Where we are
Week of Feb. 4 - Feb. 10
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Friday’s game in Utica saw the Phantoms get off to a strong enough start, taking a 2-0 lead in the second period, with goals for Justin Bailey and Philippe Myers (hmm, I wonder if that’s going to be important later), and things were looking good. And then Utica got one back late in the second, but things still looked okay. But, little did we know, collapse was coming on the other side of the intermission. The Comets scored three more in just over the first half of the third, and it was over for the Phantoms. They just couldn’t seem to get enough going for a proper push back.
That spin continued back at home on Saturday, when the Phantoms met the Wolf Pack for the first time that weekend. They really struggled to get going, only registering five shots in the first period. They built on that in the second, putting up 11, and then 10 more in the third, but they weren’t playing cleanly. They had given up two goals by the time Jori Lehtera was able to get them on the board early in the third, and they just weren’t connecting well enough to tie things up and get it to overtime. And that was another loss.
But! If we were worried the weekend was lost, we had another thing coming. They seemed to be saving all of their offense for Sunday’s game, again against the Wolf Pack. Reece Wilcox and Colin McDonald got them the two goal lead in the first, but Hartford responded with two goals to tie things up, before we even hit the three minute mark of the second period. But, no matter, the Phantoms had another burst, and two goals from Bunnaman and another from McDonald got them the cushion they needed, and they were able to lock things down and hold the Wolf Pack to just the two goals, and maintain their lead to get themselves at least the one win on the weekend.
More and more, it feels like these news items are just “who is and is not a Phantom now.” So we’ll just hit on that.
Who is not a Phantom: Mike McKenna. The Flyers have recalled him from his conditioning stint. The Flyers also recalled Justin Bailey, and he made his NHL debut on Tuesday in Minnesota, as well as Phil Myers, who has yet to make his NHL debut. Also Dale Weise. Who was traded to Montreal. And Josh MacDonald, too, who’s been released from his PTO and returned to Reading.
Who is a Phantom: Corban Knight was waived and sent to the Phantoms. This isn’t really news, we’ve already seen him play a game, but it happened since our last news section, so we have to include it.
We also have a couple of new guys who haven’t gotten into games just yet. We have Byron Froese and David Schlemko, who came over in the trade that sent Weise to Montreal. And we also have Samuel Morin and Brian Elliott joining the team on conditioning stints. So that’s fun. Pascal Laberge has also been activated off IR, and has been assigned to the Phantoms.
Finally, Branden Komm was recalled to the Phantoms again. Welcome back, buddy.
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1. Connor Bunnaman
Coming into the weekend, it had been a bit since we’d seen Bunnaman, as he missed a couple of wees with an injury, but Friday saw him make his return to the lineup, and that return sure was triumphant. He picked up three points (two goals and one assist) in three games this weekend, and really looked sharp. No rust to be had here, he was able to get going right out of the gate. He’s been consistent since his promotion in the lineup and a stint out seemingly hasn’t changed that. Bunnaman’s still out here and he’s doing the thing. Snaps for that.
2. Jori Lehtera
One of our newest Phantoms! He sort of became the butt of a lot of jokes when he was up in Philly, some deservedly, others not, but the fact remained that he hadn’t been producing very well up with the Flyers, and he had a chance to get something of a fresh start with a new team. And he took that chance and ran with it. He picked up a goal and an assist over his first two games, and seemed to fit into the lineup pretty seamlessly. We might have expected to see him be a little slow to acclimate, especially after not having played much this season, but this didn’t wind up being the case. He played a relatively simple game, but it worked for him. It got the job done.
3. Colin McDonald
This is our rewarding offense edition, it seems, so we’re giving a nod to our captain, Colin McDonald. We don’t tend to expect him to be one who produces a ton in the way of offense, but with his team struggling to generate, he stepped up and got them two goals in Sunday’s game against the Wolf Pack, bringing his season total up to six. We should also give him a nod for the crazy long shift he was out for, while the Wolf Pack had their goalie pulled and they Phantoms worked to get him the puck for the empty netter to complete the would-be hat trick. It would’ve been a nice way to end things off, but it just wasn’t in the cards, it would seem. So it goes. But all the same, an all around good effort from McDonald when it was much needed.
1. Notes on the new and not-so-new guys
As we noted in the news and three stars sections above, we’ve got some new bodies in the lineup! And we should talk about them! We already made note that Lehtera had joined his brand new team and made an immediate impact, and the same could be said for Corban Knight. For not having played since October, he looked sharp in his return and was able contribute right away, picking up two assists on Sunday, and finding some nearly instant chemistry with Bunnaman. The additions to the lineup have been seamless—as was the case with Weise a few weeks ago—and the impacts immediately positive.
And, if nothing else, this trend bodes well for future additions. We can’t bank on this, of course, but the Phantoms have done well to integrate new pieces, and this is going to be important. The Phantoms will have Elliott, Morin, Froese, and Schlemko all available for this weekend, and all of Pascal Laberge, David Kase, and Nic Aube-Kubel have resumed skating and/or practicing, and depending on what happens with their medical clearances, one or more of them could be back as soon as this weekend, Kerry Huffman said last Sunday. So they’ll have their work cut out for them, getting all of the new and returning folks going, but their track record so far is promising.
2. Shots and all
It’s been a few weeks now, since Huffman made note that one of their goals down the stretch was to produce more in the way of chances, to get their shot totals up, and, well, it hadn’t really happened right away. I had a whole section written out in my head on Sunday, about how finally, finally, the Phantoms were dominating in all areas offensively—leading in goals, shots, and shot attempts—but then the Wolf Pack pulled their goalie and made a last minute surge and got themselves one (1) more shot than the Phantoms. And our clean narrative was killed.
But, that said, Sunday remained a solid showing for the Phantoms—as their last games in three-in-three weekends seem to tend to be—as they did really pull their offense together after struggling on Saturday. Now, the big task is keeping that rolling.
Where we’re going
We mentioned three-in-three weekends, and we’ve got another one on deck! They kick things off against the second in the division Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and it’s also their Pride Night! Which is just as cool and exciting.
Anyway, from there we hit a home-and-home with Hershey, first in their barn on Saturday, and then back at home on Sunday. The Bears are breathing down their neck in the standings, actually tied with them for fourth in the Atlantic. The Bears have also given them a bit of trouble, of late, and the season series sits at 4-5. So, uh, let’s do better.
All stats via Phancy Stats and theAHL.com