Phantoms weekly rundown: The return
Not the best week, but we’re doing our best(?)
We’re back, folks! After a bit of time off taken to catch up on tracking and putting together this big early season statistical trends article, we’re back with your regularly scheduled weekly rundown. If you haven’t checked out that article and want to, it’s linked and will somewhat get you caught up on what’s been going on with the team up until this point (just in a different format). And now we’re on to our most recent happenings! Let’s get into it.
Where we are
Week of Dec. 13 - Dec. 20
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We’ve had a lot of roster moves since we last talked, but what’s most pressing to know, if you didn’t already, is that Mikhail Vorobyev, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Andy Andreoff are with the Flyers now, they’re the last ones with David Kase returned to the team this morning. But it’s not all missing pieces around here! All of Maksim Sushko, German Rubtsov, and Chris Bigras are back from injury. The Phantoms also just announced yesterday that they’d signed Max William from Reading to a PTO.
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You can check out the full points, shot metric, and transition stats here.
1. Chris Bigras
As we noted in our news section, the Phantoms have gotten a number of players back from injury over the last few weeks, and it’s been just in the nick of time. Bigras has been sidelined with injury since November 6, but he finally made his return to the lineup on Friday, and he didn’t really seem to miss a beat. For missing a little over a month, he seemed to have no trouble getting back to game speed and was keeping up just fine in some at times fast paced games. With Mark Friedman still out with injury, they really needed
And then, of course, he scored the Teddy Bear Toss goal on Saturday.
Biggy brought the bears!— LehighValleyPhantoms (@LVPhantoms) December 15, 2019
And he gets first star of the week honors because we love the Teddy Bear Toss and also the Phantoms had been shut out in both of their two games before that one so some of us were genuinely worried that a goal might not come in that game either. So we’re extra thankful for that one.
2. Nicolas Aube-Kubel
The Teddy Bear Toss goal was certainly an exciting one, but even just a hair more exciting might have been the fact that Aube-Kubel picked up the second goal of that game. Let’s have a look at it.
This young man, he played two,— LehighValleyPhantoms (@LVPhantoms) December 15, 2019
He played knick-NAK on my shoe;
With a knick-NAK paddywhack,
Give a dog a bone,
This young man came rolling home. pic.twitter.com/vB7ZLL0utj
It was a good one for a number of reasons--first it was just a well executed rush, and it came shorthanded which is also a plus, but most importantly, it broke a 15 game goal drought for Aube-Kubel. And while he hadn’t scored since November 3rd’s game in Bridgeport, it wasn’t all bad news for Aube-Kubel; he’d picked up a handful of assists and was continuing to drive play well, and was even getting a good number of chances, they just weren’t going in for him. He only played two games this past weekend before being recalled to the Flyers on Sunday, but he was sharp in those two. The goal on Saturday was an obvious plus, but he also had a couple of good chances on Friday in Hartford as well. The overall process was never really the issue, it was just a matter of him getting one to break him out of his slump a bit, and it was nice to see him get it. And also, you know, nice to see him finally called up to the Flyers.
3. German Rubtsov
While we’re on the topic of players who have just returned from injury and who are back and making impacts, German Rubtsov, hello! After missing about three weeks, he returned to the lineup on Friday in Hartford as well, and as was the case with Bigras, he got right back into the swing of game speed and didn’t really look like he missed much time at all. Rubtsov picked up assists in both Saturday and Sunday’s games, so it didn’t take very long for a bit of the offense to come back (even if we’re still waiting on his second goal of the season). But his steady defensive presence on the penalty kill particularly is where he may have been missed the most, and he was just about immediately able to get back into that rotation and look effective (plus the offense on the penalty kill, setting up Aube-Kubel’s goal. That was pretty nice too). In short, it’s good to have him back.
Two loose observations
1. The power play is still *sad trombone noise*
We’ve been lamenting this for much of the season, but it’s still an issue so we’re going to keep complaining a bit more. The Phantoms power play, while they did register one goal in Sunday’s game in Hershey, is still struggling to score on a consistent basis. They’re presently converting just 11 percent of the time, which has them ranked third from last in the league. They aren’t drawing a ton of penalties, relatively speaking (109 opportunities on the season, which is the 11th fewest in the league) so that makes it a little more difficult to pull their average up, but the point remains that they just haven’t been performing all that well.
They’ve struggled to gain the zone cleanly, and then periodically to keep from being chased out of the zone, and just in general to string together passes and then subsequently to get shots on net. It’s been a bit of a mess and it’s starting to add up. The Phantoms’ 5-on-5 process is pretty solid, even if it’s not perfect, but even with that it’s hard to string together a ton of wins without getting much help from the power play.
2. The big picture
We’re just about a third of the way through the season, and this is about the time when we’re wanting to take a step back and really look at the trajectory of the season. A few days ago when I was looking at the standings, I had a bit of panic creep in, wondering “could they end up missing the playoffs?” They’re seventh in the Atlantic division, five points behind fourth place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and six points behind third place Hershey. They’ve only won three of their last 10 games. And we understand how they got there--they were depleted by injuries for a while and now they’re depleted by call ups because the Flyers are depleted by injuries. They’ve also, as we noted above, pretty much been expected to out-score all of their opponents at 5-on- because they’re not getting help from their power play. It’s a pretty tough mix.
And this is when we’re supposed to mention that the St. Louis Blues were last in the NHL at about this time last year and we saw how that ended up going for them! And maybe the optimists like this. It’s certainly still something to keep in the backs of our minds. Hockey is weird and the Phantoms could go on a tear in the new year and suddenly they’re scaling way up in the standings. But as it stands right now, they’re in a tough spot and most of the teams above them in the standings are playing some pretty good hockey, and their window to pull things together is narrowing. There’s a lot of season left to go, and it’s certainly well within the realm of possibilities that they’re able to get themselves back on track in a big way, but they need to get cracking.
What’s on deck?
It kind of feels like we’ve been moving at breakneck speed through these last couple of weeks with all of the games on the schedule, so relatively speaking, we’ve got a lighter weekend coming up. The Phantoms are down in Charlotte for games on Saturday and Sunday. The Checkers have had a bit of a rough start to the season, but despite this, they’ve now just passed the Phantoms in the standings (they’re tied with 27 points but the Checkers have played one fewer game). That said, the Phantoms have fared well against Charlotte so far this season, collecting points in each of their four meetings, and with their only loss coming in a shootout. The Phantoms really need a couple of wins to get themselves back on track--here’s hoping this is the weekend they get them.