|Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tim Riday - Twitter
ALLENTOWN - Remember when everyone was worried about Lehigh Valley's 2-3-1 start to the season?
Well, you can officially talk those concerned with the team off the ledge.
The Phantoms extended their winning streak to five games with an impressive 7-2 thrashing of the Toronto Marlies (8-3-1) at PPL Center on Saturday night.
Taylor Leier scored twice and had an assist, Scott Laughton collected three assists and Jordan Weal and Colin McDonald each notched a goal and an assist in the offensive outburst. Anthony Stolarz was sound in net, finishing with 22 saves on 24 shots.
Fourteen different Phantoms registered a point in the victory as the team improved to 7-3-1 in 2016-17.
Lehigh Valley will close out their weekend three-in-three in Hershey on Sunday evening.
Full recap after the jump.
Head coach Scott Gordon
On a statement win
“We talked about it before the game, being a measuring stick as to where we were. We’ve seen a lot of the same teams early here, so you play a team from the other division, a first-place team, it gives you idea of where you’re at. The response from our group was tremendous.”
On current state of team
“This was a tough stretch for us. We had I think 10 out of 12 on the road. This is one of the few home games that we have in this stretch and to be able to get a win against Toronto, the quality of opponent that they are, that bodes well for our team. We said on Friday night, you go into a weekend and you win that Friday game, it sets the tone for that weekend. Now we got two [wins] and we gotta try and go for that third one tomorrow.”
On limiting Toronto’s offense
“They had some near misses in the middle of the ice that we weren’t sharp on. That’s something that I think we got better at as the game went on. There’s a lot of stuff around the net that we set up for ourselves that didn’t even get on net. We don’t track shot attempts but I know we had a lot of shot attempts tonight. I don’t think the shot clock actually is a good indicator of the chances we had [against].”
On offensive depth
“I think if you talk to the group you might be questioned on whether they are the top line as far as offense because they are not the only line that’s producing. [Aube-Kubel], Fazleev and Knight have been able to produce. That makes your team hard to defend. Every night it’s been a different group for us. It’s not one guy getting four goals, it’s a lot of guys getting one goal. We’ll take that. That balanced scoring is tough to defend.”
On closing out the weekend
“By winning. Hershey is a team that’s very similar. They’re on the attack a lot and they are a good puck-possession team in the offensive zone. One of the things I thought we did really well tonight is being in the lane and jamming up the middle of the ice. There weren’t a lot of second opportunities for them. They might have gotten pucks but we had a stick on the puck or a body in the way that didn’t allow them to get the second opportunities.”
Forward Taylor Leier
On tonight being a statement game:
We talked about it before the game. We know that they're one of the better teams in the league and they have a lot of firepower. They showed tonight they have a lot individuals who are really good skill-wise. Their team moves it really well.
We just tried to come in and play our game. Show the league and the teams around us that we can compete with the top teams in the league and that we're for real this year.On a roll personally:
Sometimes it takes awhile with a lot of new guys to build chemistry with your linemates. I think it helps that me and Laughts played together our first year and me and Colin played together almost half the year last year, so our line is really clicking right now. Both power play units are running really good too. Overall, I think our team is meshing pretty well.On the team having a lot of fun out there:
It's night and day different how much more fun this is than battling and scrapping for wins and coming up with a lot of losses like we had in the last few years. A lot of those games last year we would lose 3-2, 2-1, 4-3. This year we feel like we are a lot more complete as a team. We have a lot of really good individuals but we are playing well as a team right now and that's why we are winning.
Both teams were rather timid to start the game. There were a few icing and offside calls early on and it seemed like a "feeling-out period."
Then the Phantoms got rolling. Captain Colin McDonald made a nice deke in the slot and fired a quick wrister on goal three and a half minutes in but Marlies goalie Antoine Bibeau was able to make a shoulder save.
Momentum looked like it was about to temporarily shift Toronto's way, however. At the 3:45 mark, Toronto defender Rinat Valiev made a stellar breakout pass to Milan Michalek, who split sleeping Lehigh Valley defensemen Will O'Neill and Maxim Lamarche. Phantoms goalie Anthony Stolarz went for a pokecheck on Michalek's breakaway attempt, but the Marlies' forward wound up losing control of the puck, possibly because he was distracted, and failed to get a clean shot on goal.
Minutes later, Scott Laughton made a great play to block a shot in the defensive zone on his forehand and sprung Taylor Leier for a breakaway. Marlies forward Brendan Leipsic did his best to track down Leier but to no avail. Leier deposited his second goal of the season on a wrister from the bottom of the faceoff circle at the 9:54 mark.
With just about seven minutes remaining in the period, Leipsic danced around all five Phantoms players -- O'Neill and Lamarche were unfortunately burned again -- and had a mini-breakaway on Stolarz. The Lehigh Valley netminder went for yet another pokecheck but missed as Leipsic fired a shot into his chest. It was Toronto's best chance of the opening period.
With 5:49 remaining in the frame, Reece Willcox made a nice pinch for Lehigh Valley, wrapped around the net and sent a pass in front for a head-first diving Cole Bardreau. The puck appeared to bounce around but Bardreau was able to find it to give the Phantoms a 2-0 lead. It was greasy.
Lehigh Valley had a golden opportunity to extend its lead when Toronto defenseman Andrew Nielsen was whistled for a delay of game penalty at the 15:47 mark but Scott Gordon’s group wasn't able to do much on the ensuing power play. O'Neill missed the net on a one-timer from T.J. Brennan. Brennan had a decent shot of his own on the PP but Bibeau made a relatively easy chest save.
