|Phantoms kicked off three-game weekend in Hartford Friday night.|
Phantoms' 2nd Period Lapse Proves Costly
Written by: Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook
HARTFORD, CT - Tonight in Hartford provides the perfect example of why the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, despite all their offensive firepower and overall team depth, still need to put forth a full 60-minute effort if they want to come away with two points.
No disrespect to the Phantoms, who dominated large portions of the game tonight in a 2-1 loss to the Wolf Pack. It was a "crappy ten minutes" in the middle frame according to head coach Scott Gordon and a hot goaltending performance from Magnus Hellberg (31 saves - 32 shots) that was the difference tonight.
Jordan Weal tallied his 11th of the season 5:43 into the contest and had the Phantoms off and running. The Phantoms' forecheck made it nearly impossible for Hartford to even possess the puck for more than a few seconds without a turnover or a forced clear out of the zone.
A lapse by the Phantoms in the second period that "let [Hartford] off the hook" according to T.J. Brennan led to Lehigh Valley's demise as the Wolf Pack tallied two goals 1:23 apart in the middle of the 2nd period and held off a Phantoms' shooting gallery (21) in the final 25 minutes to leave Lehigh Valley exiting the XL Center in downtown Hartford, Connecticut with nothing to show for the opening game of the three-game weekend set.
The Phantoms are back in action Saturday night at home against the Albany Devils at 7:05 p.m. ET. After the jump, a full recap of the action complete with post-game reaction from head coach Scott Gordon, defenseman T.J. Brennan and forward Taylor Leier.
Head coach Scott Gordon:
On being unable to tie the game in the third:
We definitely had some chances right in the crease that we weren't quick enough to get the shot off. Probably could have had a little more traffic and made it a little bit harder for their goalie. We had a crappy ten minutes in the second period, and that was the difference in the game.On Mark Alt's return:
He was steady. Other than a couple of puck handles, positionally he was good. I think for the first game having all that time off, was a good game for him.On Stolarz's return:
I think he's at the point where he;s got some things figured out. His game has been so much reptition through practice. The game time he has he's just really comfortable with the way he's playing.On his message after the game:
It's just one game. We have to be ready to play tomorrow.Forward Taylor Leier
His post-game thoughts tonight:
I think their goalie has played the best I've seen him play. We've played against him the last few times. We definitely generated our chances, but sometimes those small mistakes come back to bite you and cost us two goals. When we're not scoring enough, little things like that can come back and haunt you.On being back with Laughton/McDonald:
Those are our strong suits with our line and if we're going to be successful we have to play like that on every shift. Colin is one of the strongest guys that I've played with or against, and he's a force out there. Me and Laughton are both quick and we've played together for awhile now, me and CMac have too, but I think we compliment each other really well. They're really good players and I'm glad I'm playing with them.Defenseman T.J. Brennan
On frustration of the result, why it happened:
Every time you walk away from a game, especially with the standard we hold ourselves to, without any points is always disappointing. But I think the key lesson here is to take something from the game and realize we got to play a full 60 minutes and really stick to our game plan. It seemed like we left them off the hook a little bit and credit to them, they capitalized on a couple chances and played a pretty simple game.
I think we got a little ahead of ourselves and maybe got a little conceited there and got off our game plan and didn't simplify enough. We're a good team when we're playing really simple hockey and working hard and out-working teams. Seemed we got off that game plan a little bit, but as long as we take this lesson and move forward it won't hurt us in the end.RECAP
The Phantoms played a pretty solid first 20 minutes of hockey on the road to kick off their three-game weekend.
After some early pressure from Hartford, the Phantoms settled in and got to work. Their forecheck was relentless and gave the Wolf Pack a lot of trouble on their breakouts. Several pucks were batted down, turned over and simply unable to get out of the zone.
Lehigh Valley took a 1-0 just 5:43 into the contest after T.J. Brennan's shot from the point through traffic was stopped by Magnus Hellberg. The rebound was kicked out into the slot, where Danick Martel was parked looking for the puck. Hellberg actually came up big on Martel, but the third chance opportunity came to Jordan Weal at the side of the net and Weal made no mistake - shuffling it off Hellberg's arm and in for Weal's 11th of the season to give the Phantoms the early one goal lead.
From there, the Phantoms continued to be pesky on the forecheck with the top line of Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton and Colin McDonald working the fore-check to a tee in the middle part of the period. It seemed like every time that trio was on the ice in the opening minutes that good things were happening for Lehigh Valley.
Things got chippy in the second half of the period. Several big time hits were lined up and just missed connecting i.e. a Sam Morin charge toward a Hartford forward entering the Phantoms' defensive zone and Hartford's Matt Carey (Greg Carey's brother) just missing lining up Radel Fazleev along the team benches.
It wasn't until there was just over two minutes left that a big hit was landed that drew the ire of the Phantoms. Martel entered the offensive zone and went to his toe-drag move in an attempt to get around Chris Summers, who instead launched himself up high on Martel - connecting with his elbow. Summers was whistled for an elbowing minor on the play, but it seemed like it could be a tone-setting play for the rest of the evening.
