In its final preseason game of its inaugural season in Allentown, the Phantoms dropped their third and final exhibition matchup with a 2-1 loss to former NY rivals, the Albany Devils.
Two power play goals for the Devils locked in the win, as the Phantoms struggled to find the back of the net. Lehigh Valley has been outscored 8-3 in the preseason.
Despite not being able to put points on the board, chemistry on the ice has leveled out as the roster changes for the Phantoms begin to slow down. Lines are communicating, passing is seemingly on point and some of the big-name talent that was sent down from the Flyers are doing big things.
Rob Zepp started in net for the Phantoms after a confident 2013 season inking in a .931 save percentage last year in Berlin, and an unreal performance for the Flyers on Sept. 28, stopping 38 shots in the 3-1 loss to the Devils.
Zepp stopped 26 of 28 Saturday, allowing two power play goals. Opposing goaltender Scott Wedgewood saved 27, as Shayne Gostisbehere, Andrew Gordon and Scott Laughton led the team with four goals apiece.
Eight observations on the game:
- Hextall was in attendance for his third consecutive preseason game—keeping an eye on his affiliate that he is determined to turn around, or analyzing talent for future roster changes? Either way, Phantoms front office expects to see Hextall frequently throughout the season as the GM has made it clear he does not mind traveling, and with a short drive up 222, why not?
- Not even five minutes into his first home game, Zack Stortini causes a ruckus in Allentown, sticking up for new teammate Petr Straka. Stortini, measuring in at 6’4" dropped the gloves against Albany d-man Brandon Burlon, who measures in four inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter than Stortini, who led the AHL in penalty minutes last year. Needless to say, Stortini destroyed him, and the PPL Center went nuts. Watch here:
- Mark Alt showed why some people are up-in-arms about his NHL promise. The defenseman was all over the ice, Saturday, hitting, passing and skating as if his life depended on it. Then fed one of the prettiest assists, resulting in an even prettier goal by Kevin Goumas.
- Speaking of Goumas. the center had just one shot, but that’s all he needed. Down 2-0 with nine minutes left in the third, the Phantoms and Devils got themselves into a 4-on-4 school- yard hockey situation. Alt received a feed from Brandon Manning off the boards, took the puck to the circle and sent a backhanded pass to Goumas, who was screaming at him from the far side of the net. The pass made it through traffic and directly to Goumas’ stick for one of the prettiest goals I’ve seen.
- Goumas’ reaction to Saturday’s goal: "I came flying through the zone and no one even saw me. I don’t even know if Mark saw me," Goumas said. "I just screamed at him and in the last second it came to me and I just pretty much had a back-door wide open net. Great all around play and a great pass by Mark as well."
- Zepp is quickly adjusting from European style of play. Head coach Terry Murray said his aggression on the crease and challenging shooters are NHL fundamentals he did not expect Zepp to adjust to so quickly. Murray also said Zepp is bringing a much-needed veteran status to the team which is important for the development of the young players who dominate the Phantoms roster.
- Despite going 0-4 on the power play on Saturday, 1-16 in preseason, Terry Murray said the power play has improved because of composure on the ice. "They’re thinking, they’re seeing, they’re reacting, they’re talking" Murray said. "That’s good chemistry and that’s coming out very nicely."
- Preseason is over. Time for the team to focus on a long regular season. Phantoms open it up on Oct. 11 vs. the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The home opener at the PPL Center is scheduled for Oct. 17 vs. the team who replaced them—the Adirondack Flames.