November was not the nicest of months to either the Philadelphia Flyers or their AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. After a 7-2-0-1 start to the season, the Phantoms struggled in November. A 5-5-0-1 record left them at 12-9-0-2 heading into December with some positives and a healthier roster to start.
The Phantoms dealt with some issues on their blue line – Philippe Myers, TJ Brennan, Sam Morin, Mark Friedman, and Reece Willcox all were sidelined for some time. They even had Mark Alt and Will O’Neill spend some time with the big club when Andrew MacDonald went down with an injury. December was a chance to start off on a new leaf and get on the right track before the new year. Let’s take a look at how the kids on the farm are doing.
Friday, December 1
Bears 2 | Phantoms 7
It was ‘Superhero Night’ at the PPL Center as the Phantoms took on one of their big division rivals for some Friday night fun. Veteran heroes in Greg Carey and Phil Varone helped take advantage of the evil opponent, each recording three points on the evening en route to a 7-2 thrashing of the Bears.
The Phantoms opened the scoring very late in the first period. A shot by Carey went off a defender’s leg and into the net to jumpstart the home squad. Alex Lyon let in a goal that he had no chance at stopping. A deflection that redirected and changed direction trickled by Lyon and tied things up early in the second period.
But that would be all of the scoring for Hershey for a little while. Lehigh Valley would score three goals just 2:13 apart, basically taking all of the life out of the Bears’ skates. Tyrell Goulbourne picked up the loose puck in front of the net, scored, and showed off a beautiful celly at the end of it. A minute later, Oskar Lindblom sent Phil Varone on a breakaway. Varone faked once, faked twice, and finished a backhand to give the Phantoms a two-goal lead. To cap the period of excitement, Corban Knight added a goal next to his name with a snipe, going top shelf and knocking the water bottle off the net.
In the third period, Danick Martel and Mike Vecchione went to work. Not only did each player almost score on their own from passes from one another, their chemistry allowed them to generate the fifth goal of the game. Vecchione grabbed a puck behind the net, fighting for positioning. He then threaded a beautiful pass to a wide-open Martel, who was parked in front of the net. Martel’s shot was blocked, but it redirected to Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who finished the play with a goal. Mark Alt would fire a puck from his own end on an empty net to give the Phantoms a 6-2 lead after a Bears goal, and Carey recorded a goal in the closing minutes to give them a 7-2 win.
The Phantoms swelled their lead to a 5-1 edge nearly seven minutes into the final period when Aube-Kubel landed his sixth goal of the year with a brilliant back hand at the side of the net. Danick Martel and Mike Vecchione assisted on the five-on-five marker scored 6:32 into the third period. The Phantoms’ strong team defense only allowed 11 shots in the final two periods of regulation, limiting chances and dominating on both ends.
Saturday, December 2
Score: Rocket 4 | Phantoms 3 (OT)
It was the annual Teddy Bear Toss at the PPL Center and fans didn’t have to wait long. Matt Read lit the lamp very early into regulation, causing teddy bears to be thrown from all areas of the arena. But despite all of the positives to set the tone, the Phantoms would fall short in overtime.
Greg Carey and Corban Knight each recorded goals to give the Phantoms a two-goal advantage going into the third period, but the Laval Rocket wouldn’t stop their pursuit. They took advantage of Dustin Tokarski late in the game, tying it up with just nine seconds left in regulation. The Phantoms were nine seconds from recording two points and jumping into third place in their division, but it wouldn’t be their night. Adam Cracknell would connect on the overtime game-winning goal just 1:17 into the extra frame. It wasn’t the greatest of endings to the weekend, but taking three out of a possible four points with an injured roster is definitely a success.
Both defensemen were not on the ice on Friday or Saturday evening. They are both dealing with injuries. The Phantoms’ blue line is still decimated with injuries and will be for a while. Frank Hora was recalled from the Reading Royals to play in place of the injured Morin. They also signed Adam Comrie and Nick Luukko to professional tryouts.