Things got away from Lehigh Valley a bit in the middle frame. It started on a sour note when Mark Alt was whistled for a high-sticking minor away from the play just 57 seconds into the period.
Lehigh Valley killed off the ensuing Wolf Pack power play, but Hartford grabbed momentum and carried play in the opening half of the period - tallying back-to-back goals 1:23 apart to put the Phantoms in a 2-1 deficit.
On their second power play of the period eight minutes into the middle frame, Justin Fontaine got a puck up top to Mat Bodie, who found Pavel Buchnevich open at the side of the net for a quick one-touch pass and shot that Anthony Stolarz had no chance on. Buchnevich was making his Wolf Pack debut after being reassigned by the New York Rangers earlier today - his first action since recovering from back spasms.
The Wolf Pack's go-ahead goal was on a bit of a busted play. On what Andy Miele referred to as an improper puck drop on a Phantoms' defensive zone face-off, Philip McRae quickly pushed a puck over to Chris Brown for a quick shot that eluded Stolarz with 9:38 left in the period to put the Phantoms behind by a goal.
With seven minutes left in the period, the Phantoms had been credited with just two shots in the period after tallying nine shots in the opening 20 minutes. Then in the final five minutes, the Phantoms fired 10 shots on Hellberg and if not for some great stops by the Wolf Pack goaltender Hartford wouldn't have made it to the third period up 2-1.
Notably, the top line of Leier-Laughton-McDonald was very active in the offensive zone - not only out-working and out-muscling the opposition, but creating some Grade-A scoring chances. Laughton was robbed in the slot on a rebound attempt by Hellberg, then moments later a hard shot from #49 appeared headed for the back of the net but the Wolf Pack goaltender was able to just enough of the shot for it to deflect off into the back glass behind the net.
After being out-shot 8-2 in the opening 13 minutes of the period, the Phantoms actually ended up out-shooting the Hartford by a 12-11 count in the middle frame. The game had the feeling that if the Phantoms could find the tying goal in the third that they would have momentum on their side to go for the go-ahead goal.
Instead, Hellberg continued to shut it down. The opening minutes of the final frame said it all. With Hellberg down and out - literally out of his net and on his stomach - the Phantoms couldn't stuff a loose puck atop the crease past a myriad of bodies.
Lehigh Valley continued forcing the issue and had back-to-back power plays in the opening six minutes of the third stanza but were unable to get one past Hellberg to tie things up at 2-2.
In the waning seconds with Stolarz pulled for the extra attacker, Brennan uncorked a laser from the right point that beat Hellberg but caught the inside of the far post as time expired. The Phantoms were within inches of tying the game and forcing overtime, but it simply wasn't meant to be.
Luckily for Lehigh Valley, they get right back on the horse with two more games this weekend - both at home - against Albany on Saturday night and Utica on Sunday.
ROSTER NOTES - Phantoms
Anthony Stolarz (21 saves - 23 shots) got the start in net tonight for Lehigh Valley - his first AHL start since November 12th and first game action since December 30th. Alex Lyon, in unfamiliar territory, served as Stolarz's backup.
Mark Alt made his regular season debut tonight with Lehigh Valley after a preseason shoulder injury on September 28th required surgery to repair. Alt cleared waivers from Philadelphia at noon today to be officially activated onto the AHL roster.
Taylor Leier made his return to the Phantoms' lineup after being reassigned by Philadelphia earlier this week.
Leier, along with T.J. Brennan and Jordan Weal were named as 2017 AHL All-Stars for the All-Star Classic at the end of the month hosted by the PPL Center - the Phantoms' home rink.
Scratches: Reece Willcox (healthy) and Corban Knight (healthy)
Lines (Starters in Bold/Italics)
Taylor Leier - Scott Laughton - Colin McDonald (C)
Danick Martel - Jordan Weal - Nicholas Aube-Kubel
Greg Carey - Andy Miele - Chris Conner
Mark Zengerle - Radel Fazleev - Cole Bardreau
T.J. Brennan - Robert Hagg
Sam Morin - Travis Sanheim
Will O'Neill - Mark Alt
Anthony Stolarz - Alex Lyon
5:43: LV - Weal (11) - Martel, Brennan
9:56: HFD - (PP) Gilmour, minor (hooking)
17:49: HFD - (PP) Summers, minor (elbowing)
0:57: LV - (PP) Alt, minor (high-sticking)
7:56: LV - (PP) O'Neill, minor (tripping)
8:59: HFD - PPG Buchnevich (1) - Bodie, Fontaine
10:22: HFD - Brown (7) - McRae
2:49: HFD - (PP) Alderson, minor (tripping)
5:35: HFD - (PP) Glass, minor (delay of game)
9:08: LV - (PP) Weal, minor (unsportsmanlike)