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Phantoms weekly rundown: Still in it?

[Phantoms] never say die!

Casey Liberatore / SB Nation

Where we are

The back to back last weekend started off on Friday in Wilkes-Barre, and, spoiler alert, it was the Nicolas Aube-Kubel show. The Penguins picked up the first goal of the evening, but the Phantoms responded well and kept their energy up and worked to carry some momentum into the second period. And it worked! Aube-Kubel picked up his first of the night eight and a half minutes into the period, and Chris Conner followed up with another goal just over four minutes later. The Penguins tied things up late in the third, but it was Aube-Kubel, under a minute into the third period, to get them the lead back, and ultimately post the game winner. The Penguins brought a little bit of push back, but the Phantoms kept them tied up for a pretty tidy win.

On Saturday they were back at home, still against the Penguins, because apparently there are no other teams in the league that they’re allowed to play. But I digress. It was another pretty even, pretty back and forth game. The Phantoms came out with a bit of energy but dropped the first goal of the game halfway though the first period, but, not to worry, got one right back just 28 seconds later (Philip Samuelsson, hello). Then the Penguins came back with two more before the midpoint of the second, and then the Phantoms—from Greg Carey, Cole Bardreau, and Byron Froese—put up three more to reclaim the lead. And we were crossing our fingers that they could make it through regulation and sweep the weekend, but no such luck, as the Penguins tied things up with under a minute to go, with their goalie pulled. And, after a very solid game, the Phantoms had to settle for a loser point, as T.J. Brennan made a very soft area pass in the neutral zone, had the puck (surprisingly, I know) intercepted, which then gave the Penguins the space to score their game winner. Alas.

News

Just a quick update that slipped through last week: the Phantoms have signed defenseman from the University of Maine Rob Michel to an ATO. He’s joined the team, but hasn’t gotten in for a game just yet. Maybe this week? Who knows.

Leaderboards

Points

Player GP G A1 A2 P
Player GP G A1 A2 P
Greg Carey 64 27 17 13 57
Chris Conner 62 14 14 15 43
T.J. Brennan 55 9 13 18 40
Mike Vecchione 66 15 12 10 38
Philippe Myers 48 9 12 8 29
Phil Varone 22 11 9 8 28
Connor Bunnaman 52 16 8 4 28
Mikhail Vorobyev 42 7 14 5 26
Nic Aube-Kubel 44 14 6 6 26
Colin McDonald 60 8 6 9 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. Nic Aube-Kubel

It was a three point weekend for Aube-Kubel, as he picked up two goals on Friday and an assist on Saturday. It’s been something of a rough run for Aube-Kubel, of late, with him being in and out of the lineup with various injuries, and it’s seemed to take him a bit of time to really work his way back up to full speed. It was an important weekend for the Phantoms, they needed to get their offense going, and Aube-Kubel was one of the players able to spearhead that effort. Things have really started to look like they’re clicking for him again, and for the first time in a bit, he was back to looking dominant, both as an offensive and a physical force. And here’s hoping he can keep this momentum rolling down the rest of this stretch.

2. Alex Lyon

We’re here again, huh? The sky is blue. Water is wet. Alex Lyon came up big for the Phantoms again this weekend. We’ve almost certainly said this before this season, that it’s almost become a foregone conclusion that when they most need him to, Lyon will come up big for—and sometimes bail out—his team. He didn’t have the toughest workloads, compared to what he’s had to face earlier in the season, as Lyon faced 28 and 26 shots in his two games last weekend, but he still remained steady in those showings. The overtime loss hurts, because the team as a whole played well across both games, and it would have felt appropriate to get Lyon wins in both of them. But so it goes, and he’ll have to just settle for our praise. We know he did well.

3. Mark Friedman

There was a lot to like from the Phantoms this weekend, and more than a bit of flash to go around, but we’re going to give a nod to one of the quieter contributors, on the weekend. Our pal Brad Keffer did a very nice breakdown of Friedman’s weekend, if you’re looking for more, and we just want to reiterate how solid he was in these two games. we appreciate the bit of offense he was able to generate, as he put up five shots and a primary assist across these two games, but again it was really his defensive play that shone. It’s a role he’s been increasingly relied upon to play, and he’s taken it in stride. He’s working well at disrupting attempts to set up plays, as well as emphasizing tighter gaps when the opposition are looking to move up-ice in transition. It isn’t always a games that wows you with its flashiness, but he’s been consistent, an putting in good work to limit space and mistakes, and to give his team the best foundation to work with.

Two observations

1. The penalty kill comes up big

For there only being two games this past weekend, we sure saw a lot of the penalty kill in them. Ten times, to be precise. And whether you agreed with all of the calls or not, that makes for a pretty big task. They had three penalties to kill in the first period of Saturday’s game alone, and that could be a recipe for disaster. But, all things considered, the penalty kill did very well for them. They went 9/10 on the weekend, and very nearly made it 10/10 (the only goal allowed came on Saturday, with only one second left on the power play, which stings).

And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised—the Phantoms’ penalty kill is third in the league for a reason, and they’ve been towards the top of this ranking for just about the whole of the season. You don’t want to see them taking as many penalties as they did this weekend, but their penalty killers all but bailed them out, and kept the game in a manageable spot.

2. Visible improvements

We keep using this phrase ironically, because the collective consciousness of Flyers fans is still a little shell-shocked from Ron Hextall using it to describe an objectively bad and ineffective penalty kill, but we have some actual visible improvements to talk about here! Things were a little rough for a stretch, but the Phantoms do appear to be shoring some things up. Despite the result, we can feel pretty comfortable saying that they had the better play in both of last week’s games. They’re starting on time, they’re transitioning the puck up-ice much more effectively, and they’re limiting the number of failed clears they’re committing. We love to talk about “keeping to their details” and “playing a simple game,” especially around this time of year, and often that get to be a bit essentialist or trite, but we really are seeing notes of this coming through. They have a long way to go to put themselves back into a playoff spot, but whatever happens, if they keep playing like this, we can feel pretty good about how they’ve been able to turn things around.

Where we’re going

We’ve got a jam packed week ahead of us, and the Phantoms are about to embark on another one of their crazy long road trips (okay, they’ll be back playing at home in about two weeks). Anyway, they kicked things off with a game up in Rochester on Wednesday, facing off against the Americans, who are still hanging out at the top of their division. Does that sound scary? Maybe it should, maybe it shouldn’t. They won their last meeting when the Amerks were in Allentown. Hope it goes well *massive cheesy wink*. We’ll talk about it next week.

And then they keep on rolling into Cleveland to play the Monsters on Friday and Saturday. These will be the third and forth meetings between these two teams, and the Phantoms took losses in both of those. Cleveland was at the top of their division when we last met them, and have slipped a bit to fifth, but still pose as a difficult opponent, playing a fast style that did give the Phantoms a bit of trouble last time around. Let’s hope they can do better this time around.