|Phantoms head into holiday break with five straight wins. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tim Riday - Twitter
ALLENTOWN - When a team has a lengthy break on the horizon, you’ll often hear the players and especially the coach talk about going out on a high note.
That’s exactly what happened at the PPL Center on Saturday night.
In the final game before the nine-day holiday break, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms performed like a well-oiled machine in all aspects and all three zones in a 7-1 blowout of the Providence Bruins in front of 7,386 fans.
The Phantoms were utterly dominant in their fifth consecutive victory.
They improved to 20-7-1 this season to become the first team in the AHL to reach the 20-win plateau this season. A far cry from the 14-15-1 record the team posted at this time in 2015.
Danick Martel tallied two goals and an assist, Will O'Neill picked up a career-best four assists and Scott Laughton (goal, assist), Colin McDonald (goal, assist) and Andy Miele all registered multi-point games. Alex Lyon was phenomenal in net, stopping 33 of 34 shots on goal.
Lehigh Valley is now 18-5-0 since Nov. 1. They'll retake the ice on Dec. 26, when they'll close out a six-game homestand in downtown Allentown.
After the jump, a full recap of the action complete with post-game reaction from head coach Scott Gordon, Will O'Neill and a special video interview with Danick Martel
Head coach Scott Gordon:
On going into the break winning five straight:
“The best part, for me, is the way we played. Nobody took the shift off. Just a relentless mindset. I can’t say enough about how well we played. We got better the past five games. The last two were our better two.”On Danick Martel’s game
“He’s had some great chances. Last night, he some great chances. He had the one in the slot there. That line, in general, has been generating a lot of offensive opportunities. It was good to see him get some goals. Get some weight off his shoulders.”On Alex Lyon’s performance
“None better than the four he made right after the other on our power play. They came down 3-on-2 and waited out the D. They took a good shot and he stayed with it and came up big.”On the state of the team
“We’ve played so much hockey. Especially with the travel, I think mentally it’s gonna be really good for us. Physically it will be good for us too but when you’re asking guys to play at a high level and, not just show you skill, but show your work ethic. A lot of skill players, it’s something they don’t bring all the time. I think that’s what has changed for us in the last probably three weeks. Our skill players are not just being our best offensive players. They’re playing both sides of the puck and we’re getting more consistent effort in that area. As a result, we’re scoring more and defending better. We’re making ourselves a hard opponent to play against.”Defenseman Will O'Neill:
On getting fifth straight win heading into the break:
It feels good. It's a great start to the season. We have been playing really good hockey. That's a really good team over there in Providence. They've shown that the last 13 or so games. We had a great effort tonight, a good game plan and executed.On his career-high four assist night:
It was a good night. The guys were getting open. I was trying to get my shots through, which I've been trying to do - get floating ones through traffic. The guys made some plays.On the timing of the break with team rolling right now:
It's okay. I think it's good for everyone to get a break. In the last stretch here, everyone has been kind of gearing up to get home - so give up the last of your energy and then have a break and come back re-energized.
If you've been watching the Phantoms closely lately, you've probably noticed a trend that's led to their success: Shoot early and shoot often.
Saturday night was no different. Lehigh Valley came out flying, specifically behind the unit of Greg Carey, Andy Miele and Chris Conner, and were really forcing the issue early on.
On just the second shift of the game, Carey, Miele and Conner pinned Providence for over a minute in the offensive zone. They were finishing checks, moving the puck well and even managed two quality scoring opportunities in dangerous areas.
The Phantoms weren't just strong on the forecheck, either. About four minutes in, Scott Laughton worked his tail off to get back in the defensive zone to disrupt a Bruins rush. He got a stick on a centering attempt and hustled his way to the boards to retrieve the puck, which in turn helped Lehigh Valley to a clean breakout.
The effort was there, Scott Gordon's group just had to wait to be rewarded.
It almost came at the midway point when Will O'Neill fired a laser on net from the point that worked it's way through traffic - Mark Zengerle and Cole Bardreau were both battling in the slot for position - but Providence netminder Malcolm Subban came up with a strong pad save.
But the Phantoms kept pressing. About a minute later, Colin McDonald, who was attempting to get off the ice for a line change, quickly moved the puck to O'Neill at the blue line. O'Neill was pressured immediately but snapped a quick shot on goal.
Enter: Danick Martel.
Martel, perfectly positioned in the middle of the ice, used some stellar hand/eye coordination to get a piece of O'Neill's offering and deflected it top corner past Subban to give the Phantoms a 1-0 lead with 9:17 to go in the first period.
It was Martel's first goal in his last 18 games and his sixth of the season overall.
Then there was a bit of a push back. At one point, the Phantoms held an 11-2 shots advantage. But the Bruins finished the frame strong, testing Alex Lyon often. Lyon was up to the task, however, stopping all eight of the shots he faced in the first.
When the second period began, Lehigh Valley made sure to thrash any hopes of a comeback.
All they needed was the right moment. Sure enough, it came when old friend Zac Rinaldo was whistled for a dumb, unnecessary penalty (shocking, right?).
Rinaldo was assessed two minutes for interference after he clobbered Martel from behind at center ice well after Martel got rid of the puck. T.J. Brennan got in his ear as he skated to the penalty box.
