Monday's Catch Up & Links 2/8

Monday, February 8, 2016
Phantoms playoff hopes slipping away. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home News
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If the Lehigh Valley Phantoms are going to make a push towards the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs, it has to begin right now, starting today and tomorrow in practice. The team has a home stand at the PPL Center approaching Wednesday with five straight home games and seven of the next eight in downtown Allentown.

They do not have any more meetings this season with fourth place Providence Bruins, who currently own the last playoff spot in the Atlantic Division - five points ahead of the seventh place Phantoms with two fewer games played. They do, however have games coming up against fifth place Bridgeport and sixth place Hartford that can either put them back into playoff contention or remove them almost entirely with nothing but a prayer to sneak into the postseason.

It seems like just about every team in the Atlantic Division is playing their best hockey of the season right now. The red hot Hershey Bears are unbeaten in 12 games (9-0-2-1) and the Bruins unbeaten in their last 13 (9-0-3-1). Bridgeport has won six in a row and Hartford has won nine of their last 11 games.

Making up ground in the division will be no easy task for Lehigh Valley. It took their five-game win streak heading into the All-Star break to even bring them back into the playoff conversation. All it took to put them on the ropes again was back-to-back losses this past weekend.

The math is simple. The Phantoms need to pick up two points on Wednesday night at home against Binghamton and move on from there. Cliche as it is, the one game at a time approach is the sole focus of this team right now, trying to claw their way back into postseason contention.

A quick look back at last weekend's frustration, as well as a look ahead this week's games, the latest news/notes surrounding the team and weekly links to tons of exclusive AHL coverage after the jump.

Lehigh Valley Phantoms (22-23-2-1)

Last Week

Friday 2/5. Lehigh Valley - 3 at Bridgeport - 6

The Phantoms jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first nine and a half minutes, looking to be on their way to a season-high sixth straight win. According to forward Chris Conner, the Phantoms simply were out-worked from that point on - being outscored 6-1 in the final 50 minutes in route to a 6-3 loss to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at the Webster Bank Arena.

Danick Martel provided all the offense for Lehigh Valley, tallying his first career professional hat trick. His third goal of the night, which came 6:52 into the middle frame, gave him 17 goals on the season which is the most goals by a rookie in the AHL. It just wasn't enough to get the Phantoms two points in the standings.

Saturday 2/6, Lehigh Valley - 1 at Hershey - 5

After a five-game win streak heading into the All-Star break brought the Phantoms back into the playoff conversation, back-to-back losses this past weekend - including a 5-1 drubbing in Hershey Saturday - have the Phantoms looking in the proverbial mirror with only themselves to ask if a run towards the postseason is still within reach.

The Hershey Bears are simply playing some great hockey down the stretch, extending their unbeaten in regulation streak to 11 games (8-0-2-1) behind a hat trick performance from Travis Boyd. Chris Bourque added a goal and two assists, while Justin Peters improved to 11-6-5 on the season with 26 saves on 27 shots for Hershey.

The Phantoms lone tally on the night came late in the second period courtesy Aaron Palushaj, which appeared to give Lehigh Valley life before Hershey answered 39 seconds later to re-gain full control.

The Week Ahead

Wednesday 2/10, Binghamton at Lehigh Valley - 7:05 p.m. ET
Friday 2/12. Portland at Lehigh Valley - 7:05 p.m. ET
Saturday 2/13, Utica at Lehigh Valley - 7:05 p.m. ET

  • Goaltender Anthony Stolarz did not get a single day off as one day after the 2016 AHL All-Star Challenge in Syracuse he was recalled by the Philadelphia Flyers because of an injury to Michal Neuvirth. He backed up Steve Mason for the Flyers in the NHL club's last three games. Neuvirth's original timetable was a week to 10 days, so with tomorrow being a week since the recall it's possible Stolarz could be back with the Phantoms this weekend.
  • With Stolarz recalled by the Flyers, the Phantoms called up Martin Ouellette from Reading to back up Jason LaBarbera this past weekend. After LaBarbera surrendered five goals on 20 shots through 40 minutes of play Sunday in Hershey, head coach Scott Gordon had Ouellette finish the game - stopping all 16 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes of regulation for his first AHL action since November 28th.
  • After the Phantoms' morning skate in Bridgeport Friday, they lost another player to Philadelphia in forward Nick Cousins - earning the nod after it was found out that Sean Couturier will be out four weeks with a lower body injury. Cousins was put right into the lineup on Saturday and played well before earning his first career NHL point, an assist, Sunday in Washington against the NHL's top team.
  • With Cousins in the NHL for the foreseeable future, Andrew MacDonald is now the Phantoms' active leading scorer with 33 points (five goals, 28 assists) in 41 games. Chris Conner had his eight-game points scoring streak snapped in Saturday night's loss to Hershey, but is a close second on the team in scoring with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in 31 games this season.
Weekly Links

Last week at The Home News, my weekly Phantoms feature looked at the team's five-game win streak and the Phantoms' representation at this year's AHL All-Star Classic held in Syracuse, New York, This week, a story on Nick Cousins you won't want to miss - through the eyes of his father Brian reminiscing his son's childhood playing hockey.

Colin McDonald was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the week ending January 31st and Cole Bardreau was named the AHL's Rookie of the Month for January. I wrote about their achievements with quotes from both.

As I do every month here, I took a look at the progress of Flyers prospects playing in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms with grades on their play in January as well as insights on their progression to this point in the season. Updates on guys like Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Taylor Leier, Anthony Stolarz and more.

Over the weekend, I posted my weekly look around the AHL's Eastern Conference in Saturday's Morning Skate (2/6).

My latest at Hockey's Future looks at Montreal Canadiens prospect forward Michael McCarron, a 6-6 rookie with the St. John's IceCaps looking to return to form heading down the stretch and make it back to the NHL.

Tim Riday of had this update on a lot of Flyers prospects I don't see often, namely the kids in juniors/college. His "Future Flyers Reports" are quite detailed and insightful.

Good detailed reporting by Bill Meltzer of in regards to just how silly it is to blame Scott Mason for the Flyers' troubles this season.


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