Monday's Catch Up & Links 3/13

Monday, March 13, 2017
Taylor Leier's last game was this one in Binghamton back on January 28th. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey
Editor's Note: Decided to move my weekly Sunday Storylines feature back to Monday to start the week with an overview of the bigger picture. Remember those 'Monday's Catch Up' stories?

It's coming down to the wire as the final month of the American Hockey League's (AHL) regular season gets underway this week. Some teams are looking to solidify their playoff standing, while others are making that last ditch effort to make a push towards postseason contention.

Even teams that are out of realistic  playoff contention are not an easy match up as teams enjoy playing the spoiler role when all else fails. Only one team - the Hartford WolfPack - have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention this spring.

After the jump, a look at the Atlantic Division's playoff race as well as updates on all of the injured Phantoms, a look back at last week's game and looking ahead to the team's three games this week.
Atlantic Division Playoff Picture

Standings through 3/13's games

1. W-B/Scranton: 15 games remaining, 41-17-3, 85 points (.697 PCT)
2. Phantoms: 16 games remaining, 39-18-3, 81 points (.675 PCT)
3. Bridgeport: 15 games remaining, 37-21-2-1, 77 points (.631 PCT)
4. Providence: 15 games remaining, 34-18-5-4, 77 points (.631 PCT)
5. Hershey: 14 games remaining, 33-18-8-3, 77 points (.621 PCT)
6. Springfield: 15 games remaining, 25-26-8-2, 60 points (.492 PCT)
7. Hartford: 15 games remaining, 21-35-3-2, 47 points (.385 PCT)

Phantoms' Playoff Update: The Atlantic Division's playoff race is likely going to come down to the final weekend of the regular season to determine which four teams will qualify for the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs evidenced by how close the top-five teams are with just over a month left to go. 

Last week provides the perfect example for just how quickly things can change. The Phantoms' three wins combined with three straight losses by Providence has altered the standings greatly in just one week's time. 

The Phantoms will make up their game in hand on the rest of the division Wednesday night when they host North Division-leading Syracuse before a home and home series with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins could put the Phantoms atop the divisional standings.

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms' magic number to clinch a berth in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs is currently at 25 points. You can also keep track of the playoff races in the AHL's daily Playoff Primer.

Phantoms' Team Report

Injuries are starting to catch up to the Phantoms, who had seemingly escaped the injury bug through the first 50 games of the season.

Taylor Leier (suspected concussion) has missed the team's last 17 games dating back to his last AHL regular season game on January 28th - the Phantoms' final game before the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic, which Leier participated in and took home MVP honors. He skated at practice briefly back on February 23rd, and just now has been spotted skating with the team at practice again on Monday. Hopefully Leier can start practicing more regularly than once a month and be symptom free in time for the postseason.

Robert Hagg's lower body injury sustained in March 3rd's game in Springfield has caused the defenseman to miss the team's last five games. A source told Highland Park Hockey that it's an MCL injury for Hagg that could carry a lengthy absence from the lineup. Time will tell, but don't expect any injury updates from head coach Scott Gordon in the meantime.
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.

Steven Swavely has been sporting a cast on his left hand/wrist after blocking a shot in the February 19th game against Utica. He's hoping to return in the near future.

Boyd Gordon has missed over a month now with a lower body injury he suffered back on February 8th against Binghamton. He hasn't resumed skating yet.

Lines (from Saturday's game)

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

T.J. Brennan - Reece Willcox
Will O'Neill (injured in 1st) - Mark Alt
Sam Morin - Travis Sanheim

Alex Lyon - Anthony Stolarz

13th forward: Chris McCarthy
Called up from ECHL Reading: Jesper Pettersson and Max Lamarche

Injured list: Robert Hagg (lower body), Will O'Neill (upper body), Steven Swavely (upper body), Taylor Leier (suspected concussion) and Boyd Gordon (lower body)

Weekly Wrap Up

Last Week

Wednesday, March 8th: Lehigh Valley - 3 at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton - 0 (GAME STORY)

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms (37-18-3) had not had any success at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza this season entering Wednesday's matchup in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins' home rink. With a total team effort and a strong performance in net from rookie goaltender Alex Lyon, the Phantoms changed their fortunes in their rival's home rink in a 3-0 shutout win.

The win moves Lehigh Valley to within four points of the first place Penguins, who have played one more game than the Phantoms to date. These two teams still have six more meetings left in the regular season, which leaves the Atlantic Division playoff race wide open.

Friday, March 10th: Hershey - 2 at Lehigh Valley - 3 (GAME STORY)

The Phantoms dominated large portions of Friday night's game against the Hershey Bears, but some timely scoring late in both the first and second periods helped Hershey keep the game within reach.

It was the Phantoms with the final answer in the third, with Corban Knight's game-winning goal with 2:18 left in regulation lifting Lehigh Valley to another big win this week - inching themselves closer and closer to their first Calder Cup Playoffs berth as a franchise in Lehigh Valley and their first playoff berth since 2009-10 when the team was still in Philadelphia.
Saturday, March 11th: Utica - 1 at Lehigh Valley - 4 (GAME STORY)

After Saturday night's 4-1 win over Utica, head coach Scott Gordon called the game versus the Comets your proverbial trap game.

Coming off of big, emotional wins Wednesday against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Friday against Hershey - the Phantoms' two biggest rivals with major playoff implications on the line - the tendency is to tone down the intensity at the end of a three-game slate for the week against a non-divisional opponent much lower in the standings.

Credit to the Comets, who came into Saturday night's game riding a six-game win streak. They worked hard and mustered up 37 shots on Phantoms' goaltender Alex Lyon, but it wasn't enough as Lehigh Valley got timely goal scoring when they needed it to capture the win.

The win for the Phantoms gives them a regular season sweep of the Utica Comets (4-0), and gives them a perfect 3-0 on the week. The Phantoms also improve their record against teams from the North Division to a very impressive 17-2-1 with their next game on Wednesday night at home against the North Division-leading Syracuse Crunch.

The Week Ahead

Wednesday, March 15th: Syracuse at Lehigh Valley - 7:05 p.m. ET

Friday, March 17th: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at Lehigh Valley - 7:05 p.m. ET

Saturday, March 18th: Lehigh Valley at 
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton - 7:05 p.m. ET


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