Phantoms 4, Bruins 1: More ‘yoffs for you all!

Some observations for your morning...

Hey, everybody! Did you miss me? Did you miss observations? Well, you’re in luck! The Flyers’ post-season may be over, but the Phantoms’ is still in full swing. They played Game 3—their series home opener—against the Providence Bruins, and I got to watch it, and, as always, I have some notes for you. Let’s get right into it.

1. Initial impression

So I came into last night’s game not really knowing what to expect. I sat down, clean slate, and was just ready to take it all in.

My very first thought: is it some kind of bad omen to break your stick on the opening faceoff?

No, wait, that’s not it. A Bruin did break his stick on the opening faceoff, but this wasn’t actually my real first observation. Let’s try this again.

My real very first thought: the Phantoms are playing with some very serious pace.

It started inside the first few minutes of the period, which saw them caught deep in their own zone, but then it was pass off the boards to an open Phantom at the blue line, for a stretch pass all the way through the neutral zone, and then before you knew it, it was a clean entry, a bit of speed, and a shot attempt. It was an effective tone setter for the rest of the period, as they kept easily with this pace, and were rewarded appropriately for it (but more on that later).

2. A blast from the past

But, speaking of pace, the Phantoms have some speedy dudes! And we’re here to talk about one in particular!

Early in the first period, I had my attention drawn to a player zipping around the offensive zone, along the boards, and even though I couldn’t see his number from my angle at the time, my immediate thought was “that has to be Martel.” And what do you know, it was?

It’s been a long time since those of us watching primarily the Flyers have seen him—and doesn’t November feel like a lifetime ago anyway?—but man did he work well to make his presence known to everybody watching last night, not just those who might have let him slip their minds.

He was little short of all over the place last night, but in a good way. He was putting in very solid work—using his speed and strength on the puck to generate those high quality chances that the Phantoms were thriving on early—indeed, he went into the first intermission with two individual shots, second among all Phantoms, and an assist on Myers’s goal. His style is such that draws your eye to him virtually every time he’s on the ice, making him a real treat to watch,

3. Phil Myers, oh my

But since we just mentioned him, why don’t we take that as an opportunity to move on to our next point. A face many of us haven’t see since training camp, one thing became readily apparent very early in last night’s game—Phil Myers is really good, you guys.

We touched on his goal in our last point—the result of another one of the Phantom’s bang-bang plays and quick passing in front, and of him dipping lower in the offensive zone to join the rush—but he was doing good work across the whole of the night. That offensive push was more or less consistent, without coming at the expense of solid defense (with a particular strength in the area being his speed, the ability to keep with opponents on the rush and push them out of the crease as quickly as they arrived, limiting their chances0.

The only negative that we could pull, if we were looking for one? We saw a hint of the part of his game we’ve been hearing about, which seems him riding the line between physicality and excess—he picked up 54 PIM in 50 games—pretty hard, this time in the form of a late hit in their own end that was at once extra forceful and late enough that it might have drawn an interference call, had one of the officials caught it. But the good news is this wasn’t the story of his whole game, just an isolated incident, and the rest of the night saw him reining it in, playing physically, but finishing his checks cleanly.

4. Special teams rundown

Would it be an observations article about a Flyers or Flyers affiliated team if we didn’t have some Thoughts about their special teams play? Absolutely not. And so we’ve arrived at the part of the article where we address those.

The bad: after a dynamic and controlled start, the Phantoms just couldn’t seem to stay out of the box for the latter half of the game. Take two Too Much Man penalties, mix in a handful of roughing minors, and pair them with a dangerous Bruins penalty kill and you’ve got a potential recipe for disaster.

The good: despite the chances given up, the Phantoms’ penalty kill, along with Tokarski came up big for them. They were able to keep the pressure on the Bruins, and, even if they couldn’t keep the puck completely out of the zone, they were able to limit the number and quality of chances they allowed. And they only allowed the one power play goal.

The even better: in fact, in addition to not allowing any goals while they were on the penalty kill, they were able to score one of their own. All it took was a counterrush down the ice, a quick pass in front, and Lindblom was there to pot his first of the night.

And now a bit of good, bit of meh: on the other side, the Phantoms’ power play served as something of a mixed bag. In their admittedly limited showings, they hit their stretches where they couldn’t seem to get settled in the zone, saw their attempts frustrated. But just as we were starting to worry that they wouldn’t be able to do anything while on the man-advantage, there was Lindblom again, fed by Sanheim for a chance in front, and they had a power play goal, after all.

The interesting: it’s a small note, but one I’ve been thinking a lot about. For just one shift on their first power play attempt, they fell into the double net-front presence model, in trying to create a chance in close. Those two players set up in the crease? Lindblom and… Myers? Yep, the defenseman! Allowed to take a more active offensive role on the power play. It nearly worked, too, as he had a close chance while set up there, but it wouldn’t go. But it was pretty neat, all the same.

5. Back to our old pals!

And this is it! The moment you’ve all (maybe) been waiting for! Time to check in with our old pals! First up: Oskar Lindblom.

With the Flyers’ post-season over, Lindblom was one of two eligible to return to the Phantoms to help with their own playoff run, and when just that happened, excitement and expectations were alighted—he proved in the back end of the season that he’s absolutely an NHL player, and to see him bumped back to the AHL figured to bring a fair share of positive results.

