The Lehigh Valley Phantoms just embarked upon their first three-in-three weekend of the season, returning with a record of 1-1-1. It began with the team dropping their third shootout decision in just eight games, on their way to a rather odd looking 4-2-4 record through their first ten contests. Of course, losing more games than you win is never a good thing, but they’ve still managed to bank sixty percent of the standings points that were available to them so far, and that’s a pretty good number to fall back on.
That being said, I don’t think anybody is satisfied with that, even if you view shootouts as toss-ups. And a busy month of November that sees them play 12 games in 24 days — 15 in 30 including last weekend — presents them with the opportunity to start piling up victories.
And if they keep playing like they have, they should. Their underlying numbers suggest that they’ve been playing better than their record indicates, unlike last season where they team was winning games early on, but weren’t exactly in control.
At 5-on-5, there has only been one, maybe two games that the Phantoms were clearly outplayed from a shot standpoint. The season opener versus Providence, a 3-0 loss, and game six, their first meeting with Charlotte, a 3-2 shootout loss. But, generally speaking, they’ve been quite good.
While the Phantoms’ grade positively in shot quantity, with a Corsi-for percent of 51.89, it’s their shot quality numbers that really shine. Through the first ten games of the season the Phantoms have owned 55.67% of the scoring chance share (SCF%) and 54.7% of the high-danger shot share (HDCF%) at 5-on-5. As we get further into the season those numbers will likely dip a bit — anywhere near 55% is best of the best territory — it’s a really encouraging sign, especially when just last season both figures were well below 50.
Game by Game 5v5 Shot Metrics
A sub-thirty HDCF% in their most recent game is a bit troubling, but it was their third game in as many nights and for now looks like an outlier.
So who, and what, has been driving their success? On the whole it’s been a creative offense that has been driving their positive differentials rather than stellar defending. They seem to be passing a bit more from below the goal line at even strength than they had in previous years, which has helped, but more recently they’ve been finding success by having their forwards deflect point shots from dangerous areas. Nicolas Aube-Kubel scored two such goals in the last two games, and as expected has been one of the team’s best play drivers to this point.
His 59.22 CF% and +9.78 CF% rel is bested by only Joel Farabee and Philippe Myers, who are both no longer with the team due to recalls to Philadelphia. Going back to the 2017-2018 season Aube-Kubel has really proven himself to be one of the league’s best even strength forwards, and with powerplay success would be much closer to a point-per-game player. Over that time frame he’s played in 136 regular season games and has just six power play points.
But going back to what has been driving their success this season, their ability to move the puck up the ice has been noteworthy. Per Maddie Campbell’s tracking, they’ve exited the defensive zone with control on 57.12% of their successful exits, and have failed on just 15.06% of their attempts. We’re unsure just how much an average AHL team’s numbers would differ than an average NHL team’s, but per Corey Sznajder’s NHL data the average team last season failed on 19.4% of their attempts and left the zone with control 38.5% of the time. Suffice to say they’ve had a great start here.
To my eyes last season’s team had a tendency to lean on uncontrolled exits by using the glass a bit too much, but so far it’s been cleaned up.
Frost is kinda killin’ it, you guys
Currently on a seven game point streak, Morgan Frost has been lighting it up of late. After going pointless in his first three AHL contests, he has nine points across his streak and has centered the team’s most dominant line of late. From the very beginning of the season Frost was a standout by the numbers — he had been the only Phantom to have a high danger chance in each game he played in, a streak that ended last weekend, and the team was handedly out-chancing their opponents with Frost on the ice. More recently he’s been on a line with Andy Andreoff and David Kase, and it feels as if they’ve been a threat to score almost every time they hit the ice.
Through the first ten games of the season, Frost leads the team in individual 5-on-5 shots, scoring chances, and high-danger chances, while also having some of the best underlying numbers on the team.
5v5 Shot Metrics
|James de Haas||1||47.62||9.16||36.36||-7.39||50.00||0.00|
As Maddie had said in last week’s roundup, Kase’s numbers weren’t where you’d like them to be, but there were clearly steps being taken in the right direction. Now, a week and three games later, his underlying numbers are excellent and we’re once again reminded just how quickly things can change when we’re working with a small sample size.
The third member of the line, Andreoff, has had a really strong start to the season in his own right, and definitely shares the blame for the trios outstanding play of late. The Phantoms have only been outshot while Andreoff was on the ice in two games so far, and he’s tied for second on the team in points with six. It’s evident that he’s a plus-forechecker and he’s really contributed a ton to this team in all situations.
On the defensive side of things. Mark Friedman has been solid from the start and has especially stepped up in Myers’ absence. To me he was the team’s best player through the three-in-three weekend — yes, even ahead of Frost, who was fantastic. He was back to drawing the ire of his opponents, giving the Phantoms a power play in each game, picked up two assists, and his on-ice numbers were outstanding. With T.J. Brennan sitting out as the veteran scratch in the team’s last game, Friedman was also given time on the top power play unit and certainly didn’t look out of place. One assumes that he’ll be leaned on heavily this season, and so far, so good.
Newcomer Andy Welinski has only played in four games due to a preseason injury he suffered with the Flyers, but has four assists in four games and should be a massive boost to the team’s defense.
Goaltenders Alex Lyon and J.F. Berube have both played five games, splitting the workload evenly. So far Lyon has a better save percentage than Berube, 91.7% compared to 90%, but it’s been five games. Both statistically and visually Lyon has been the better of the two thus far, but it’s too early to make much of their play.
Tonight the Phantoms are back at the PPL Center to face Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the second time this season, in what will surely be a scrappy night. And as we said at the start, the longer term lookout is a busy one. Much like the Flyers, the month of November is packed full of games. While it won’t be easy with three back-to-backs and another three-in-three to get through, this stretch of games could really propel their season forward.