Monday's Catch Up & Links (2/23)

Monday, February 23, 2015
The Phantoms' home woes at PPL Center have continued and Lehigh Valley remains on the outside looking in when talking about the postseason race.
 Only eight weeks left in the AHL's 2014-15 regular season, and with less than 25 games remaining on every team's schedule - the pressure and intensity gets ramped up heading into March.

While the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are comfortably in 4th place in the Eastern Conference, earning points in 12 of their last 13 games, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms are entering the week seven points out of the final playoff spot in the conference - continuing to lose on home ice.

Both teams have Friday night off, but the Penguins are in the midst of a six-game road trip that sees them in the Northeast this weekend. The Phantoms are in the midst of mostly home games, where they look to end their losing skid at the PPL Center.

Penguins Pushing For 14th Consecutive Playoff Berth

If not for an incredible run by the Hershey Bears since the calendars turned to 2015, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins would be sitting pretty atop the East Division. Instead, they're five points behind Hershey despite going 10-1-1-1 in their last 13 games.

What is interesting about the recent streak is to whom the losses were to. Their only regulation loss during that streak? A 6-2 home loss to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms back on January 31st. The Pens' shootout loss during the 13-game hot streak? That same Phantoms team two weeks later on Valentine's Day - again on home ice at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Now of course, rising star Matt Murray wasn't in net on the Valentine's Day shootout loss. But with the Penguins up 2-0 on Lehigh Valley at the end of January, it was Murray in net - pulled after allowing three goals on 12 shots 5:10 into the 2nd period. Obviously, it's been Murray's only blemish in quite some time and he's clearly not a guy worried about numbers or statistics but is his last game against Lehigh Valley lingering in his mind at all? (Side note: Murray's two other starts against LV was a 42-save win and a 23/24 performance in an OT win.)

With 22 games left on their regular season schedule, the Penguins still have five games left against the Phantoms - including four trips down the turnpike to Allentown. They'll be facing a Phantoms team starting to feel the heat of needing to win games, currently 11th in the Eastern Conference and seven points out of the playoffs.

In the meantime, the Pens are playing arguably their best hockey of the season right now and sit 4th in the conference - well on their way to an incredible 14th straight year in the postseason. They'll continue on in their six game road trip next weekend with game number two - back in Hartford against the Wolfpack.

Up Next

Saturday (2/28) at Hartford, 7:00 p.m. EST
Sunday (3/1) at Bridgeport, 3:00 p.m. EST


Jeff Zatkoff got the start in net Sunday afternoon for the Penguins, while Matt Murray was given the day off after another shutout - a 22-save shutout - Saturday night at home against Providence.

No changes on defense as Alex Boak was the seventh defenseman and a healthy scratch for the second straight game of the weekend.

With injuries to Nick Drazenovic and Bryan Rust and now the uncertainty of Bobby Farnham's status, the AHL Penguins called up forwards Josh Archibald and J-S Dea from their ECHL affiliate Wheeling in addition to defenseman Harrison Ruopp.

Scratches: Alex Boak (healthy), Nick Drazenovic (upper body, week-to-week), Bryan Rust (lower body) and Anton Zlobin (shoulder surgery - out for season).

Lines from Sunday's game vs. Hartford

Conor Sheary - Andrew Ebbett - Tom Kostopoulos
Scott Wilson - Jayson Megna - Bobby Farnham
Tom Kuhnhackl - Carter Rowney - Dominik Uher
Pierre-Luc Leblond - Matia Marcantuoni - Adam Payerl

Taylor Chorney - Brian Dumoulin
Reid McNeill - Scott Harrington
Nick D'Agostino - Barry Goers

Jeff Zatkoff - Matt Murray

Home Woes Plague Phantoms  

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms currently sit seven points out of the eighth and final playoff spot, meaning every single one of their 23 remaining games are increasingly more important. They've lost their last seven games at home (0-5-2-0) and after going 10-2-2-1 on home ice to start the season, the Phantoms have just two home wins in 11 games at the PPL Center in the 2015 calendar year.

The players in the locker room are well aware of both situations.

"This is our playoffs right now," defenseman Brandon Manning said after Wednesday night's OT loss to Binghamton. "If we don't start winning games and picking up two points every night, we're not going to make it. Guys have to realize that."

