Monday's Catch Up & Links 1/18

Monday, January 18, 2016
Chris Conner celebrates his second period goal against Hartford Saturday night. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home News
Despite getting healthy as a team, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms have struggled mightily of late before ending a season-high five-game losing streak Sunday in Bridgeport.

The Phantoms have been playing decently well during the last two sets of three-in-three weekends, but untimely lapses in the defensive zone combined with an inability to finish a multitude of Grade A scoring chances plagued Lehigh Valley.

Lehigh Valley certainly has their work cut out for them heading down the stretch, in seventh place in the Atlantic Division with 34 games left on the schedule. With the top four teams earning a spot in the postseason, currently the Phantoms would need to finish 22-12 to have a better points percentage than the current 4th place team Providence Bruins. That's no easy task.

The team has only one game this week and it's a big one - in Hershey at Giant Center against their Atlantic Division rival on Saturday night. In the meantime, Scott Gordon's Phantoms will have some time to get on the same page and get everyone on board for the stretch run.

On Saturday we broke a new record high in terms of traffic to the website, so I wanted to thank those who have been sharing and reading my Phantoms' coverage. It's much appreciated and I'm glad people are starting to realize that the best place to get unparalleled coverage of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms both at home and on the road is right here and at The Home News.

Switching from covering the Penguins AHL affiliate on a daily basis to the Flyers last season was like starting over from a readers/views standpoint, but it is obviously working out for the best. Thanks again.

After the jump, the weekly Phantoms update to start your work week,

Lehigh Valley Phantoms (18-21-2-1)

Last Week

Friday 1/15, Hershey - 4 at Lehigh Valley - 3

Despite another strong effort, which included a 27-1 shots advantage in the third period, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms dropped their fourth straight game in a 4-3 loss to Hershey Friday night in front of another sellout crowd of 8,793 at the PPL Center.

The Phantoms rebounded from a 2-0 deficit in the 2nd period with back-to-back goals 52 seconds apart to even things up before Hershey re-took the lead and added to it on their first shot of the third period - a shot that came 14:23 into the final frame after being out-worked, out-hustled and out-played by the Phantoms.

Saturday 1/16, Hartford -2 at Lehigh Valley - 1

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms (17-21-2-1) dropped their fifth straight game Saturday night at home in front of a franchise record crowd of 9,046 fans at the PPL Center. It was their third straight one-goal defeat and clearly the frustration is mounting.

The bounces simply aren't going the Phantoms way, which was epitomized with 17:53 left in the 3rd period just moments after the Wolf Pack took a 2-1 lead. Lehigh Valley put a puck on net from a bad angle that caught Magnus Hellberg off guard, sneaking behind him and hitting the top of his back. If not for a quick reaction from a Hartford defender, the puck would have crossed the goal line and tied the game up. It didn't.

Sunday 1/17, Lehigh Valley - 4 at Bridgeport - 1

On Sunday in Bridgeport, the Phantoms ended their five-game losing streak behind a strong performance in net by Jason LaBarbera (42 saves - 43 shots) and timely scoring.

The difference between Sunday's game and the previous five was the Phantoms' ability to bare down and finish their chances. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period after several saves by LaBarbera kept the game scoreless, and then with the game very much in doubt at a 2-1 lead early in the third period the Phantoms tallied back to back goals in 30 seconds to break the game open and give them some breathing room.

The Week Ahead

Saturday 1/23, Lehigh Valley at Hershey - 7:00 p.m. ET


  • Jesper Pettersson was reassigned to Reading last week to alleviate the logjam of defenders on the AHL roster. Pettersson's move to the ECHL still leaves the Phantoms with eight healthy defensemen and in fact, seven played all three games this past weekend.
  • Petr Straka's lower body injury he suffered in Portland is still hampering his ability to play at 100%, thus why he was out of the lineup this weekend to allow more time for it to heal.
  • With nine veterans on the roster, three had to sit out in each game this weekend. Scott Gordon opted to keep the same lineup for all three games - leaving Aaron Palushaj out of the lineup as a healthy scratch for the first three times this season. Matt Lashoff and Jay Rosehill were the other veteran scratches over the weekend.
  • Chris Conner has gotten into rhythm quickly since returning from a five-week layoff with an upper body injury. He went pointless in his first two games back, but now has goals in three straight games and four points (3G-1A) in three games last weekend.

Weekly Links

Last week at The Home News, my Phantoms feature was on the team hoping to get back on track after an 0-3 weekend, Stay tuned for this week's print story on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Over the weekend, I posted my weekly look around the AHL's Eastern Conference in Saturday's Morning Skate (1/16).

There plenty of features here online this past week, Other than an update from Tuesday's practice  to start the week, I caught up with rookie defenseman Christian Marti to gather his thoughts on hoping to stay healthy and make an impact after being limited to just six games this season.

The big question and the one I've been asked most often by Flyers fans relates to whether or not Sam Morin is ready for the NHL. I got some very good insights from Phantoms assistant coach Riley Cote on Morin's development and the progress he's making this season with Lehigh Valley.

On Friday, Lehigh Valley Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon was named an assistant coach for Team USA in this year's 2016 World Cup of Hockey tournament. Gordon is no stranger to competing in international play, and reminisced about growing up in the same hometown as 1980's Team USA goaltender Jim Craig and just how special representing the United States is.


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