|Phantoms take care of business on opening night. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook
Allentown - The Lehigh Valley Phantoms put on a show in their regular season opener in front of 8,505 fans at the PPL Center, scoring early and often in a 4-2 win over the Springfield Thunderbirds.
Mark Zengerle gave the Phantoms a lead in the opening minute of play, T.J. Brennan struck gold in the final seconds of the first period and Danick Martel tallied a pair of goals to lead Lehigh Valley to a season-opening win. Anthony Stolarz was also sharp, making some timely saves and stopping 31 of the 33 shots he faced.
Things got a little sloppy in the third period with the Phantoms ahead 4-1, but they were able to battle through a parade of early period penalties and secure the two points.
Head coach Scott Gordon's thoughts:
I thought we had a great first period, a mixed bag in the second period and then the third period I think for our guys is a really good learning experience.
When it's all said and done, we know have the personnel to create offense but if we are going to go about it the wrong way like I said to the guys after the game, we are going to get ourselves in situations where instead of generating and spending time in the offensive zone we are going to have to play defense and kill penalties.
That's what happened in the third period. It didn't bite us tonight but when you are giving up opportunities for the wrong reason hopefully we use it as a learning lesson because we certainly - in the first half of the game - we were a hard team to play against. It wasn't because we were forcing the issue, we just did the right things and it took care of itself.Forward Danick Martel
On getting off to a good start this season versus slow start last year:
We don't have the same team as last year. Starting like this, playing pretty well and getting 35 shots, we have a lot offense but now we need to focus too on defense.On building off of his rookie season coming into this year:
I think I came in this year to work on many things. To be consistent. I played pretty well today but I need to play well next Friday night too.On having early season success and buying into his role:
I'm not going be on the first two lines this year. I'll be a third liner - I need to work hard and piss off the other team. I need to play my role. Good start and I'll build on that for sure.Defenseman T.J. Brennan
On starting the year with a win:
Yeah, it's good. We've been at it for a few weeks now and had a few preseason games last weekend but it seems like the past or month or so we've been itching to get started so to have the first game finally here is nice and obviously to get a win - you can't win them all if you don't win the first one. It was nice to get off to a good start. A lot of positives from the game and some work to do. It's a good weekend.On the importance of the opening goal in the first minute:
To put all of the practice we had in the last couple weeks, it feels good to get rewarded early like that and get some confidence. With the things we have been working on, credit to the coaches because we put it all together.On the sloppy first half of the third period:
I thought when we went up 4-1 you could tell we got a little sloppy and got off our game plan and what got us there - a simple game. They got a few chances from that - a lot of special teams, its the first game. But I thought overall we did a good job and hopefully we can keep building off of that.RECAP
Just as the top line was beginning to head off for a change, the Phantoms tallied the season's opening goal. Chris Conner won a puck battle down low and sent it to the high slot for Sam Morin, whose shot was deflected to the side of the net where Mark Zengerle was lurking for an easy tap in goal 56 seconds into the contest.
Lehigh Valley killed off an early penalty before going on a brief two-man advantage, but were unable to extend the lead to 2-0 until after they got back into penalty trouble.
With a Phantoms' penalty kill about to get underway, Radel Fazleev circled back to center ice along the boards on the penalty box side of the rink. He lost the puck, but quickly lifted the stick of a Thunderbirds defenseman and re-gained control - flipping a pass to the middle for a streaking Danick Martel who burned in and sniped one high to the blocker side on Mike McKenna to make it a 2-0 Phantoms lead midway though the opening frame.
Springfield didn't pack it in down 2-0 in the first period. Instead, they got on the board late in the opening period to cut the Phantoms' lead in half on a bit of an awkward series of events. Anthony Greco fired a shot from the outside that Stolarz blockered to the corner, but Greco raced to the loose puck and from behind the net banked the puck off the back of Stolarz's leg for an unassisted tally at 16:41.
The Phantoms weren't done getting in on the attack, striking in the final seconds of the period with their first power play tally of the season. T.J. Brennan got to the puck in the corner, spun a figure 8 on the ice and went to the net - picking the top corner of the net and giving the Phantoms a 3-1 lead heading into the second period. Will O'Neill and Andy Miele picked up assists on the play.