If that was your line of thinking, at least, you would have been very right. Lindblom had a quiet enough start to the game, but picked up steam as we went on. The highest highs, of course, were the two goals he picked up on the night, so let’s take a moment to take a look at those.

With both of these goals coming through his special teams time, it seems safe to say that he remains nicely settled in both a top power play and penalty kill role, but beyond this, there remains something to be said for sticking to his game. One of the hallmarks of his play that was saw up in Philly is his eagerness to set up in front of the net and look to create high danger chances, and it was for this type of work that he was rewarded last night. He’s not making dramatic changes, just sticking to what he does well, and reaping the benefits.

6. Old pals, part two

But wait, there’s more! The last time we saw Travis Sanheim, he was parked in the press box at the Wells Fargo Center, but no longer! Back with the Phantoms, he’s seen his role increase—we don’t have time on ice numbers available, but he was out there a lot at 5-on-5, and, additionally, was given time on both the top power play and penalty kill units. And he thrived.

He picked up an assist on Lindblom’s second goal, and stuck to the game that’s served him so well to date. His activity on the rush helped to generate some quality chances, and his pairing with Myers was one that was at once dynamic and effective, holding the Bruins off the board while they were on the ice. He looked settled both at even strength and on both the power play and penalty kill, operating on just another level.

And, I don’t know why you would, but you can never say that Sanheim didn’t learn anything from the Flyers—on a later game penalty kill, with the Bruins collapsing the crease and looking their most dangerous, Sanheim did the Andrew MacDonald starfish thing to block a shot. I mean, he did it well, and it worked, but the continuity was just too much. But I digress.

Brad said it in our BSH slack chat last night, that at this point it’s just funny to watch Sanheim and Lindblom playing in the AHL, because they’re both just so obviously too good to be there. And, hey, now that their presence here doesn’t mean that they’re losing out on a Flyers roster spot, we just get to enjoy it, them dominating everybody down in Allentown.

7.A note on quality chances

If this were a regular Flyers observations article, this is just about the time when we would check in with our old buddy the heat map, but alas, we don’t have access to one of those for this one. But never fear! I am dutiful and still have some numbers for you, so we’re ready to talk about shot quality. Get ready.

One of the more immediately striking elements of the Phantoms’ game is their emphasis on generating high danger chances. Indeed, in the first period alone they seemed to show a reticence to just throwing the puck in on net from the point and hoping for something, opting in favor of carrying the puck deeper into the zone to get something going closer to the crease. And the results were none too shabby—15 of their 19 shots generated in the first period alone came from high danger areas, with two of them facilitating both of their goals.

And, if nothing else, it was refreshing to watch, as they put their high powered offensive players in the best possible position to make something happen. And it worked for them. Beyond the two early goals, one of their apparent preferred plays—a centering pass from behind the net for an open teammate hovering around the crease—kept Binnington on his toes and brought them close to converting on more than one occasion. And while they saw a decrease in shots generated, in general, across the final 40 minutes, the emphasis on creating quality chances remained.

8. Holding on to momentum…

…or, you know, not. As we alluded to above, the high pressure that the Phantoms were able to create in the first period couldn’t be sustained through the final two. Where they were able to generate 19 shots in the first 20 minutes across all situations, in the final 40 minutes, they were only able to create 15 (nine and six in the second and third periods, respectively).

It’s not much of a secret why is happened—continued time on the penalty kill sapped their time and opportunities to generate for themselves at fives, and they allowed the Bruins the space to work to stage a comeback. We saw their once clean process break down, as they found themselves hemmed into their own zone for whole shifts, and, once they were finally able to get out, their entries into Providence’s zone less often controlled. But their goaltending camp up big for them, and their offense was able to capitalize on enough of their chances to let the keep with their cushioned lead (it was never less than a two-goal game in those last two periods) and eventually wrap up the win. The result was good, but the end of the saga, the process, wasn’t a pretty one.

9. Breaking through

And to pull this back into a more general space, to extend a nod for a more general piece well done, we should take a moment, in closing to talk about the Phantoms’ neutral zone play. The Bruins, a big and heavy team, were doing all that they could to thwart the Phantoms’ attempts to generate chances and enter the zone cleanly, but, particularly in the first half of the game, they just couldn’t seem to do so.

The Phantoms were doing well to simplify their passes in the middle of the ice, to make them cleanly to ensure that they could move through center with ease and, where possible, speed. The Bruins wanted to stand them up at the blue line and the Phantoms weren’t letting this happen. And to relate this to the big club just one more time, this was refreshing to see. And, of course, while we noted above that their attempts to get through the neutral zone weren’t always seamless, they were able to avoid being bogged down, and they reaped the benefits.

10. The only damn thing I know: Phantoms edition

Fooled you, didn’t I? The section’s making its triumphant return. We just couldn’t let it go.

So, what is it? The only damn thing I know? I really like how pretty much every hockey team’s adopted that one Arkells song for all of their pump up video needs. It makes sense, I guess, in that they’re a Canadian band and for the fact that the song definitely makes me want to punch through a wall (but, like, in a good way). It’s working and I’m really into it.

Also, as a tangent, I appreciate the continuity in the fact of the Phantoms using an Arkells song for my return to Allentown, considering I saw them open a tiny show six years ago in a venue that used to be three blocks away from the PPL Center, but no longer exists. Is this things almost coming full circle? Something like that.