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Phantoms weekly rundown: Make or break time approaches

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With 12 games to go, the Phantoms still have some things to work through.

Casey Liberatore / SB Nation

Where we are

Week of Mar. 11 - Mar. 17

GP W L Standing in Division
GP W L Standing in Division
3 1 2 6th

Another Wednesday game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton kicked off the week, two weeks ago the Phantoms came into their arena and controlled play, but the same couldn’t be said of the rematch. The Phantoms came out a little flat and dropped the first goal early in the first period. And then they came out for the second and spent the first three minutes in their own end. And then they gave up another goal. And then another. The end of the second saw them showing some life, and then Byron Froese got them one back just before the midpoint of the third, making it a two goal game again, but they just couldn’t seem to get anything else past Tristan Jarry. And then the empty netter for the Penguins sealed things off.

Friday’s game against Providence followed something of a similar trajectory. They didn’t just come out flat, they gave up two goals in the first 1:33 of play and, yeah, that was more or less an effective tone-setter. David Kase got them back within one on the power play early in the second period, but three more goals by the Bruins in the first 12 minutes of the third had them deep in a hole again. The Phantoms were able to bring a bit of push-back, with goals by Connor Bunnaman and Greg Carey inside the last two minutes, but the deficit was just too much, and they couldn’t bring themselves all the way back.

But, spoiler alert, it wasn’t a lost weekend for the Phantoms, fortunately, as they were able to put up what was, on the whole, a very solid game against the Toronto Marlies on Saturday. Again, the Phantoms dropped the first goal of the game, but were playing the Marlies evenly enough. Tyrell Goulbourne picked up a goal inside the last two minutes of the first, and they hit the first intermission tied. It was a back and forth affair—the second period didn’t see any scoring, but Chris Mueller restored the Marlies’ lead just before the midpoint of the third. And then Goulbourne tied things up and got his second of the night. And then Reece Wilcox pulled them into the lead. And then Mueller managed to tie things up with under two minutes to go. And just as we were preparing ourselves for overtime, Chris Conner scored for the Phantoms with half a second left on the clock, capping off the game in exciting fashion.

News

At this point, we should just be calling this section “where in the world is Justin Bailey?” He started the week with the Phantoms, and then was called up for Thursday’s game against the Capitals, and then sent back down on Friday, and then called back up on Sunday for the game against Pittsburgh, and then sent back down on Monday, and then called back up on Tuesday, and is so far still with the Flyers. Whew.

Leaderboards

Points

Player GP G A1 A2 P
Player GP G A1 A2 P
Greg Carey 62 26 17 13 56
Chris Conner 60 13 13 15 41
T.J. Brennan 53 9 13 18 40
Mike Vecchione 64 15 12 10 37
Philippe Myers 48 9 12 8 29
Phil Varone 22 11 9 8 28
Connor Bunnaman 50 16 8 3 27
Mikhail Vorobyev 42 7 14 5 26
Colin McDonald 60 8 6 9 23
Nic Aube-Kubel 42 12 6 5 23

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. Mike McKenna

One win on the weekend for the Phantoms, and one win for Mike McKenna, as well. McKenna got the start in Saturday’s game, against what would be a pretty formidable opponent in the Toronto Marlies. They put up 40 shots over the course of the evening, and McKenna had his work cut out for him, but still managed to make 37 saves for a .925 save percentage. It wasn’t perfect, but it was enough, and he was able to provide some stability while the team in front kept up their push.

And maybe this is a bit of us grading on a curve, but maybe that’s okay. McKenna’s had a couple of rough showings with the Phantoms, letting in a couple of pretty ugly goals over his first couple of starts. So maybe that makes him getting this win feel even better. Things start to stabilize.

2. Tyrell Goulbourne

We’re going to keep rolling with weighing contributions in that one (1) winning game a little heavier than the others, which means we’re here to give a nod to Tyrell Goulbourne. He served as sort of the offensive force in this one, flexing some speed on the rush, and picking up two goals in the process. They may not have been the prettiest (the second in particular) goals, coming after a bit of chaos was created around the net, but that’s just how goals are scored something. It’s an emphasis on generating high danger chances that we haven’t seen consistently across the season, but it worked well here (more of that please?).

Goulbourne’s offense has been streaky this season, often coming in bunches, and while we can talk about how we’d like to see a bit more consistency on that front, we also can’t really complain about one of those bunches emerging at just the right time. That’s timeliness, folks.

3. David Kase

It was only a matter of time, gang! We talked about how, since coming back from injury a few weeks ago, Kase has hit the ground running, and it felt like it wouldn’t be long before he picked up that first goal since his return. And, after what would have been his first was disallowed because he batted it with his arm (just getting creative, you know how it goes), it took a little longer to get there, but it finally happened! Kase scored on Friday against Providence, and proved one of their more active forces, in that game. He’s continued to stand out positively, bringing energy and some offensive spark, continuing to work to make a positive impact down this stretch.

Two Observations

1. A note on transition

I do appreciate a week when other people do my work for me, when my talking points are supplied for me. That’s always pretty fun and good.

Anyway, Kerry Huffman had some pretty strong words about the team’s transition play of late, made after Friday’s game against Providence, and he’s right on with it. The Phantoms have struggled lately with being able to get the puck up-ice cleanly, and that’s significantly hindered their ability to generate offense. But the curious part? It’s not as though they can’t do it, period. Looking just as Saturday’s game against the Marlies, a fast and aggressive team, the Phantoms were able to hang with them across the whole of the game. They were quick on loose pucks and able to turn a solid defensive play into a rush into the offensive zone, and a chance of their own. And maybe that makes this even more frustrating, knowing that they can bring a strong transition game, and that they haven’t been able to do so consistently. It’s something they’re going to keep stressing though, Huffman said after Saturday’s game, and they’ll be hoping that they can keep tapping into that same level of play, going forward.

2. Consistency, consistency, consistency

The points raised in our next one: the quest for consistency has proved somewhat troublesome down this stretch, for the Phantoms. They just haven’t been able to find a way to bring the same level of energy (and production) on night to night basis.

It’s a long season, and we don’t always like to say it, but there are some nights when they just don’t have it. It happens, and so long as it’s only a handful of times, we can live with it. We can take that hit. But when it’s a legitimate question coming into games which team you’re going to get tonight—the one that can dominate or the one that can’t seem to do much of anything for the bulk of the game—that’s a problem. This isn’t a new issue, but it merits bringing attention to once again, as the Phantoms are in the position where they’re close to having to straight up win out in these last 12 games in order to make the playoffs, we can’t really overstate the importance of them finding some consistency, of showing up and showing up on time. It’s quite literally now or never.

Where we’re going

We’ve got a lighter week in terms of the workload coming up (with just two games on the schedule), but a pretty huge week, in terms of implications. The Phantoms have a home-and-home against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who are currently sitting one point ahead of them, at fifth in the standings. The Phantoms aren’t out of the playoff race yet, but it’s tight, and it wouldn’t be much of an overstatement to say that it’s critical that they pick up, at the very least, two points this weekend, if not three or four. It’s been a mixed bag, so far this season, in terms of what we get out of the Phantoms when matching up against the Penguins, but these are two games where they need to make sure they show up on time and play their best games. They really can’t afford to do anything less.

All stats via Phancy Stats and theAHL.com