Lindblom recorded a primary assist on Phil Varone’s breakaway goal on Friday evening. His heads-up play and great vision enabled him to notice Hershey’s line change, allowing Varone to skate through the defense. It took a perfect pass to spring Varone on the goal. Lindblom played very well on the penalty kill as well, showing off his physical play along the boards and behind the net. The Phantoms killed all five power plays against them over the weekend. Lindblom’s two-way play is continuing to grow. The offensive numbers aren’t there just yet, but they’re slowly approaching. It’s only a matter of time before the young forward starts lighting the lamp.
The Phantoms’ forward played one of his best games of the season on Friday, but only had an assist to show for it. On Nicolas Aube-Kubel’s goal, the entire sequence was set up by a fantastic play from Mike Vecchione behind the net. Vecchione grabbed possession of the puck, turned to the front of the net, and tried to feed Danick Martel with a pass. Martel was wide open in front, but his shot was blocked to the side of the net where Aube-Kubel put home the loose puck. Vecchione and Martel had a ton of chemistry, trying to set the tone on their line together. It shows just where both players are with their development. Vecchione is barely knocking on the door of the Flyers’ bottom-six, a role he will likely play when he gets the call.
Martel showed that his call-up to the NHL wasn’t a one-time matter. The forward showed off his speed and creativity. He is certainly a step above a lot of his teammates, but when he is playing with a player like Vecchione, you can see why Ron Hextall decided to call up Martel. The stretch of 14 goals in 14 games was definitely not a fluke.
The young forward has shown signs of production this season, but only has nine points in 23 games to this point. He played well with Oskar Lindblom and Radel Fazleev. All three forwards were significantly strong creating turnovers in the neutral zone, negating rushes and just getting the puck down into the other end. Vorobyev had a few passes deflected by active sticks. When you watch him play, you can certainly see why Ron Hextall told reporters that the team will likely see him up at some point this season. He does a lot of the little things correctly, something the big club is struggling with at the moment.
Varone had a big weekend for the Phantoms. He recorded three points, including a filthy breakaway goal in a 7-2 win over the Hershey Bears at the PPL Center. Varone also hit the post and just fed a pass a little too far for a teammate, which would’ve given him two more points in the blowout. He’s very shifty behind the net and thrives in getting into the slot and firing shots on net. Laval had an answer for him on Saturday evening, limiting him to no shots on goal and no points.
It was a tale of two halves for Lyon. He started off the game extremely strong on Friday, but not facing a lot of shots till the end of the game may have thrown him off. The young netminder made 21 saves on 23 shots in a 7-2 win. He had a couple of big gloves saves and was very aggressive in getting pucks back out to his teammates, rather than freezing or waiting for defensemen to regroup behind the net. He’s struggled at times this season, but it doesn’t help that he’s dealt with a revolving door in front of him. The Phantoms have used a total of 12 defensemen already this season. Lyon is 8-6-1 with a 3.31 GAA and .894 save percentage.
Wednesday, Dec. 6 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Home, 7:05 p.m.)
Friday, Dec. 8 – Hershey Bears (Home, 7:05 p.m.)
Saturday, Dec. 9 – Hershey Bears (Away, 7:00 p.m.)
Atlantic Division Standings
1 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins – 13-5-0-1 (27 PTS, .711 PCT)
2 Providence Bruins – 13-6-2-0 (28 PTS, .667 PCT)
3 Charlotte Checkers – 14-8-0-1 (29 PTS, .630 PCT)
4 Lehigh Valley Phantoms – 13-7-1-2 (29 PTS, .630 PCT)
5 Bridgeport Sound Tigers – 12-8-1-1 (26 PTS, .591 PCT)
6 Hershey Bears – 10-10-0-3 (23 PTS, .500 PCT)
7 Hartford Wolf Pack – 8-12-3-1 (20 PTS, .417 PCT)
8 Springfield Thunderbirds – 9-15-1-0 (19 PTS, .380 PCT)
The Phantoms have a huge set of divisional games coming up this week. Big rivalry games set the tone from Wednesday night through the weekend. It’ll surely be a great atmosphere at the PPL Center both nights.
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