Phantoms weekly rundown: Turning a corner?
We’ve got some good things happening here, folks!
Where we are
Feb. 14 - Feb. 20
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Lots of happenings this week! Here’s a list of the quick hits:
Morgan Frost is back.
Mark Friedman was called up.
Pascal Laberge is healthy and was sent down to Reading.
J.F. Berube was traded to the Rangers for future considerations (which turned into goaltender Tom McCollum and forward Lewis Zerter-Gossage, both of whom were assigned to the Royals).
Kirill Ustimenko was called up to the Phantoms.
Shayne Gostisbehere has been sent to the Phantoms for a conditioning stint.
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All stats via theAHL.com, Phancy Stats, and Maddie’s NZ tracking project.
1. Kyle Criscuolo
We’ve got a couple of players on goal scoring streaks that we’re going to talk about in a little bit, but first I want to give a nod to one of the Phantoms’ quieter setup guys through this most recent stretch of games. Criscuolo’s been a little snakebitten of late, but the points are still coming for him, as he’s picked up five assists in his last four games, while still generating a good few chances for himself. He’s been shuffled back down in the lineup and hasn’t had the same quality of wingers that he did even just a week ago, but he’s still making it work, all the same. He’s generating chances at 5-on-5, feeding his linemates well, and has also been a force on the penalty kill, with generating breakouts and shorthanded rushes. In short, Criscuolo has really turned it on over these last few weeks, and we have very few complaints about his play. All around good stuff, gang.
2. Andy Welinski
But now on to those players that are putting pucks in the back of the net, as we mentioned earlier. Welinski, in general, has been playing well of late. He missed a bit of time with injury but since he’s been back, he’s really hit the ground running. The weekend before last, he had a monster defensive game and for a bit that was the standout performance from him, but suddenly, here we are, about to talk about his three goals in four games week. Three goals in four games! From a defenseman! Who’s not really known as an offensive powerhouse! Imagine that!
Somewhat manic tone aside, it’s been nice to see things clicking offensively for Welinski. Like Criscuolo, since he returned from injury, he’s been playing a pretty complete game and we really aren’t too fussed about any of it, and it’s a nice addition to see him bringing that extra bit of flash to his game.
3. Morgan Frost
Frost only got in for three of the four games this week, but he sure made his presence known from the get go. He’s on a three game scoring streak, and also picked up a primary assist on Welinski’s goal on Saturday, making for a four point week for Frost. We all know by now, with his skill level, how important of a player he is to the team. Having him back helps out their center depth, and gives them some extra stability on the power play, and in general just gives them the option to make more difficult plays, because he’s willing and able to make those plays to feed his wingers. The injection of skill helps the team, and we saw that pretty tangibly and pretty immediately upon his return.
It wasn’t a perfect showing—we’re still seeing some of the lapses and turnovers—but it also isn’t really fair to expect perfect. He’s helping his team and he’s learning, and that’s more than good enough for us.
Two loose observations
1. On high danger chances
The Phantoms have been doing well, in the last couple of weeks, but this week in particular. to get to the front of the net and look for high danger chances. It’s something they got away from during their pretty brutal stretch, but they’ve been working on getting back to it recently.
But the extra fun element of this? They’re setting up a number of these chances—or at least trying to—from below the goal line. It’s a play that they’ve been targeting pretty specifically over the last week or so, and it’s starting to pay dividends for them. Just look at Welinski’s goal from Friday, set up by Criscuolo.
Does this make you Andy baby? pic.twitter.com/1MPaac9c7F— LehighValleyPhantoms (@LVPhantoms) February 15, 2020
The play was textbook, and they made use of it again later in the game, with Tyler Wotherspoon picking up a goal on an almost identical play. By now we know the merits of using behind the net to distribute, with how difficult those passes become to defend, and it’s nice to see them not just emphasizing this, but executing. And here’s hoping they stick with this, going forward.
2. Trending... in the right direction?
It kind of feels like we’ve had a number of these conversations this season, where the Phantoms seem to take a step forward and we get all excited about the good work that they’re doing and then they go and shoot themselves in the foot and take a step back and we all look like fools.
That said, it really does feel like the Phantoms are making some progress. They played four good games this week (even if they didn’t win all of them, they were in them). They’re playing a more complete game, in general, but what really stands out is how they’ve reemphasized getting to the front of the net for chances, and they’ve been rewarded for this. When they’re playing their best, they’re able to get this time deep in the offensive zone to make those chances happen, it all goes hand in hand. The other shoe may well be ready to drop, but we’re cautiously optimistic
What’s on deck?
We’re briefly free of the three-in-threes, and the Phantoms are also hitting the road for a bit this week. Since we looped Wednesday’s game in with last weekend’s for this article, it’s just two future games for the Phantoms that we have to talk about. They’ve got a couple of North division teams on the weekend, as the face off against second place Rochester on Friday and fifth place Syracuse on Saturday before making their way home again.