Morin, Myers, Alt, Brennan, and O’Neill have all been missing at some point so far this season for the Phantoms, either due to a Flyers’ call up or an injury. Currently, Mark Alt is with the Flyers, and the Phantoms’ top-two defensemen at the beginning of the season, Philippe Myers and Sam Morin, are out with injuries. This has caused the Phantoms to dig into the ECHL, recalling defensemen James de Haas and Adam Comrie. Will O’Neill returned to the Phantoms’ lineup following the return of Shayne Gostisbehere to the Flyers, which is great news for the team. However, this revolving door of defense has caused issues for Lehigh Valley, as poorly timed turnovers have lead to opponents clawing their way back into games.
However, despite the inconsistency on defense, it hasn’t stopped Lehigh Valley from getting off to a great start. They have lost just three games in regulation – out of 14 games played thus far – and the offense has been one of the most potent in the league. The Phantoms have scored the most goals for in the league with 52, but with the defensive issues, only sport a +6 goal differential. Additionally, they have the most shots for in the league, with 449, but have the second most shots against, with 441.
The Phantoms have scoring threats on each of their four offensive lines. The Martel-Vecchione-Aube-Kubel line is causing the most fits for opposing goaltenders, combining for an insane 38 points just 14 games into the season. Martel has 14 goals in as many games, and is currently on a six-game goal streak. His 14 tallies lead the league, and it’s not even close – no other player has even broke ndouble digits yet, with his closest competition being Wilkes-Barre Scranton’s Daniel Sprong with 8 tallies. Martel also leads the league in points with 19. He has an insane 29.2 Sh% so far and 18 of his league-leading 19 points are primary points (meaning that either he scored or his play directly lead to the goal). Only one of his 14 tallies are insurance goals, meaning that almost none of them occurred in garbage time.
The advanced metrics indicate that some players may be punching above their weight. Team-wide, however, it’s a different story. The Phantoms only have a 2.02% Sh percentage, which ranks 20th in the AHL, and suggests that they aren’t experiencing an overwhelming amount of lucky goals. Another stat to back this up is PDO, which is a team’s shot percentage plus their shooting percentage. It is generally considered to be a measure of a team’s “puck luck.” The theory is that most team regress to 100. Well, right now the Phantoms are measured at 99.01. This stat suggests that their offensive scoring is not only sustainable, but they might get a little better!
Tied for fourth and fifth overall in points are Phil Varone (14 points) and Mike Vecchione (13 points). After scoring 10 points in the Phantoms’ first 10 games, Vecchione was given the nod for Rookie of the Month for October. Vecchione and Martel unquestionably have great chemistry, which is the reason that head coach Scott Gordon has left that line as the only one untouched thus far. Oscar Lindblom is also heating up after a slow start – after kicking off his first season with 0 points in 5 games, he now has 3 goals and 6 assists, for 9 total points, in 8 games. Lindblom heating up adds another speedy, goal-scoring threat to an already fearsome offensive unit. Another player causing headaches for opposing defenses is Varone. Phil Varone was a transplant from the Binghamton Senators last year, and he ended the 2016-2017 campaign with 15 goals and 36 points, his best year in the AHL so far.
One of the most impressive stats I found was that not a single one of the Phantoms league-leading 52 goals has gone unassisted. This really speaks to the great team-oriented attack that they deploy. The Phantoms also work a fast break out that leads to plenty of goals in transition, and the top-2 lines are also extremely effective at forechecking, which causes a majority of their goals to originate from behind the net when they maintain offensive zone pressure. They have a very balanced offense, with five players already having broken double digits in points. Only one other team has such scoring parity, the Laval Rockets, who also boast five.
The team has done a fantastic job of scoring so far, making up for the handicapped defense. It has led to the Phantoms having the most points in the league, as well as the fourth-best win percentage. It’s fun to imagine just how good this team can be when they get their top two defensemen back in the lineup.
The Phantoms face off against the Hershey Bears in Hershey on Saturday night.