"This is a really important time of the year," forward Brett Hextall said following Friday night's 5-1 blowout loss to Providence, adding, "We are getting to that point where we don't have time to waste, we don't have games to waste, we don't have periods to waste. Sometimes one period can lose you a game. We've lost too many at home here lately and we need to turn that around if we want to make the playoffs."

The Phantoms are in the midst of a stretch of seven games where six of those seven are on home ice. They dropped the first three home games of the seven game segment, but the team's goal of making the playoffs isn't out of reach just yet.

Despite another overtime loss Saturday night to Hartford, the Phantoms found a recipe for success if sustained over a full sixty minutes.

"I really like the way we played," head coach Terry Murray said after the Saturday's game. "We played as good a game as we have played on the road when we were winning just recently. We had everyone on board. Everything was there except the goaltending, it wasn't good enough.

"I thought we played pretty well," Nick Cousins said, adding," One bad miscue there in overtime and they go down and score, but I think we outplayed them for the most part of the game. Obviously one point isn't what we were looking for, but we have to take the positives of tonight and build on it this week."

Up Next 

Saturday (2/28) vs. Binghamton, 7:05 p.m. EST
Sunday (3/1) at Hershey, 5:00 p.m. EST


Martin Ouellette got the start in net Saturday against Hartford. After being pulled late in the 2nd period last night, Anthony Stolarz served as the team's backup goaltender until coming on in relief of Ouellette 8:21 into the 2nd period.

With neither goaltender making it through their scheduled start this weekend, it's becoming more clear just how much the Phantoms are missing Rob Zepp - who by the way is coming off of back-to-back wins this weekend over Nashville and Washington.

In Philadelphia, Ray Emery has been sidelined with a nagging injury which has necessitated the recall of rookie Anthony Stolarz from Lehigh Valley. It's still possible that one of Emery or Steve Mason could be healthy enough to return to action for the Flyers before the Phantoms next play on Saturday night at home against Binghamton. For now, Martin Ouellette remains as the only goalie at the AHL level while Connor Knapp is with the Phantoms' ECHL affiliate in Reading. (EDIT: The Phantoms recalled Knapp from Reading Tuesday morning.)

Much as you would expect after a pair of losses leading up to Saturday's game vs. Hartford, there were a few lineup changes.

On defense, Jesper Pettersson returned to the third pairing alongside Oliver Lauridsen. Steven Delisle was scratched for Pettersson in what Terry Murray termed a coaches decision. Delisle said he is healthy.

Up front, Darroll Powe missed tonight's game with what was termed as being sick by the team. Derek Mathers made his return to the lineup after a recent stint as a healthy scratch.

Scratches: Steven Delisle (healthy), Shayne Gostisbehere (ACL surgery in November), Blair Jones (lower body) and Darroll Powe (sick)

Lines from Saturday's game vs. Hartford

Petr Straka - Nick Cousins - Jason Akeson
Taylor Leier - Scott Laughton - Andrew Gordon
Jay Rosehill - Austin Fyten - Brett Hextall
Zack Stortini - Kevin Goumas - Derek Mathers

Brandon Manning - Mark Alt
Adam Comrie - Robert Hagg
Oliver Lauridsen - Jesper Pettersson

Martin Ouellette - Anthony Stolarz

Weekly Links

It wouldn't be Monday without Eric Majeski's weekly "Talking to Myself" post at Pensburgh. This week, Eric's post takes a look at Pens Week, Pens Radio 24/7's weekly recap.

AHL Penguins beat writer Tom Venesky of the Times Leader had this well written update on the transformation of Penguins prospect Tom Kuhnhackl.

If you missed it on Friday, Lehigh Valley Phantoms forward Andrew Gordon and I were on this past week's episode of the Power Play Post Show talking AHL hockey with host Bob Howard. My roughly 23-minute segment starts around the 1:10:00 mark and focuses on the Phantoms stretch run and players of importance to the team.

Last week's Phantoms story for The Home News took a look at the re-united duo of  rookies Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier. This week, stay tuned for a feature on Zack Stortini - a power forward that has truly embraced his role and is seeing his hard work pay off having a career season with the Phantos this year.

This next link is not a typo. A 12-0 score in an ECHL game between Toledo and Gwinnett. In a span of 6:11 midway through the 2nd period, Toledo scored five goals. Incredible.


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