at 49.5% CF, and are >51% in both low danger and medium danger shots, but, their high danger shot share sits at 38.1%.
So, while the work they’re doing on the high danger chances differential front certainly leaves quite a bit to be desired, they’re actually underperforming based on expectations, at present. So, the good news is that these things tend to regress to the average eventually, which suggests that the Phantoms won’t be struggling this much in the future, that their luck will turn and they’ll start to equalize sooner or later. But, that said, there’s something to be said for making one’s own luck, and there are areas that they need to bear down on and improve, if they want to see those results.
Where we’re going
After all of that struggle and weirdness of last weekend, the Phantoms are back already!
*single streamer falls from the ceiling*
Their first game of the week was last night against the Springfield Thunderbirds and we’re still obligated, but the confines of this form, to talk about it in the future tense so, uh... hope they do well.
Then, on Friday, they’re back on the road for a hot second, with a trip up to Hartford to meet the Wolf Pack again. It’ll be their second time seeing them in just about as many weeks, and Hartford gave them some trouble, despite their place at second to last in the division.
Then they close things out back at home on Saturday against the Rochester Americans, for their first meeting of the season. Rochester’s kind of been tearing it up so far, and currently sit at first in the North division, so they present a difficult opponent for the Phantoms, but also a good litmus test, if the do start to turn things around this week.
All stats via Phancy Stats and theAHL.com