As the novelty of the Phantoms home-opening overtime thriller versus the Flames begins to fade, the team sets to put on another show for fans as it begins its regular season rivalry against the Hershey Bears. Puck drop is at 7:05 in Allentown.
Now a divisional, conference and intra-state rival, the Bears enter the PPL Center with two preseason wins on its record against Lehigh Valley, looking for another in the teams’ 185th meeting all-time.
The Phantoms are 86-88-10 against the Bears all-time with 12 regular season matchups scheduled for 2014-15.
With Braydon Coburn and Andrew MacDonald out for at least four weeks, Ron Hextall and friends will be keeping a close eye on Phantoms d-men tonight as they figure out how to mend the mess of a defensive situation the Flyers are in.
Rumors are swirling that Mark Alt already has a name plate and locker ready, but no official announcement has been made. The Phantoms do have some talent on defense, but talent for an AHL team is a different story when you move a young guy up to the NHL. Here are my picks and a few players to watch for call-ups:
Robert Hagg (D): The 19 year old has two assists in three games and has a solid presence on the ice. He’s a crowd favorite as an instigator and the first to stick up for a teammate in a scuffle. But with just 13 games in the AHL over two seasons, Hagg is still very green. He’s an asset in Lehigh Valley, but would be a risk in Philadelphia.
Mark Alt (D): He throws his weight around and has a plus-one rating with a goal and an assist so far this season. As the "locker and nameplate" suggests, Alt would be the best call-up for the Flyers considering age, experience and overall presence on the ice. Even though his name is reportedly hanging in the locker room in Voorhees, Alt is active tonight for the Phantoms.
Shayne Gostisbehere (D): When the announcement about Coburn and Macdonald came out, Ghost’s name was all over social media as what "should be" Hextall’s first pick of d-men to call up. While Gostisbehere was close to making the final roster last month, there is a reason Hextall sent him to the AHL—to get more ice time, and get NHL ready. Terry Murray raves about his speed and puck handling and a "shot-first mentality," which could be beneficial for the Flyers, but without a talented d-man actually playing defense behind Ghost, his talent with the puck might not matter.
However, Gostisbehere is a healthy scratch tonight, along with Brett Hextall.
Brandon Manning (D): Manning leads the Phantoms defensemen in points with a goal, an assist and a plus-three rating through three games. Manning’s lone goal came in sudden death overtime versus the Flames during the Phantoms home opener. If Hextall decides that Gostisbehere needs more time in the AHL, Manning would be my pick to travel to Philadelphia, as the 24 year old has four seasons with the AHL and 10 career NHL games with two assists wearing a Flyers sweater.
12 things to watch tonight:
- The Phantoms were 0-2 against the Bears in preseason and were outscored 6-2 in the two 3-1 losses. Phantoms also went 0-8 on the power play in their first preseason game against the Bears. Hershey was 0-5.
- The rivalry is real. During the AHL playoffs in ’97, the Phantoms beat the Bears in a 7-4 blood-bath that included 350 penalty minutes and 14 game misconducts. The game still holds the AHL record for most penalty minutes in a single game. How does that even happen?
- Bears sit in the top spot in the East Division, and third in the Eastern Conference with a 3-1 record and a three-game winning streak.
- Phantoms are third in the division and 10th in the conference sporting a 2-1 record and 0.667 winning percentage, better than four teams ranked before them in the conference.
- Lehigh Valley's Saturday night foes, Binghamton, sit in second place in the division, with a 2-2-1 record. If the Phantoms win, or force overtime tonight, they will move past the Senators and into second place before battling them in New York.
- Phantoms have only played three regular season games, tied with three other teams for the fewest games played in the AHL. With a three-game weekend slate, Lehigh Valley will be on par with the rest of the league in games played, and stats will reflect their actual position in AHL standings.
- The Phantoms will meet the Bears again in Hershey on Sunday for the team’s first three-game slate of the season, after a divisional event vs. the Binghamton Senators, Saturday.
- Hershey’s Chris Newbury is the second leading goal-scorer in the league with three goals in four games played. Newbury also has four assists. Phantom’s Scott Laughton has Newbury beat with four goals (all scored last weekend), but with just three games played for the Phantoms, the rookie falls to 23rd in the league. I suspect after tonight, however, he will move up the ranks.
- Watch highlights of Laughton’s four-goal weekend here.
- Bear’s Pheonix Copley also sits in second place in the league’s top goaltenders, with a 0.957 save percentage, and a .95 GAA-- saving 44-of-46 in two games. Copley saved 23-of-24 in his last start against the Phantoms in Hershey’s first preseason win in Allentown.
- On the other side of the ice, Rob Zepp, the likely starter for the Phantoms tonight, has saved 50-of-55 with a 0.909 save percentage and 2.47 GAA in his two regular season wins.
- Phantoms also have a shiny new website; check it out for ticket specials and events.