Every Monday, GNGHockey will recap the past week for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Here is everything that happened for the week of Dec. 11th…
Lehigh Valley Phantoms (18-9-1-2, 39 points, 3rd in Atlantic)
Tuesday, Dec. 12th, 2017 – at Charlotte Checkers (6-3 win)
The Charlotte Checkers, a team the Phantoms are chasing in the Atlantic division, were winners of four straight heading into this game. It would be a special game for John Muse, who spent a large portion of his career in Charlotte, and finished his time there as the all-time leader in wins and game played. He was called up recently from Reading due to Alex Lyon heading to Philadelphia with Michael Neuvirth out. Tokarski would get the start.
Vecchione was scratched to start this one after suffering a cheap hit from behind in the last game against Hershey, but that didn’t stop the Martel line. Corban Knight was slotted next to Martel and Nicolas Aube-Kubel and, just 21 seconds in, they got Lehigh Valley on the board. Just under three minutes later, the line would strike again. TJ Brennan airmailed a puck from behind his own blue line to Martel, who batted it down at Charlotte’s blue line and centered it to Aube-Kubel. He gave it right back to Martel who shot it past Nedeljkovic’s shoulder into the net. Shortly after, a bad turnover at Charlotte’s blue line by Morin would get the Checkers on the board, as Gauthier took it in on a breakaway and beat Muse with a beautiful backhand move. The Phantoms would then take back-to-back penalties, and would pay both times, as Charlotte capitalized on both to take the lead. Gordon then pulled starting goaltender Dustin Tokarski, and put John Muse in against his former team.
Halfway through the second, the Phantoms would get a power play. The Checkers took a risky chance by rushing three players while shorthanded. It backfired, as Muse made the save and it sprung the Phantoms the other way. Varone gave it to Conner at the blue line, who gave it back to Varone in front of the net and he tapped it home. That swung the momentum. Lindblom scored just two minutes later. The Phantoms PP would capitalize again just a minute and a half into the 3rd. Charlotte, down by two, pulled their goaltender with four minutes to go. Aube-Kubel would ice the game with an empty netter, as the Phantoms took the first game 6-3.
Two undisciplined penalties in the first put the Phantoms in a hole, but their power play dug them out – they went 2 for 4 with an advantage on the night. John Muse was perfect in his debut for the Phantoms, stopping all 25 shots that his former team threw at him.
Wednesday, Dec. 13th, 2017 – at Charlotte Checkers (5-2 loss)
Scott Gordon was happy with Muse’s performance the night prior, and went back to him on a second game of a back-to-back in Charlotte. The Phantoms would be without Sam Morin, for had suffered an injury the game prior. Charlotte would get their second power play of the game when Conner went off for hooking with five minutes left in the first. The Checkers capitalized when a point shot from Kichton rattled around in the slot and bounced to Brown, who put it past a scrambling Muse. Just under two minutes into the second, the Phantoms would once again pay for undisciplined play, as Knight was called for slashing and the Checkers took advantage, pushing their lead to 2-0. Charlotte would score two more goals in the second to take a commanding 4-0 lead.
With time winding down in the second period, Tolchinsky was called off for slashing as the Phantoms went to the power play. A goal here would be crucial in setting the stage for a comeback. With some stick-to-stick passing in the neutral zone, the Phantoms power play hit the Charlotte line at full speed. Matt Read dished it to Lindblom and went for the net. Lindblom got a shot on and Read tapped home the rebound to get the Phantoms on the board with less than a minute left in the 2nd. It was his seventh point since returning to the Phantoms at the end of November. Read would get his second point of the night three minutes into the 3rd period with a secondary assist when he carried out a controlled zone entry and initiated a cross-ice pass to a breaking Friedman, who centered it to Fazleev in the slot, who tapped it home. The game was now 4-2. The Phantoms were given a power play just past the midpoint of the period, but were unable to convert. The Checkers would seal it with an empty netter, and the Phantoms dropped the second game of this back-to-back.
The penalty kill let up two power play goals for the second night in a row. The PK had been better of late, but the failure to stop the Checkers’ man-advantage was the difference. Muse was unable to replicate his solid performance the previous game, as he let in four goals on 27 shots.