The second period began with the Phantoms on the power play after Vasiliev's slashing penalty at 19:27 of the first carried over. They made sure they capitalized on that man advantage and wasted no time doing so.
Chris Conner did a nice job to win a puck battle along the boards and dish the puck in the middle to a breaking Jordan Weal. Weal then found Greg Carey on the backdoor for an easy tap-in goal just 12 seconds into the second. It was Carey's team-leading seventh goal and AHL-leading sixth power-play marker of the year. Tic, tac, toe.
The Marlies got one back just over four minutes into the frame. Laughton did a solid job to get a stick on a pass attempt that was heading in front of the Phantoms' crease but it took an unlucky bounce and landed right on Byron Froese’s stick. Froese deposited it past Stolarz to make it a 3-1 game.
Toronto continued to push and was able to draw a hooking penalty on Radel Fazleev at the 12:20 mark of the second. Lehigh Valley, led by big Sam Morin, easily killed off the call. Morin was working hard in the corner and, even from the press box, you could hear a ref yell, "Keep the stick down, keep it clean" toward Morin. The tough-as-nails defenseman obliged and even blocked two more shots on the same penalty kill.
The Phantoms went back on the power play with six minutes remaining in the frame after Brooks Laich, who had hit the crossbar about four minutes beforehand, was whistled for roughing. Lehigh Valley peppered Bibeau with a few quality scoring chances but ultimately came up empty-handed.
Stolarz made perhaps his best save of the night with just about three minutes to go in the second period. Justin Holl's blast from the point was deflected, possibly twice, but Stolarz made a flashy right leg save to keep the game at 3-1.
The third period got off to a rather uneventful start. It mirrored the first period, in the sense that there was a lot of aggressive stick checking and nowhere to go in the neutral zone.
Things began to open up after Laughton attempted to stuff a wraparound attempt three minutes in.
A few shifts later, McDonald crashed the net hard after Brennan put a shot on goal and deposited the rebound for his seventh goal of the season.
On the ensuing shift, Michalek made it a two-goal game at the 15:27 mark after being left unoccupied in front of Stolarz. There was nothing Stolarz could have done on the shot.
The third-period frenzy continued at 12:20, when Leier deposited his second goal of the contest. He flubbed the shot, which turned into a change-up, and it fooled Bibeau. Laughton set up the play.
The Phantoms' onslaught culminated in the feel-good moment of the night. Corban Knight made an unreal pass to set up a breaking Radel Fazleev’s first professional goal with 10 minutes to go. Morin picked up the secondary assist.
With two and half minutes remaining, Stolarz was bulldozed over by Colin Smith, which caused a huge scrum. Kerby Rychel jumped to grab Brennan and quite a few punches were thrown from the ice by both players.
Smith was given a minor for goalie interference and Rychel was given a two-minute minor and a 10-minute misconduct. Weal scored on the 5-on-3 advantage to give the Phantoms the extra point and make it a 7-2 final.
ROSTER NOTES - Phantoms
Anthony Stolarz (22 saves - 24 shots) got the start in net tonight for Lehigh Valley. With the win, Stolarz improves to 6-2-0 on the season. Alex Lyon, who picked up his first pro win last night in Utica, served as the team's backup goaltender.
Robert Hagg (headaches) has already been ruled out this weekend. Max Lamarche made his Phantoms' season debut last night in Utica and filled in ably.
Andy Miele (undisclosed/upper body) has also been ruled out of this weekend's game by head coach Scott Gordon as well.
Scratches: Robert Hagg (injured), Tyrell Goulbourne (healthy), Andy Miele (injured) and Petr Straka (healthy)
Greg Carey has four goals in his last four games. ... Mark Zengerle's four-game point streak came to an end. He had two goals and three assists during that stretch. ... Colin McDonald has three goals in his last three games. ... Scott Laughton has registered a point in every game he's appeared in for the Phantoms this season. He's up to one goal and five assists in four games.
Lines (Starters in Bold/Italics)
Taylor Leier - Scott Laughton - Colin McDonald (C)
Greg Carey - Jordan Weal - Chris Conner
Danick Martel - Cole Bardreau - Mark Zengerle
Corban Knight - Radel Fazleev - Nicolas Aube-Kubel
T.J. Brennan - Reece Willcox
Will O'Neill - Max Lamarche
Sam Morin - Travis Sanheim
Anthony Stolarz - Alex Lyon
9:54: LV - Leier (2) - Laughton
14:06: LV - Bardreau (2) - Martel, Willcox
15:47: TOR - (PP) Neilsen, minor (delay of game)
19:27: TOR - (PP) Valiev, minor (slashing)
0:12: LV - PPG Carey (7) - Weal, Conner
4:02: TOR - Froese (6) - Leipsic, Lindberg
7:40: LV - (PP) Fazleev - minor (hooking)
13:52: TOR - (PP) Laich, minor (roughing)
3:50: LV - McDonald (7) - Brennan, Laughton
4:33: TOR - Michalek (1) - unassisted
7:20: LV - Leier (3) - Laughton, Lamarche
10:00: LV - Fazleev (1) - Knight, Morin
17:30: TOR - Rychel, ten-minute misconduct
17:30: TOR - (PP) Smith, minor (goaltender interference)
19:04: TOR - (PP) Lindberg, minor (high-sticking)
19:39: LV - PPG Weal (4) - McDonald, Leier