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."


Scott Gordon on the match up problem Utica has posed this season:
We have played this team three times now and it's been a struggle every game we have played against them. They are not really a good match up for us. Their size and their compete level - we didn't match it the way we needed to and we need to figure that out for the next time we play them.
Danick Martel:
We tried so hard [Friday]. We should have came into this game the same way and we came in the [exact] opposite. The effort was not there.
Martel on why the effort wasn't there:
I don't know. We didn't play with emotion. Maybe if we bring more emotion maybe the effort will follow after, but I don't know.
Mark Alt's thoughts:
Tonight it's worse. I thought we played well last night and the bounces didn't go our way. Tonight we didn't work hard enough, didn't play the systems the way they needed to be played to get the outcome we wanted, so it's a lot more frustrating tonight.

The Phantoms again brought energy from the opening face-off. Aaron Palushaj nearly gave Lehigh Valley an early lead, but his shot caught the post and bounced out. Unlike last night against Portland, the Phantoms were unable to sustain their early pressure and Utica grabbed control in a hurry.

After racking up a 6-2 advantage in the shot column, Utica took the 1-0 lead 8:15 into the contest after an offensive zone face-off win. Darren Archibald won the draw back and Ronald Kenins took control before sending a bank pass off the boards back to the point for David Shields, who blasted a hard shot through traffic past Anthony Stolarz for the game's opening goal.

The Comets continued to out-work the Phantoms, and they took a 2-0 lead about four and a half minutes later. Mike Zalewski fed Kenins in the slot for an uncontested shot that beat Stolarz to the spot for Kenins' 1st goal of the season. Jordan Subban tallied a secondary assist on the play 12:44 into the opening period.

The Phantoms cut the deficit in half late in the first frame after Taylor Leier was robbed of a goal by Comets' goaltender Richard Bachman. The puck squirted behind the net, where Chris Conner fed Phil DeSimone out in front for DeSimone's first tally as a Phantom with 4:25 left in the period.

The Comets out shot the Phantoms 15-6 in the opening period, and took the 2-1 lead into the middle frame.

Palushaj was at it again in the beginning of the 2nd period. He appeared to tie the game at 2-2 just 2:19 into the middle frame, poking home the rebound of a Danick Martel shot past Bachman. Unfortunately for the Phantoms, referee Tom Chmmielewski lost sight of the puck and blew the play dead before the puck had gone in.

Instead, it was Utica getting on the board to extend their lead to 3-1 just over a minute later. Zalewski picked up his second assist of the night, getting a puck ahead to Archibald for a snipe through a screen that eluded Stolarz 3:57 into the 2nd period.

Stolarz's night came to end after that goal, as he was replaced in net by Jason LaBarbera after surrendering three goals on 18 shots in 23:57 of work. It was Stolarz's first start in exactly two weeks.

It didn't get any better for Lehigh Valley from there, as the Comets out shot the Phantoms 16-5 in the middle frame and extended their lead to 4-1 with 7:51 left in the period on Cole Cassels' 2nd goal of the season. Ashton Sautner got the puck to Cassels in the slot, who was able to find the back of the net with a shot as he was falling to his knees.

In the third period the Phantoms pulled their goaltender with about seven and half minutes left, looking for any kind of spark down by three goals. Adam Comrie's stick broke as he received a pass at the point and Utica capitalized and Hunter Shinkaruk tallied the empty netter to make it 5-1 in a bad break that epitomized the way things have gone for the Phantoms this season, minus the lack of work and effort they put into tonight's game.

Danick Martel tallied his team leading 18th goal of the season with 5:03 left in regulation to complete the 5-2 final score on a feed from Taylor Leier. Sam Morin added a secondary assist in the loss.


Anthony Stolarz (15 saves - 18 shots) got the start in net for the Phantoms tonight after being re-assigned by Philadelphia on Thursday. He was pulled in favor of Jason LaBarbera (20 saves - 21 shots) after surrendering the three goals in 23:57 of work. It was Stolarz's first AHL regular season start in exactly two weeks, with his last action coming in the AHL All-Star Challenge in Syracuse.

Andrew MacDonald was recalled by the Flyers this evening before the Phantoms took the ice for warmups. With Michael Del Zotto injured in Philadelphia, the Flyers needed a defenseman and no one was more deserving than AMac.

With MacDonald's departure, Robert Hagg returned to the lineup after sitting out Friday's game against Portland as a healthy scratch.

Pavel Padakin sat out as the team's lone healthy scratch, his second straight game sitting out.

Scratches: Kevin Sundher (lower body since 12/27), Michael Parks (upper body since 10/17), Pavel Padakin (healthy), Tim Brent (hand/wrist surgery), Jay Rosehill (undisclosed) and Logan Pyett (out indefinitely)


Petr Straka - Cole Bardreau - Colin McDonald (C)
Taylor Leier - Phil DeSimone - Chris Conner
Danick Martel - Kevin Goumas - Aaron Palushaj
Tyrell Goulbourne - Joe Rehkamp - xxxxxxxxxxxx

Sam Morin - Mark Alt
Davis Drewiske (A) - Christian Marti
Robert Hagg - Max Lamarche
Adam Comrie

Anthony Stolarz - Jason LaBarbera


1st Period

8:15: UTI - Shields (2) - Kenins, Archibald
12:44: UTI - Kenins (1) - Zalewski, Subban
15:35: LV - DeSimone (1) - Conner, Leier
16:03: LV - (PP) Straka, minor (tripping)

2nd Period

3:57: UTI - Archibald (6) - Zalewski, Shields
12:09: UTI - Cassels (2) - Sautner, Fedun

3rd Period

10:13: UTI - (PP) Pedan, minor (hooking)
13:43: UTI - ENG Shinkaruk (20) - Grenier
15:57: LV - Martel (18) - Leier, Morin


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