|Phantoms back to their winning ways to cap a three-game weekend. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook
ALLENTOWN - In a galaxy far, far away....
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms (23-9-2) used the force to defeat the Utica Comets on Star Wars Night at the PPL Center in front of 7,467 fans, getting goals from Travis Sanheim, Will O'Neill, Taylor Leier and T.J. Brennan and another strong performance in net from Alex Lyon (22 saves) to finish their three-game weekend with four out of six possible points in the standings.
Similar to last night's game against Albany, the Phantoms were in a scoreless tie well into the second period before Sanheim's 5th of the season got Lehigh Valley on the board first. O'Neill's power play tally with 10.7 left before the second intermission gave the Phantoms all they would need in a 4-1 win.
After the jump, a full recap of the action complete with post-game reaction from head coach Scott Gordon, forward Chris Conner and a special video interview with Will O'Neill.
Head coach Scott Gordon:
On getting offense from the defense:
Travis did a great job of getting up into the play, and then on the power play I thought we had some great in-zone looks and execution from the breakout to the in-zone provided us with a lot of shot opportunities. I think we wore them down. A lot of good work from a lot of guys.On scoreless first periods at home this weekend, then scoring in 2nd:
I thought we probably we could have had a couple goals in the first period.... I thought after that where we created some stuff offensively that we have been doing all weekend. Even though you don't, you do ware down the other team. I think the shots were a pretty indication of where the direction of the game was going and it carried into the second period.On decision to start Lyon back-to-back:
I hadn't made a decision on who was going to play until after [Saturday's] game. My initials thoughts going into the week I would have probably leaned toward Stolie but I didn't say anything to him. Then we just talked about it with Grady Robinson. I thought Saturday night was Alex's best game of the year. I thought he made a lot of difficult saves look easy. You don't do that unless you're doing something right. There were a lot of plays that they had speed coming down and good looks at the net. There were just plays that he had to be sharp on and his positioning made it look like it was easy and they weren't. I thought it was a good opportunity to reward him to come back with him. We'll go with Stolie Friday night and Alex on Saturday [next week].Forward Chris Conner
On opening scoring late in 2nd period:
I think we had a good first period getting shots and pucks to the net, and we stayed with it. Alex made a couple big saves to keep us in it and it worked out.On setting up Sanheim:
I think it was kind of a long shift and they had an odd-man rush and kind of missed their pass. I was able to go the other way, Laughts made a good drive to the net and Sanheim was wide open and had a great shot.On feeling good about 1st period last two nights despite no goals:
I think we felt that too coming into the first period we felt good about our game. We stuck with it and knew they were going to fall eventually for us.On getting four of six points a successful weekend:
Definitely. I think we started a little slow after Christmas there. I think we are starting to get our game back but we still need to keep moving forward and build off these two wins.
It was a bit of a sluggish start for both teams playing their third game in three nights. Utica had an early power play go by the wayside, but the Comets had some early chances that Alex Lyon needed to come up big on to keep the game scoreless.
In particular, a puck came from the corner into the slot to a wide open Alexandre Grenier for a quick shot that a sliding Lyon was able glove down and get a whistle for a face-off. On the next shift, Lyon again came up big among heavy traffic in his crease to cover up a loose puck.
Some pushing and shoving between T.J. Brennan and Jake Virtanen after the whistle provided the first 4-on-4 hockey of the contest 7:26 into the opening period. That's when the Phantoms started creating some offensive pressure.
Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier rushed up ice on a 2-on-1 early in the 4-on-4 sequence, with Laughton connecting a pass to Leier who just missed the far side post for the Phantoms' first real prime scoring chance. Later in the 4-on-4, Jordan Weal picked off a Comets' pass in the slot and was all alone but Richard Bachman came up with a glove save to keep the game scoreless.
The Phantoms got a late power play with 1:11 left before the first intermission and had several Grade-A chances, but were unable to get on the board before the first stanza concluded. Despite the scoreless tie, the two teams combined for 27 shots in the opening period with the Phantoms holding a 16-11 edge with carry over power play time heading into the middle frame.
It seemed like the scoreless tie would carry on forever as both goaltenders were playing lights out. It wasn't until there was under four minutes left in the middle frame that the Phantoms broke the scoreless tie.
Sam Morin got a puck up ice quickly to Chris Conner, who broke into the offensive zone on an odd-man rush up the left wing. Conner showed some great patience on the play, out-waiting a sliding Comets defender and hitting a trailing Travis Sanheim in the slot for a quick release laser beam that beat Bachman to the spot with 3:33 left in the 2nd period.
Lehigh Valley wasn't done there either in the middle frame. After Colby Robak threw several cross-checks down on Cole Bardreau, who was on his stomach on the ice along the end boards behind Utica's net, the Phantoms got a late period power play similar to the 1st period. This time they cashed in.
After several chances on the man advantage, Conner got a puck across the face-off circles to Andy Miele who spotted an open Will O'Neill at the center point. Miele left it up top for O'Neill, who blasted a point shot past Bachman with 10.7 seconds left before the second intermission to extend the Phantoms' lead to 2-0 heading to the third period.
The Phantoms made it 3-0 early in the third period after a heads up play by Scott Laughton, who intercepted an attempted clear by Comets' goaltender Richard Bachman. Laughton's quick shot missed the mark, but a friendly bounce off the back boards came out to Taylor Leier at the side of the net for an easy lift over Bachman's glove 3:39 into the final frame.
Utica didn't go away quietly after Leier's goal. In fact, they broke Alex Lyon's shutout streak at 107 minutes and nine seconds on Alexandre Grenier's 11th goal of the season. Curtis Valk and Colby Robak recorded assists on the Comets' goal that made it a 3-1 game with 12:51 left to play.
The Comets continued to force the issue from there, but Lyon continued to make the necessary stops before T.J. Brennan added an empty net tally with 54.6 seconds left to seal the deal on a 4-1 win.
ROSTER NOTES - Phantoms
Alex Lyon (22 saves - 23 shots) got the start in net tonight one night after a 31-save shutout of the Albany Devils. Anthony Stolarz served as the team's backup goaltender for the second straight night.
Mark Alt was back in the lineup today after he made his season debut Friday night in Hartford. Scott Gordon said the plan heading into the weekend was to give Alt Saturday night off as to ease him back into the lineup. Reece Willcox was scratched to make room for Alt.
The forwards continue to rotate in and out of the lineup on the fourth line this weekend with three games in three nights. Corban Knight sat as the healthy scratch Friday night, while Radel Fazleev served as the 13th forward on Saturday. Mark Zengerle was the odd man out today.
Scratches: Mark Zengerle (healthy) and Reece Willcox (healthy)
Lines (Starters in Bold/Italics)
Taylor Leier - Scott Laughton - Colin McDonald (C)
Danick Martel - Jordan Weal - Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Greg Carey - Andy Miele - Chris Conner
Cole Bardreau - Radel Fazleev - Corban Knight
T.J. Brennan - Robert Hagg
Will O'Neill - Mark Alt
Sam Morin - Travis Sanheim
Alex Lyon - Anthony Stolarz
3:19: LV - (PP) Aube-Kubel, minor (hooking)
7:26: LV - Brennan, minor (roughing)
7:26: UTI - Virtanen, minor (roughing)
18:49: UTI - (PP) Billins, minor (high-sticking)
8:07: UTI - (PP) Grenier, minor (interference)
11:50: LV - (PP) Leier, minor (playing with broken stick)
16:27: LV - Sanheim (5) - Conner, Morin
17:56: UTI - (PP) Robak, minor (cross-checking)
19:49: LV - PPG O'Neill (2) - Miele, Conner
3:39: LV - Leier (7) - Laughton
7:09: UTI - Grenier (11) - Valk, Robak
19:05: LV - ENG Brennan (11) - Lyon