The Phantoms then used the man advantage to pepper Subban but were somehow held off the scoresheet while at 5-on-4. Just seconds after the power play expired, however, Mark Zengerle, again showing tremendous patience with the puck, fed Martel from behind the net for Martel's second tally of the game and a 2-0 Phantoms lead. O'Neill put the initial shot on target but it missed wide off the back boards, landing on Zengerle's blade.
It was pretty much all Phantoms at that point. But a quick rush by Providence culminated in four golden chances to build some momentum.
Lyon said no each time. In an unreal sequence, the Phantoms' netminder flashed his right pad out and stopped all four of the Bruins shot attempts in just a matter of seconds.
Lehigh Valley received a jolt from Lyon's theatrics.
On another power play with around eight minutes remaining in the second, the Phantoms held possession in the Bruins' zone for the entire PP. It even continued after time expired on the infraction.
And though the entire five-man unit on the ice was gassed from the shift, Conner capped it all off when he slammed home an O'Neill pass through Subban's five hole for a 3-0 lead.
Game over? Not quite yet. Providence scored just nine seconds later when Peter Cehlarik finally solved Lyon at the 12:31 mark.
Didn't matter. The Phantoms were simply relentless.
With exactly five minutes to go in the middle stanza, Miele burst into the Bruins' end and fired a hard shot on goal. Subban gave up a juicy rebound that bounced back out to a waiting Carey. As per usual, Carey didn't wait long to get the puck off his stick. It beat Subban on a deflection and gave the Phantoms their three-goal lead back.
The third period was more of the same. Lehigh Valley wasn’t letting up.
In fact, Scott Laughton snapped a six-game pointless drought when he wrapped around the net and picked a corner with a wicked wrister to give the Phantoms a 5-1 edge.
Frustration set in for Providence with 14 minutes remaining. Zengerle, skating behind the Bruins’ net on the forecheck, was given a little bit of an elbow by Subban and went down hard into the boards.
Subban was given a two-minute minor for interference for his actions. The Phantoms didn’t capitalize on the ensuing power play but did continue to push the pace.
On an odd-man rush with Jordan Weal, Martel put a shot on target that went off of Subban to a crashing Travis Sanheim. Sanheim's first attempt was blocked but he hammered home his rebound to make it a 6-1 game at the 8:44 mark.
The rout was most certainly on but not over.
On the Phantoms’ 37th shot of the night, Colin McDonald blasted a slap shot from the blue line off an offensive-zone faceoff win to make it a 7-1 lead for Lehigh Valley. Max Lamarche and Laughton picked up the helpers.
Mercifully, that’s how the final score would hold up. The Phantoms will go for six in a row when they return to action on Dec. 26, the final tilt in their six-game homestand.
ROSTER NOTES - Phantoms
Alex Lyon (33 saves - 34 shots) got the start in net tonight for Lehigh Valley. Martin Ouellette served as the team's backup goaltender.
One lineup change for Lehigh Valley, as Radel Fazleev sat out tonight's game as a healthy scratch. Steven Swavely took his place in the lineup on the Phantoms' fourth line.
Scratches: Radel Fazleev (healthy) and Reece Willcox (healthy)
Jordan Weal has one goal and four assists during his four-game point streak. ... T.J. Brennan has three goals and three assists during his five-game point streak. ... Chris Conner has three goals and five assists during his five-game point streak. ... Scott Laughton snapped a six-game pointless drought by notching a goal and an assist. ... Travis Sanheim has four goals in his last five games. ... Alex Lyon has an AHL-high 13 victories. ... Danick Martel has two goals and three assists in his last four games. ... Greg Carey has four goals in his last five games. ... Andy Miele has one goal and nine assists in his last nine games.
Lines (Starters in Bold/Italics)
Cole Bardreau - Scott Laughton - Colin McDonald
Danick Martel - Jordan Weal - Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Greg Carey - Andy Miele - Chris Conner
Steven Swavely - Corban Knight - Mark Zengerle
T.J. Brennan - Robert Hagg
Sam Morin - Travis Sanheim
Will O'Neill - Max Lamarche
Alex Lyon - Martin Ouellette
10:23: LV - Martel (6) - O'Neill, McDonald
0:46: LV - (PP) Hagg, minor (holding)
3:05: PRO - (PP) Rinaldo, minor (interference)
8:14: PRO - (PP) Hickman, minor (holding)
10:02: PRO - (PP) Szwarz, minor (goaltender interference)
12:22: LV - Conner (7) - O'Neill, Miele
12:31: PRO - Cehlarik (13) - unassisted
15:00: LV - Carey (14) - Miele, O'Neill
16:27: LV - (PP) Weal, minor (holding)
18:10: PRO - (PP) Szwarz, minor (slashing)
0:12: LV - Laughton (3) - Brennan
5:42: PRO - (PP) Subban (served by Randell), interference
8:44: LV - Sanheim (4) - Martel, Weal
12:25: LV - McDonald (12) - Lamarche, Laughton
12:49: LV - (PP) Sanheim, minor (holding)
15:35: LV - (PP) Morin, minor (holding)