Monday's Catch Up & Links 1/4

Monday, January 4, 2016
The Phantoms return home this weekend and host rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Friday night at PPL Center. Photo: Nina Weiss
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms (17-16-2-1) finished up a successful five-game road trip with a win Sunday that put them over the .500 mark for the first time this season - a barrier that seemed to be unattainable as the Phantoms had three or four other chances to surpass the mark and just couldn't do it.

The team will have a week of practices before a challenging 3-in-3 weekend beginning at home against rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Friday night. It doesn't get any easier as the team is in Albany Saturday night and back home Sunday to face a Binghamton team that has had their number this season.

The Phantoms are arguably playing their best hockey of the season right now. The penalty kill continues to be strong, both goaltenders are playing well and everyone seems to be on the same page.

Would you like to see the coverage of the team while they're on the road continue? Please lend a helping hand to keep me providing live coverage of the team while they're on the road this season by making a secure donation to my GoFundMe page.

Lehigh Valley Phantoms (17-16-2-1)

Last Week

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms did everything but score Tuesday night in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Binghamton Senators.

They dominated the first period, racking up 17 shots and taking a 1-0 lead on another Andrew MacDonald power play goal. MacDonald now has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his last 10 games.

From there, it was a goaltender's duel between Anthony Stolarz (39 saves - 40 shots) and Matt O'Connor (26 saves - 27 shots) until the BSens' goalie left the game with a lower body injury after making four or five highlight reel saves during a Phantoms' 5-on-3 power play.

Chris Driedger came on in relief and stopped all 12 shots he faced and all three attempts in the shootout to steal two points for Binghamton.Matt Puempel tied the game at 1-1 just 1:08 into the third period and tallied the lone shootout goal.

For the first time since March 21st, 2010, a Phantoms hockey team has left the Giant Center win a regulation win.

The Hershey Bears were 16-0-2-1 against the Phantoms in their last 19 visits to Hershey, but after two goals from Danick Martel as well as a power play tally from Aaron Palushaj and a dominant performance in net from Jason LaBarbera (27 saves - 28 shots) the Phantoms left Hershey with a 3-1 win on New Year's Eve to finish off the 2015 calendar year with a win.

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms squandered another chance to get above the .500 mark record-wise Saturday night in Portland, but remained unbeaten on the five-game road trip (2-0-1-1) with one game left on it after an overtime loss to the Portland Pirates.

All in all, a pretty even game. Petr Straka tallied his league-leading 17th of the year on the opening shift of the hockey game and after the Pirates responded with three unanswered goals to take a 3-1 lead Lehigh Valley tallied two goals late in the second period just 47 seconds apart.

Mark Alt and Aaron Palushaj tallied goals to send the two teams to the third period tied at 3-3 and despite several chances by both teams in the third, 60 minutes was not enough to decide a winner. In the extra session Kyle Rau finished the game with his second goal of the night for the Pirates.

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms (17-16-2-1) are over the .500 mark for the first time this season following a 2-1 win over the Portland Pirates to complete the five-game road trip - a road trip that saw them pick up points in each game going 3-0-2 while away from the PPL Center.

The Phantoms' penalty kill continues to come up big. They've now killed off 28 straight power plays and needed two big kills in the third period to hold onto their one goal lead. Jason LaBarbera was a big part of that, stopping 37 of 38 to pick up his third straight win.

Lehigh Valley jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals from Cole Bardreau and Nick Cousins, and despite being out shot 18-4 in the third period were able to hold on for the win and head back to Allentown on a positive note.

The Week Ahead

Friday 1/8, W-B/Scranton at Lehigh Valley - 7:05 p.m. ET
Saturday 1/9. Lehigh Valley at Albany - 5:00 p.m. ET
Sunday 1/0, Binghamton at Lehigh Valley - 5:05 p.m. ET

  • Jason LaBarbera is 3-0-0 in his last three starts, with a 0.67 goals-against average .980 save percentage and one shutout.
  • Defenseman Christian Marti will be back in the Phantoms' lineup this weekend. The Swiss-born defenseman has been out of action since November 20th after taking a vicious high hit from Providence Bruins' forward Andrew Cheriwchan.
  • Forward Danick Martel tallied three goals in his last games and is quietly tied for 2nd in the AHL among rookies with 13 goals scored on the season.
  • Forward Aaron Palushaj sat out Sunday's game with what was termed as illness, which has been taking its course through the locker room. Prior to that, Palushaj has been playing well - with six points (2G-4A) in his last seven games.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers reassigned forward Sam Gagner to Lehigh Valley last week and Gagner played in the team's last three games. I caught up with Gagner after Sunday's game in Portland and will have a story from my 1-on-1 interview with Gagner later this week.

Weekly Links

Last week at The Home News, my weekly Lehigh Valley Phantoms' print story was a loaded feature on the team's five-game road trip, goaltender Jason LaBarbera getting back into form and Petr Straka leading the league in goal scoring.

Two weeks back, the weekly Phantoms feature took an inside look at just how much work goes on behind the scenes through the eyes of Lehigh Valley Phantoms' head equipment manager Andy Rannells.

Over the weekend, I posted my weekly look around the AHL's Eastern Conference in Saturday's Morning Skate (1/2).

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'd be remiss if I didn't link to some coverage of the World Junior Championships.
Here's a video of a colleague at Hockey's Future catching up with Team Canada defensemen Joe Hicketts and Flyers prospect Travis Sanheim.
Here's a nice Q & A with Team Russia forward and Flyers prospect Radel Fazleev.
Some accurate insights on Sam Morin from Bill Meltzer of I've watched Morin closely all season long and what Meltzer has written about Morin is accurate on all accounts.


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