Monday's Catch Up & Links 1/11

Monday, January 11, 2016
Robert Hagg took warm ups Sunday but was a healthy scratch. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home Newss
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are in the midst of a crucial stretch of games. A successful season-high five game road trip (3-0-2) got the Phantoms over the hump - one game above .500 for the first time all season. After following up that road success with zero standings points in a three-game weekend, the question remains as to whether or not the Phantoms can string together enough wins down the stretch to contend for a playoff spot.

The effort was there this weekend, and you can argue the Phantoms' had their opponents this past weekend on their heels for large portions each night. What has been keeping Lehigh Valley from winning on a consistent basis lately is simple, and is something most hockey teams go through during the course of a season. Finishing the chances they are generating and puck luck.

Most times when a team loses three straight games over the weekend, they are looking to make quite a few changes. The Phantoms don't need to make too many, if any, changes to their game plan following an 0-3 weekend. Simply repeating the need to bear down on their chances and working to build chemistry on the man advantage units during practice this week will do as they prepare for another three-game weekend to kick off the second half of the season.

A team that has been riddled with injuries - 18 different players have missed time in the half of the season - is starting to get healthy. The one thing the Phantoms have failed to have so far this season is consistent depth. Sure, every AHL team faces adversity, injuries and call ups - it comes with the territory of being a top minor league team in a developmental league. The Phantoms have faced that adversity the entire season and are still hovering around the .500 mark and on the bubble in terms of the playoff picture in mid-January.

Lehigh Valley Phantoms (17-19-2-1)

Last Week

Friday 1/8, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton - 4 at Lehigh Valley - 3

After an eventful first period that saw the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins combine for seven goals in a span of under 12 minutes, the two teams settled things down and played a scoreless final 40. Unfortunately for the Phantoms, they were on the other side of a 4-3 score Friday in a one-goal loss to their Atlantic Division rival Penguins.

Both teams started their goaltenders who were recently named to the 2016 AHL All-Star Classic in Syracuse scheduled for the end of this month, but their performances in the first period were contrary to the way they've played this season. Penguins goaltender Matt Murray allowed goals on his first three shots of the hockey game, while Anthony Stolarz surrendered four goals on 11 shots in 15:54 of play before being pulled in favor of Jason LaBarbera.

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms were the better team five-on-five in the first two periods but got away from things in the third period and were unable to secure any points in the standings in a 4-2 loss in Albany Saturday.

Joe Rehkamp and Davis Drewiske each tallied their first goals of the season for the Phantoms, with Rehkamp's goal early in the 2nd period his first career AHL goal on a puck he sniped to the top corner of the net. Unfortunately for the Phantoms, a pair of Albany power play goals and a bad Phantoms turnover early in the third prevented Lehigh Valley from making any progress in the standings.

It was Albany's sixth straight win and sometimes you have to tip your cap to the opponent, but the Phantoms really out-played the Devils in the first two periods at even strength and were not rewarded.

Sunday 1/10, Binghamton - 2 at Lehigh Valley - 1

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms put forth a formidable effort for the third straight night, again out-playing their opponent while 5-on-5. Just as in their two previous games this weekend, the Phantoms weren't able to finish some of their Grade A scoring chances.

With puck-luck not on their side, the Phantoms came up on the short end of a 2-1 score to the Binghamton Senators Sunday evening on Star Wars Night at PPL Center in front of a sellout crowd of 8,440 fans. On the season, the BSens are 4-1 against the Phantoms in five meetings.

Andrew MacDonald returned to the Phantoms' lineup and the first power play of the night generated several quality chances. The man-advantage unit had good puck possession and movement, but couldn't find the back of the net.

Anthony Stolarz rebounded from Friday night's game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. After being pulled Friday night surrendering four goals on 11 shots in 15:54 of work, the Phantoms' All-Star looked more like his normal self - stopping all but two of the 20 shots Binghamton sent his way.

The Week Ahead
Friday 1/15, Hershey at Lehigh Valley - 7:05 p.m. ET
Saturday 1/16, Hartford at Lehigh Valley - 7:05 p.m. ET
Sunday 1/17, Lehigh Valley at Bridgeport - 5:00 p.m. ET

  • Defenseman Andrew MacDonald returned to the lineup Sunday after missing the previous three games with an undisclosed injury. The Phantoms had been using five forwards on the 1st power play unit during MacDonald's absence.
  • MacDonald's return gave the Phantoms a bit of a lineup quandary. Not only did Lehigh Valley need to sit a defenseman to fit AMac into the lineup, they also needed to scratch a veteran to keep the team compliant under the veteran rule. Robert Hagg was a surprise healthy scratch on defense, Chris Conner, who just returned from a lengthy injury absence, played the two games prior to start last weekend's three-in-three.
  • Christian Marti returned from an upper body injury that kept him out of action since November 20th. The Swiss-born defenseman was reassigned to ECHL Reading and appeared in two games this weekend going pointless with a minus one rating. The Phantoms called Marti back up today.
  • Forward Evan Rankin has been released from his pro-tryout contract (PTO) with the Phantoms. In 24 games, Rankin tallied seven points (one goal, six assists) and was a reliable bottom-six forward for Lehigh Valley when he was in the lineup.
  • Sam Gagner has become more and more noticeable with each passing game with the Phantoms. Sunday evening, Gagner had his best game of the six he has played in the AHL - registering seven shots on goal and adding an assist while playing on a line with Nick Cousins and Taylor Leier.
Injured List: Kevin Sundher (lower body since 11/27), Michael Parks (upper body since 10/17) & Logan Pyett (out indefinitely)

Weekly Links

I wrote a pair of stories on forward Sam Gagner. One when he first arrived to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms about reviving his NHL career and a second one over the weekend about the Lecavalier/Schenn trade and the possibility of re-joining the Flyers now that there's room to fit him in and keep the Flyers under the salary cap.

I'm sure by now that everyone knows the Flyers have been able to move Vinny Lecavalier's contract in a trade with the Kings, but I first reported on the possibility of the Flyers re-assigning Scott Laughton to Lehigh Valley now that the Flyers have the cap room to bring Gagner back up and have added Jordan Weal.

Over the weekend, I posted my weekly look around the AHL's Eastern Conference in Saturday's Morning Skate (1/9).

As I do every month, I posted my monthly report on all Philadelphia Flyers prospects playing in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Click here to view the detailed December Grades Report.

I caught up with Binghamton Senators rookies Matt O'Connor and Nick Paul to talk about their adjustment to pro hockey and trying to keep an even-keel mindset on what was a struggling BSens team heading into 2016.

Another AHL feature of mine at Hockey's Future, I spoke with Bridgeport Sound Tigers All-Star defenseman Ryan Pulock about his big shot from the point and what he needs to work on to make his NHL debut this season with the New York Islanders.


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