The Phantoms made it 4-1 early in the 2nd period after a strong step up play in the neutral zone by Travis Sanheim. Sanheim challenged a Thunderbirds' forward attempting to enter the Phantoms' defensive zone and broke up the play - springing Martel up ice 2-on-1 with Aube-Kubel. Martel elected to shoot on the ensuing odd man rushed and for good reason - picking the far side of the net just inside the post for his second tally of the night.
Springfield out-shot Lehigh Valley 18-13 in the middle frame, and the Phantoms remained ahead 4-1 entering the third period largely due to some key stops by Stolarz amidst several periods of presssure by the Thunderbirds. Most notably, Stolarz was sharp on a brief 4-on-3 shorthanded kill by the Phantoms - cutting down his angles and getting some help from the posts on a few occasions.
Lehigh Valley was unable to cash in on some carryover power play time and it appeared as though they took their foot off the proverbial gas pedal for a few shifts. And it cost them. With Colin McDonald off for slashing, Dryden Hunt received a pass at the center point and blasted on past Stolarz to make it a 4-2 game 4:04 into the third period.
Then the penalty parade took over. A total of five minors in a 2:23 span of game play saw the Phantoms go from a 5-on-3 penalty kill down to 3-on-3 hockey and then a brief 5-on-3 power play. The penalties cycled through without producing any goals, but slowed up the pace of play dramatically in the first half of the final frame.
The Phantoms settled in to close out the game with the 4-2 win, perhaps getting a bit of a learning lesson when enjoying a three goal lead to keep things simple and spend time in the offensive zone versus trying to hit the proverbial home run on every shift.
Anthony Stolarz (31 saves - 33 shots) got the start in net for tonight's game. Alex Lyon served as the team's backup and is expected to make his AHL debut next weekend.
The Phantoms loaned defensemen Max Lamarche and Jesper Pettersson - their two extras on the blue line - to Reading (ECHL) earlier today. With the one game on the weekend and the next game six days away, it was beneficial to send the two to Reading to get into some ECHL game action.
Cole Bardreau was held out of the lineup tonight, but as expected he'll be ready to return next weekend. The addition of Jordan Weal and the forward depth on the roster probably made it an easier decision to not rush Bardreau back into the lineup.
Scratches: Cole Bardreau, Petr Straka (healthy) and Derek Mathers (healthy)
Lines (Starters in Bold/Italics)
Greg Carey - Andy Miele (A) - Chris Conner
Taylor Leier - Mark Zengerle - Colin McDonald (C)
Danick Martel - Jordan Weal - Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Tyrell Goulbourne - Radel Fazleev - Corban Knight
Sam Morin - Will O'Neill
Robert Hagg - Travis Sanheim
T.J. Brennan - Reece Willcox
Anthony Stolarz - Alex Lyon
0:56: LV - Zengerle (1) - Morin, Conner
3:50: LV - (PP) Miele, minor (hooking)
6:29: SPR - (PP) Acolatse, minor (slashing)
7:52: SPR - (PP) McCoshen, minor (tripping)
9:17: LV - (PP) McDonald, minor (interference)
9:52: LV - SHG Martel (1) - Fazleev
12:20: SPR - Thompson, major (fighting)
12:20: LV - Martel, major (fighting)
16:41: SPR - Greco (1) unassisted
19:13: SPR - (PP) Downing, minor (high-sticking)
19:55: LV - PPG Brennan (1) - O'Neill, Miele
2:50: LV - Martel (2) - Sanheim
3:54: LV - (PP) Fazleev, minor (delay of game)
13:32: LV - (PP) Weal, minor (tripping)
14:38: SPR - (PP) Rau, minor (holding)
14:40: LV - (PP) Fazleev, minor (interference)
18:46: SPR - (PP) Horvat, minor (cross-checking)
3:49: LV - (PP) McDonald, minor (slashing)
4:04: SPR - PPG Hunt (1) - Balisy, Kindl
4:57: LV - (PP) Brennan, minor (elbowing)
5:38: LV - (PP) Goulbourne, minor (tripping)
5:54: SPR - (PP) Black, minor (goaltender interference)
6:12: SPR - (PP) Balisy, minor (tripping)
15:59: SPR - (PP) Sutter, minor (tripping)
18:30: LV - Martel, minor (roughing)
18:30: SPR - Black, minor (roughing)