Saturday's Morning Skate 4/30

Saturday, April 30, 2016
The Portland Pirates can finish off the Hershey Bears tonight. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home News
The 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs are all but set for round two as the Ontario Reign and San Diego Gulls punched their ticket to the Western Conference Semifinals with wins last night. The two teams will play each other in a best-of-seven series starting Thursday night in Ontario, California.

As for the Eastern Conference, there is one first round series still undecided. The Portland Pirates put the Hershey Bears on the brink of elimination Thursday night at the Giant Center after two unanswered goals - including Rob Flick's goal in triple overtime - gave the Pirates a big win. The Pirates can advance to the second round with a win tonight in Hershey.

If the Bears stave off elimination tonight, the two teams will battle in a winner take all Game Five Sunday afternoon with the winner advancing to play the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the Atlantic Division finals.

The North Division finals series between Albany and Toronto kicks off Wednesday night in Toronto in an intriguing match up between a high flying offense (Toronto) and a solid shut it down defense (Albany). It's a match up of the top two teams in the East in most people's minds, with the winner one step away from the Calder Cup Finals.


Lehigh Valley Phantoms April Grades - Monthly Prospect Report

Sunday, April 24, 2016
The Phantoms have brighter days ahead. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home News
Editor's note: The monthly feature aimed to inform fans about the progress the prospects have made each month is back. This is the seventh and final installment of the Flyers' AHL monthly prospect report for he 2015-16 season and reflects the month of April, which spans an 8-game stretch from April 1st to April 17th. For any of the previous month's reports, click below:
October Prospect Report
November Prospect Report 
December Prospect Report
January Prospect Report
February Prospect Report
March Prospect Report 
Entering April - the final month of the season - the Lehigh Valley Phantoms were out of the postseason race, but still had a buzz surrounding the locker room thanks to the arrival of several of Philadelphia Flyers prospects including defensemen Reece Wilcox and Travis Sanheim and forwards Oskar Lindblom and Nicolas Aube-Kubel.

April saw the Phantoms match their season-high winning streak (five games) while finishing with wins in seven of their final 10 games - including a 5-2 win over the Syracuse Crunch in last Sunday's season finale.

The plan is to have a more detailed analysis of each player on a player-by-player basis as the spring extends into the summer, so be sure to stay tuned in here during the off-season.

Special Teams

Power Play
                                                 
Season Stats: 76 games played, 52 for 311 = 16.7% - 16th in AHL (5 shorthanded goal against)
April Stats: 8 games played, 5 for 32 = 15.6% (2 shorthanded goals against)

Penalty Kill
                                                 
Season Stats: 76 games played, 259 for 308 = 84.1% - 10th in AHL (8 shorthanded goals for)
April Stats: 8 games played, 44 for 47 = 93.6% (2 shorthanded goals for)

April's Three Stars

First Star - Forward Oskar Lindblom - Grade A+
2015-16 Season Stats (SHL): 48GP, 8G-17A, +3, 14 PIM
April Stats (AHL): 8GP, 2G-5A, +1, 0 PIM

Lindblom joined the Phantoms and made an immediate impact, almost seamlessly transitioning to North American pro hockey in the AHL. Head coach Scott Gordon said Lindblom is way ahead of the curve for a 19-year-old forward and that the Flyers are very excited about his potential.

Second Star - Goaltender Martin Ouellette - Grade A
2015-16 Season Stats (ECHL): 30GP, 17-10-3, 2.10 GAA, .922 SV%, 4 SO
April Stats (AHL): 3GP, 3-0-0, 0.33 GAA, .990 SV%, 2 SO

It was a great opportunity for Ouellette to get in some AHL games as the Phantoms' season came to an end. He was pulled 12 minutes into his first start at the end of March, but then he rebounded well winning five straight games and recording back-to-back shutouts - his first two in the AHL - before being reassigned to Reading to be their playoff goaltender.

Third Star - Forward Colin McDonald - Grade A
2015-16 Season Stats: 51GP, 14G-18A, -6, 30 PIM
April Stats: 7GP, 2G-5A, +1, 2 PIM

McDonald led by example in April by not only playing his physical, tone-setting style but also producing offensive at a point-per-game rate. He was called up by the Flyers prior to the season finale, and has appeared in two Stanley Cup Playoff games in their first round series against the Capitals. Signed in the organization for two more years, the Phantoms might have their captain for the future.

An update on every player on the AHL roster after the jump.

Saturday's Morning Skate 4/23

Saturday, April 23, 2016
The Portland Pirates look to take a 2-0 series lead tonight against Hershey. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home News
The first round of the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs is upon us and tonight all eight divisional semifinals series are in action.

So far in the Eastern Conference, home ice advantage has been prime. The home teams are a combined 4-0 with three of those four wins coming by teams playing a higher seeded opponent.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who entered their series against the Providence Bruins as underdogs, won both of their home games and have the PBruins on the brink of elimination tonight as the series shifts to Providence for Game Three of the best-of-five series.

At this time of the year, throw the regular season records and stats out the window. They mean just about nothing, except for the seeding in the postseason. Several incoming prospects who were eliminated from their respective Canadian junior league playoffs have joined AHL clubs and look to help put their team over the top.

Top prospects like Pavel Zacha (Albany/New Jersey), Lawson Crouse (Portland/Florida) and Daniel Sprong (W-B/Scranton/Pittsburgh) have all joined the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs looking to make an immediate impact.


Penguins Strike First To Take Game One

Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Playoff hockey at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre
If tonight's game - a 3-2 overtime win for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins - is any indication, this is shaping up to be a hard-fought Atlantic Division Semifinals series.

The Penguins, heading into the series as the underdogs, took advantage of home ice tonight - jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the opening 20:18 of play on goals from rookie Jake Guentzel and veteran Dustin Jeffrey that proved to be very important.

The Providence Bruins battled their way back in the final 40 minutes of regulation, cutting the deficit in half late in the second period when leading scorer Seth Griffith finished off a tic-tac-toe passing play and tying things up in the middle part of the third period on a shorthanded tally by Colby Cave.

In the end, the Penguins' fore-checking pressure was too much for the PBruins to handle as Carter Rowney tallied the game-winning goal just 1:09 into the extra session to give the Pens a one games to none lead in the best-of-five series.

Thoughts from Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy and former Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward Max Talbot after the jump.


Monday's Catch Up 4/18

Monday, April 18, 2016
The Phantoms have plenty of players returning next year. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home News
The American Hockey League's (AHL) 2015-16 season has come and gone quickly as it seems to do every year. The 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs are set, beginning Wednesday night as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins host the Providence Bruins in Game One of the Atlantic Division Semifinals. Here's a link to the schedules for all the AHL's first round, best-of-five series.

Even with the season over and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms not in the postseason, things will still be very busy here. Currently, the plan is to cover some AHL playoff games while also getting started on several off-season topics, stories and prospect updates.

I'll have more details about my off-season writing schedule in the coming days as I sort everything out, but be on the lookout this week for some AHL playoff coverage and the final edition of the monthly prospect report on Flyers prospects who played in the AHL with the Phantoms during the month April.

After the jump, a variation to the format of Monday's weekly story starting with a glance ahead to who is under contract next season, the salary cap situation and who the impending free agents are with regards to both the NHL and AHL team.