Saturday, Dec. 16th, 2017 – vs. Syracuse Crunch (4-2 win)
The Phantoms had the opportunity to play spoilers in their game on Saturday night versus the Syracuse Crunch. Syracuse came into this game winners of ten straight, which was the second longest win streak in their franchise’s history. Scott Gordon continued to show confidence in the recent Reading call up John Muse, as he started his second straight game. The first period was a feeling out period between these two teams, with there being just one shot on goal per team during the first ten minutes. Both teams employ a speedy transition as a key part of their attack, and both teams were doing a good job of jamming up the neutral zone to prevent this sort of play. The Phantoms had a great opportunity when Danick Martel was left wide open in the slot, but his shot missed the net. That missed shot sprung the Crunch the other way, and Matthew Peca placed a beautiful shot over Muse’s shoulder to put the Crunch up 1-0. Shortly after, the Phantoms were called for too many men on the ice, and what was a good period for Lehigh ended poorly.
Phantoms were able to kill off the carryover power play, and then really took over the game. They would score three straight goals in the second, the third of which coming on the power play. The power play now has netted the Phantoms goals in each of the last three games. That is a good sign for a unit which has predominantly struggled on the advantage for most of the year. In the third period, Syracuse started to come on very strong, controlling the puck in LV’s zone for most of the first five minutes. Peca was then called for holding Lindblom, however, and the Phantoms were afforded some relief from the pressure. But at the midway point of the period, Carey was called for high-sticking. Syracuse peppered shots on Muse, but he was up to the task. Eventually though, shortly after the power play expired, Syracuse got another past John Muse to shorten the deficit; the game was now 3-2 in favor of the Phantoms. This year, the Phantoms have gotten into the habit of letting teams claw their way back into games. But tonight was different. Just three minutes later, thanks to a falling Syracuse defender, Knight and Martel went in on a 2-on-1. Knight slid it to Martel, who deposited the puck for his league-leading 16th goal of the year. Syracuse pulled their goaltender with four minutes to play, but the Phantoms held them off to win and end their ten-game win streak.
The power play scored in their third straight game. It is crucial to the team’s long term success to establish a more efficient power play – hopefully this is a starting point. The team was without Morin, Myers, McDonald, Vecchione, Vorobyev, and Lyon, but managed to win.
Sunday, Dec. 17th, 2017 – vs. Bridgeport Sound Tigers (3-2 OT win)
This is the fourth time these teams have faced each other thus far this year, with the Phantoms leading the series 3-0. Dustin Tokarski would get the start. The Phantoms are still without key pieces such as Morin, Myers, Vecchione, and MacDonald, the captain. Bridgeport started out fast, knocking Tokarski’s net off its moorings on a botched 2-on-1 just under a minute into the game. They eventually scored off a dump, chase, and center play just before the halfway point in the first. The period would end with Bridgeport up 1-0, leading the shots on goal battle 13-5.
Lehigh Valley would come out stronger in the 2nd. Just under three minutes into the period, Fazleev and Swavely took off on a 2-on-1. A great pass by Fazleev and better finish by Swavely tied the game, 1-1. Three minutes later, Martel would score his 17th of the season, extending his league-leading total. The 2nd period ended with the Phantoms up 2-1, but Bridgeport still leading in shots by a tally of 22-15. In the third, the Phantoms were in prevent mode. The Sound Tigers put up 17 shots on goal in the period alone. The Phantoms almost got out alive with that strategy until an untimely too many men on the ice was called with four minutes to go. On the power play, Bridgeport’s Aho took a shot from the point that was deflected by Bailey past Tokarski. This game was going to overtime.
Just under a minute into the 3v3 frame, Tokarski made a beautiful save on a cross ice one-time attempt from Bridgeport. It sprung Knight the other way, down right side. He wound up and blasted one top shelf over Christopher Gibson’s shoulder to win the game.
The Phantoms did not have a power play the entire game, so its impossible to know whether they could have increased the power play goal streak. Another win has been eked out by this coaching staff, despite suffering serious losses to injury.
Lehigh Valley Phantoms – Wednesday, 12/20 vs. Hartford Wolf Pack; Saturday, 12/23 at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins