Game 63 Preview: Lehigh Valley at W-B/Scranton

Saturday, March 18, 2017
Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey
Now or never time for top spot in Atlantic Division for Phantoms?

Editor's Note - I'll have full coverage of tonight's Phantoms game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, live from the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
The puck drops at 7:05 p.m. ET, but make sure you're following along on Twitter -> @TonyAndrock and Facebook (like the Facebook page!) for all the latest updates and information. 
Stay tuned here online after the game for a recap of the action. Don't forget to subscribe to Highland Park Hockey's YouTube channel for post-game interviews with players.
ALLENTOWN - The Lehigh Valley Phantoms (39-19-4) are starting to look at now or never time if part of the high expectations the team placed on itself at the beginning of the season included winning the Atlantic Division as the top seed in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs.

A regulation loss to rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (39-17-3) tonight would push the deficit between 1st and 2nd place to seven points with 13 games remaining on each team's schedule. A win, however, keeps things interesting because it becomes 3 point gap with four more head to head appearances remaining in the next month.

The Penguins continue to see a ton of roster movement, with the latest being incoming NCAA free agent forward Zach Aston-Reese - officially added to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's roster Saturday. Meanwhile, Troy Josephs - Pens draft pick signed to an AHL contract for the 2016-17 season - took warmups at the PPL Center last night but did not play. Josephs, like Aston-Reese, are joining AHL Penguins before their pro contracts kick next season on amateur tryout contracts.

The Phantoms could have some good news on the horizon, as forward Taylor Leier - inactive since taking home AHL MVP honors in the 2017 AHL All-Star Challenge with suspected concussion - has skated in each of the last three on-ice practice opportunities this week and was not wearing a red, no-contact jersey at the team's morning skate on Friday according to Phantoms radio broadcaster Bob Rotruck.

Still, injuries are starting to catch up to the Phantoms and particularly on defense as Robert Hagg and Will O'Neill are currently out of action. They need a response in Wilkes-Barre tonight to trim their magic number down to 22 as well as close the gap to the Penguins in first place to three points.

Phantoms' Playoff Update - The Phantoms enter Saturday's game five points behind the first place Penguins. Behind the Penguins and Phantoms are three teams - Providence, Bridgeport and Hershey - in the middle of a dog fight for one of four playoff positions atop the Atlantic Division. 

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms' magic number to clinch a berth in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs is currently at 24 points. You can also keep track of the playoff races in the AHL's daily Playoff Primer.

After the jump, a full preview of everything you need to know in advance of tonight's game.

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By The Numbers

LV: 62 games played, 39-19-4-0 = 82 points
2nd Place Atlantic Division
Streak: 0-1-1-0
Last Ten Games:5-3-2-0

WBS: 62 games played, 42-17-3-0 = 87 points
1st Place Atlantic Division
Streak: 3-0-0-0
Last Ten Games: 5-5-0-0

Special Teams

Power Play

LV - 68-for-300: 22.7% = 5th in AHL
WBS - 46-for-260: 17.7% = 16th in AHL

Penalty Kill

LV - 197-for-235: 83.8% = 7th in AHL
WBS - 222-for-258: 86.4% = 1st in AHL

Leading Scorers

LV:  T.J. Brennan (62GP, 18G-33A), Chris Conner (62GP, 19G-31A),  Greg Carey (62GP, 26G-19A) and Andy Miele (51GP, 8G-37A)

WBS: Tom Kostopoulos (62GP, 22G-24A), David Warsofsky (47GP, 14G-29A), Kevin Porter (58GP, 10G-31A) and Oskar Sundqvist (54GP, 16G-23A)

Starting Goaltenders

LV: Anthony Stolarz  (22GP, 14-7-0, 3.01 GAA, .906 SV%, 1 SO)
WBS: Tristan Jarry (39GP, 25-13-1, 2.25 GAA, .922 SV%, 1 SO)

Season Series

Tonight marks the eighth of 12 meetings between the Phantoms and Penguins this season. Lehigh Valley is 2-4-1 against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season.

The Phantoms opened up edge in the season series with a pair of home wins in gritty, physical affairs between bitter rivals but the Penguins dominated the Phantoms in Wilkes-Barre in the next two meetings, in 7-1 and 5-1 wins.

The most recent meetings have been closer as February 25th's game at PPL Center was a nail biter, as the Penguins won in overtime in Lehigh Valley. On last Wednesday March 8th, the Phantoms went into Wilkes-Barre and shut out the Penguins 3-0 in the Penguins' first home game after a disappointing road trip. Last night in Allentown, a strong second period by the Penguins combined with a "letdown" second period for Lehigh Valley resulted in a 4-1 Penguins win.

The season should only continue to heat up as the Phantoms will face the Penguins 4 more times in their final 13 games of the season.

Season Series Schedule

Wednesday, November 16th: W-B/Scranton -1 at Lehigh Valley - 4
Saturday, February 4th: Lehigh Valley - 1 at W-B/Scranton - 7
Tuesday, February 14th: Lehigh Valley - 1 at W-B/Scranton - 5
Saturday, March 18th: Lehigh Valley at W-B/Scranton - 7:05 p.m. ET
Saturday, March 25th: W-B/Scranton at Lehigh Valley - 7:05 p.m. ET
Saturday, April 1st: Lehigh Valley at W-B/Scranton - 7:05 p.m. ET
Friday, April 7th: W-B/Scranton at Lehigh Valley - 7:05 p.m. ET
Wednesday, April 12th: Lehigh Valley at W-B/Scranton - 7:05 p.m. ET

Lehigh Valley Phantoms

Roster Notes

Anthony Stolarz is expected back between the pipes Saturday against Wilkes-Barre for the Phantoms. Alex Lyon has started six of the Phantoms' last seven games entering tonight's game, including a 28-save effort in a 4-1 loss to the Penguins Friday night.

Taylor Leier (suspected concussion) will likely miss his 20th straight game, but could be returning to the Phantoms lineup in the not so distant future. Leier - inactive since taking home AHL MVP honors in the 2017 AHL All-Star Challenge - has skated in each of the last three on-ice practice opportunities this week and was seen not wearing a red, no-contact jersey at the team's morning skate according to Phantoms radio broadcaster Bob Rotruck. No update from HC Scott Gordon on any potential timetable for a return to the lineup for Leier or any of the injured players, as per his usual vagueness with updating statuses of injured players.

The latest casualty to the injury bug was defenseman Will O'Neill, who left early in the 1st period of Saturday's 4-1 win against Utica after an apparent upper body injury he sustained jamming his left hand/wrist after a fall into the boards.

Robert Hagg and Steven Swavely are also nearing returns to the lineup as both were skating at practice this week in red, no-contact jerseys. Hagg's injury was not as serious as initially feared, which is good news for the Phantoms with O'Neill out with an injury currently.

Boyd Gordon, who left in a Wednesday home game against Binghamton after a sliding BSens' forward crunched into his legs in the corner boards, was initially expected to miss a few weeks with a knee injury. He was seen at Friday night's game in Allentown walking with a knee brace over his suit pants.

Expected Scratches: Robert Hagg (lower body), Will O'Neill (upper body), Steven Swavely (upper body), Taylor Leier (concussion), Chris McCarthy (healthy), Boyd Gordon (lower body) and Jesper Pettersson (healthy)

Expected Lines:

Cole Bardreau - Scott Laughton - Colin McDonald
Greg Carey - Corban Knight - Mark Zengerle
Danick Martel - Andy Miele - Chris Conner
Tyrell Goulbourne - Radel Fazleev - Nicolas Aube-Kubel

T.J. Brennan - Reece Willcox
Sam Morin - Mark Alt
Travis Sanheim - Max Lamarche

Anthony Stolarz - Alex Lyon

Recent Transactions

3/4: ADD - F Tyrell Goulbourne recalled from loan to Reading (ECHL)
3/1: DEL - F Jordan Weal recalled from loan by Philadelphia (NHL)
3/1: ADD - F Jordan Weal returned on loan from Philadelphia (NHL)
2/13: ADD - D Reece Willcox reassigned by Philadelphia (NHL) from Reading (ECHL)
2/12: DEL - D Reece Willcox reassigned by Philadelphia (NHL) to Reading (ECHL)
2/11: ADD - F Steven Swavely recalled from loan to Reading (ECHL)
2/10: ADD - F Chris McCarthy recalled from loan to Reading (ECHL)
2/10: DEL - F Jordan Weal recalled from loan by Philadelphia (NHL)

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

Roster Notes

Tristan Jarry is expected to get the start in net for the Penguins, with Casey DeSmith serving as the team's backup goaltender.

Plenty of roster moves affecting the AHL Penguins just in the past few days:
Defenseman Derrick Pouliot recalled by Pittsburgh (NHL)
Forwards Josh Archibald and Oskar Sundqvist reassigned to W-B/Scranton (AHL)
Pittsburgh signs NCAA free agent forward Zach Aston-Reese to an entry level contract and will report to AHL Penguins on an amateur tryout (ATO).
The AHL Penguins signed forward Troy Josephs to an AHL contract for the 2017-18 season. Josephs also reported to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on an ATO.
AHL Penguins added defensemen Brett Stern and Ryan Segalla from Wheeling (ECHL)
Expected Scratches: Patrick McGrath (suspension), Ryan Segalla (healthy), Troy Josephs (healthy), Zach Aston-Reese (healthy), Garrett Wilson (upper body), Stuart Percy (upper body), Lukas Bengtsson (illness - out indefinitely)

Expected Lines:

Sahir Gill - Kevin Porter - Tom Kostopoulos
Thomas DiPauli - Oskar Sundqvist - Josh Archibald
Dominik Simon - Teddy Blueger - Jean-Sebastien Dea
Adam Krause - Jarrett Burton - Ryan Haggerty

David Warsofsky - Frankie Corrado
Tim Erixon - Ethan Prow
Brett Stern - Barry Goers

Tristan Jarry - Casey DeSmith

Written by: Tony Androckitis, Twitter/Facebook


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