Frustration Mounting For Phantoms Following Loss to Utica

Saturday, February 13, 2016
Phantoms unable to muster much of anything against Utica in a bitter defeat. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home News
Another frustrating loss by the Lehigh Valley Phantoms - a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Utica Comets tonight - has the team's playoff hopes fading away into the horizon. They trail fourth place Providence by seven points with three more games played than the Bruins and trail fifth place Bridgeport by eight points with two more games played than the Sound Tigers after Bridgeport's eighth straight win tonight.

What makes tonight's loss more frustrating, according to forward Danick Martel and defenseman Mark Alt, was the lack of emotion and sustained effort by the team that resulted in their demise.

It didn't help that starting goaltender Anthony Stolarz was off his game, having not played in over two weeks and barely seeing any practice time during his recent recall to Philadelphia. It also didn't help that the Phantoms lost their leader on defense in Andrew MacDonald just hours before taking the ice for warm ups tonight - recalled by Philadelphia due to an injury to Michael Del Zotto.

What is left for Lehigh Valley is 25 games on the schedule. It's up to the remaining guys in the locker room to look themselves in the mirror and find a way to turn things around in a hurry.

"Absolutely, I think so," Alt said when asked if the Phantoms are still capable of making a run toward the postseason. "We have the talent in here. Tonight we didn't work, but we can work and if we get back to doing that we will be just fine."

Andrew MacDonald Recalled by Flyers

Andrew MacDonald is returning to Philadelphia. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home News
The Philadelphia Flyers have recalled defenseman Andrew MacDonald from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The recall comes after Flyers' defenseman Michael Del Zotto was injured in this afternoon's game against the New Jersey Devils and is expected to be out long term.

MacDonald was the Phantoms' active leading scorer upon the time of his recall, and was arguably playing his best hockey of the season. He was in the midst of an AHL-season high nine-game points scoring streak (0G-14A) and led all AHL defensemen with 31 assists while being second among AHL defensemen in power play assists.

While with Lehigh Valley, it quickly became evident that MacDonald was not an AHL player. He was easily the best defenseman on the team and played a pivotal role in the Phantoms' success on the ice and off the ice mentoring the younger prospects on the team.

"He's a top-notch guy, I knew that coming into the year having him when I was with the Islanders," Phantoms' head coach Scott Gordon said after Friday's 3-1 loss to Portland. "He's a great leader, and it doesn't surprise me what he has done."

Game 51 Preview: Utica at Lehigh Valley

Anthony Stolarz (pictured) expected to be back between the pipes for Lehigh Valley tonight against Utica. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home News
I'll be live from PPL Center tonight with full coverage of tonight's Phantoms game against the Utica Comets. The puck drops at 7:05 p.m. ET, but make sure you're following me on Twitter -> @TonyAndrock and now on Facebook (be sure to like the Facebook page!) for all the latest updates and information this evening.

You can also help keep me on the road covering the team by making a donation via my GoFundMe page. Stay tuned here online after the game for a recap of the action complete with player reaction.

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms (23-24-2-1) are beginning to run out of time to make a push toward playoff contention, and with 26 games left are in near must-win mode tonight against the Utica Comets (23-17-4-3) who have won seven of their last ten games.

Not for lack of effort, but last night at the PPL Center the Phantoms came up short to the Portland Pirates despite registering a season-high 46 shots on goal. They face no easy task tonight against a solid Utica team with a good mix of talent up front and on the back end.

Lehigh Valley enters tonight trailing 4th Providence (56 points) by seven points for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. The Phantoms (49 points) trail 5th place Bridgeport (55 points) by six points for a potential crossover playoff spot in the North Division if the 5th place team in the Atlantic finishes with more points than the 4th place team in the North (currently St. John's with 52 points).

Extra pregame reading:
Saturday's Morning Skate (2/13) - Weekly look around AHL's Eastern Conference
Hockey's Future - Utica Comets leading scorer Hunter Shinkaruk
Utica Observer-Dispatch: Jason LaBarbera
News, notes, stats, numbers and a whole bunch more after the jump.

Saturday's Morning Skate 2/13

Lehigh Valley takes on Utica tonight. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home News
The window of opportunity for teams towards the bottom of the standings is beginning to close as the final two months of the season wind down. Points are now at a premium. Chances and mistakes are magnified. The intensity ramps up with every shift.

That's the name of the game in the American Hockey League and with Valentines Day approaching there is no love lost on the ice, just two teams battling for points in an effort to either solidify their playoff position or try to make a last ditch effort toward making a postseason push.

The Atlantic Division has some of the hottest teams in the league right now, as Providence hasn't lost in regulation their last 15 games (11-0-3-1) and Bridgeport carries a seven-game win streak into their game tonight against a Hartford team that had won nine in a row before last week.

Atlantic Division Standings (through 2/12's games)

1. W-B/Scranton: 48 games played, 32-14-1-1 = 66 points (.688 PCT)
2. Hershey: 51 games played, 27-14-3-7 = 64 points (.627 PCT)
3. Portland: 46 games played, 27-18-1-0 = 55 points (.598 PCT)
4. Providence: 48 games played, 23-15-8-2 = 56 points (.583 PCT)
5. Bridgeport: 48 games played, 26-19-2-1 = 55 points (.573 PCT)
6. Hartford: 48 games played, 24-22-2-0 = 50 points (.521 PCT)
7. Lehigh Valley: 50 games played, 23-24-2-1 = 49 points (.490 PCT)
8. Springfield: 46 games played, 18-22-3-3 = 42 points (.457 PCT)

Puck Luck (Again) Dooms Phantoms in Loss to Portland

Friday, February 12, 2016
Phantoms and Pirates on a Friday night in Allentown.
A season-high 46 shots on goal for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms was not enough tonight against Portland in a 3-1 loss to the Pirates. Despite dominating much of the play, the Phantoms came out with zero points.

Portland was opportunistic, scoring on their first shot of the first period which came over eight minutes into the game. After being out-shot 14-0 in the second period, they were able to re-gain the lead late in the period and ultimately rode their goaltender Mike McKenna to two points.

McKenna stole the show, not only stopping 45 of the 46 shots he faced but also adding two assists in the win for Portland which snapped their three-game losing skid.

Chris Conner scored the lone tally for Lehigh Valley, who desperately need points heading down the stretch seven points behind fourth place Providence with 26 games left on their regular season schedule. The Phantoms host Utica Saturday night at the PPL Center at 7:05 p.m. ET.

Thoughts from head coach Scott Gordon, Chris Conner and Andrew MacDonald after the jump.