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Phantoms weekly rundown: The Phantoms are in hunt for a playoff spot

Like a dog on a bone, race tightening, points accruing, things of that nature.

Casey Liberatore / SB Nation

Where we are

Week of Mar. 4 - Mar. 10

GP W L Standing in Division
GP W L Standing in Division
3 2 1 5th

I mentioned in our preview last week just how important it was for the Phantoms to extract points out of this week, particularly in their Wednesday game in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and it looks like they were listening. The Penguins sort of, kind of, didn’t really strike first (they put a puck in the net but promptly had it called back for goaltender interference). The Phantoms were then able to get the first legal goal of the game, from Connor Bunnaman, on the power play. The Penguins would get one back early in the second period, but that would be their only goal of the game. Pascal Laberge restored their lead early in the second period, and the Phantoms continued to hold the edge in momentum. Another goal by Byron Froese early in the third helped cushion their lead, but the Phantoms were able to tie this one up nicely, and hold the Penguins to just the one goal, and jump them in the standings with this win.

They kept that momentum rolling into Friday’s game, back at home against Charlotte. We started with a pretty evenly played first period, and hit the first intermission without seeing any scoring at all. We made a joke about, hey, maybe they keep this up and collect at least one point and see what happens in overtime. But the Phantoms, it seemed, had other plans, as they took advantage of a bad change by Charlotte and Colin McDonald used that space to get them on the board. Mike Vecchione scored two of his own after that, pulling the Phantoms into a 3-0 lead before we even hit the second intermission. The Checkers came out for the third with a bit more jump, and Aleksi Saarela was able to get two back for them, but that was all they could manage. And the Phantoms made it out with both of the standings points.

Sunday was a weird game in that the Phantoms looked… okay enough? Really didn’t look all that bad, all things considered? They didn’t look as sharp as they did on Friday, but they came out with some jump and looked like they might be able to do some damage, still. And then the Phantoms had a goal called back for goaltender interference and Mike McKenna gave up four and didn’t look his best, and all the air sort of left the building and the Phantoms couldn’t muster much more. And that’s how you close out an otherwise strong week with a 4-0 shutout. Sigh.

News

Up and down. Justin Bailey is a Phantom again.

Leaderboards

Points

Player GP G A1 A2 P
Player GP G A1 A2 P
Greg Carey 59 25 16 13 54
Chris Conner 57 12 12 15 39
T.J. Brennan 51 9 12 17 38
Mike Vecchione 61 15 12 9 36
Philippe Myers 48 9 12 8 29
Phil Varone 22 11 9 8 28
Mikhail Vorobyev 41 7 14 5 26
Connor Bunnaman 47 15 7 2 24
Colin McDonald 57 8 6 9 23
Nic Aube-Kubel 39 12 5 4 21

Advanced Stats

Player GP 5v5 iCF 5v5 CF% Avg GS
Player GP 5v5 iCF 5v5 CF% Avg GS
Jori Lehtera 2 4 70.31 1.55
Phil Varone 22 46 51.52 1.17
Nic Aube-Kubel 32 68 51.27 0.52
T.J. Brennan 41 122 49.39 0.7
Greg Carey 49 121 48.85 0.81
Justin Bailey 10 33 48.58 0.66
Mikhail Vorobyev 32 41 48.1 0.5
Philip Samuelsson 49 106 48.07 0.22
Philippe Myers 48 192 48.03 0.56
Colin McDonald 49 118 46.76 0.35

Three Stars

1. Alex Lyon

With two more wins to add to his season total (he’s up to 13), and having earned the Phantoms both of their wins this weekend, Lyon seems an easy choice for first star. He wasn’t terribly flashy, but he kept his head down and performed well. He only allowed three goals over his two games, and faced a total of 62 shots (one goal on 28 shots on Wednesday, and two goals on 34 shots on Friday). He had his work cut out for him, but he came up big when they needed him to.

And, as we said, this was a big weekend to come out of with points, considering the opponents were divisional and how tight the playoff race is becoming. Lyon did what he has been all season—serving as a solid foundation and putting the team in the best position

2. Mike Vecchione

Remember last week when we talked about consistently commending Vecchione for his consistency in getting points on the board? Well we’re here to do a bit more of that. He picked up two goals in Friday’s win over Charlotte, serving as their most dynamic offensive force in this game. He looked solid across the whole of the weekend, but Friday was where he really shone. And we can’t really oversell how impressive this is. We’re beating it into the ground a little bit, how good Charlotte is, but they are very good and to have a player like Vecchione, as sound as he’s been all season, elevating his game against them is a nice sign. Snaps for that.

3. Cole Bardreau

It’s finally happening, gang. Just about all of the Phantoms’ once injured players are back. Cole Bardeau made his return to the lineup on Friday after missing more than 30 games with a hand injury. It’s a big thing to ask, a player to come back into the lineup and immediately be effective, and especially against a team as talented as Charlotte, but Bardreau was able to do just that.

He didn’t get himself on the board, but he flashed a bit of speed and got himself a couple of chances, (and, not to mention, really did his thing and mixed it up a little from time to time), and was just all around noticeable in a positive way. It was a solid return, and we have no complaints to be had.

Two Observations

1. Talking entries again

We’re putting a lot of weight on the Phantoms’ play against the Checkers, for a number of reasons, but chiefly among them the fact that they’re a very good team and it’s worth paying attention to, how well the Phantoms are able to match up with them. Litmus tests, and all that.

We talked, when they last played, about how the Phantoms needed to clean up their zone entry attempts, to stop just dumping the puck in and hoping for the best, and to their credit, they did just that. Friday saw them looking like they had figured things out—they didn’t take away all of the Checkers’ chances and completely dominate in that way, but they did better in controlling their own entries and limiting the number of controlled entries Charlotte was able to make. It evened the scale just that much more, and the Phantoms were finally able to get a bit of work in, rather than just spending the game chasing after the puck while the Checkers were on their way to nabbing it first. It’s an incremental improvement. They’re figuring things out.

2. Status report: playoffs?!

So let’s take a moment to touch base. The Phantoms have 15 games left on the season and are right now hanging out at fifth in the Atlantic, five points back of fourth place Providence (and six points behind third place Hershey). And that sounds like a lot, we’ll grant that. So should we be getting really panicky just yet? Maybe, maybe not. Five points is a lot of ground to cover when the teams in front of you are winning too. They’ve got 11 games left against teams in their division, and this can be a blessing or a curse, depending on if they’re able to pick up wins in regulation. They need some things to break in their favor, and they need to buckle down, themselves, but the team itself still believes that they’re well in this, and maybe their belief is worth buying into, as well.

Where we’re going

We’re kicking our new week off tonight, and we’re starting with one of those divisional games that we just mentioned. The Penguins are in Allentown tonight, and they’re still just one point behind the Phantoms in the standings. The Phantoms took home the win in their last meeting exactly a week ago, and they’ll be hoping they can replicate those results and draw closer still to fourth place Providence.

Speaking of Providence, they’re in Allentown on Friday! They’ve struggled a bit, of late, having lost six of their last 10 games, but they’re a team that’s given the Phantoms a bit of trouble, so far this season, so they shouldn’t get too complacent.

And finally, on Saturday, the Toronto Marlies are in town for the first time since they eliminated the Phantoms in the Eastern Conference Final last year. The Phantoms kind of beat up on the Marlies when we saw them earlier this season in Toronto, but they’re getting some goaltending now, and have been able to pull themselves to third in the North. So, not as easy of an opponent as they might have once been, on paper, but we’re still looking for a little bit more revenge. So let’s have that happen, yeah?