The Lehigh Valley Phantoms had the opportunity to sweep a three-game home stand and head into the AHL All Star Break riding a massive wave of momentum. While they won the first two, they couldn’t cap it off on Saturday.
Their momentum dissipated with 57.5 seconds remaining in the third period Saturday night. Leading 2-1, the Utica Comets scored to tie the game, forcing overtime. Just over one minute into the extra session, Utica’s Wacey Hamilton slammed home a goal past Dustin Tokarski on a 2-on-1 to end the game and steal a win from the Phantoms.
“I feel like this year for whatever reason in the last minute we’ve put ourselves in a situation given teams an opportunity to come back in overtime or a shootout,” said captain Colin MacDonald after Friday night’s loss. “We started to address it this week. It’s something we need to continue to focus on because we haven’t done a good job in those 6-on-5 situations yet this year.”
The loss soured an otherwise solid week for the Phantoms. They picked up points in all three games, with two wins against Atlantic Division foes in their final three games before the All Star break.
Wednesday, Jan. 24
Phantoms 3, Providence Bruins 2
All eyes were on Travis Sanheim as the 20-year-old returned to the Phantoms and played in only his second game in 27 days. But it was Alex Lyon who stole the show. Lyon pitched a shutout for 58 minutes before Providence rallied for two goals at the end of the game, neither of which he could be at fault for. The former Yale Bulldog made 30 saves on 32 shots and was stellar in net on a night where the Phantoms defensive performance wasn’t up to par, according to head coach Scott Gordon.
“Our turnovers were horrific,” Gordon said. “We put ourselves in a defensive position in our zone because of the turnovers. We gave up a ton of really good chances off of turnovers.”
Alex Krushelnyski, Greg Carey and Mike Vecchione scored for the Phantoms.
Friday, Jan. 26
Phantoms 5, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 2
In the ninth meeting between the two northeast Pennsylvania rivals, the Phantoms powered past the rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 5-2. Dustin Tokarski was pulled after just 6:26 passed by in the first period after allowing two goals on four shots.
“Two goals on four shots, I usally don’t do that,” Gordon said after the game, referring to his decision to pull Tokarski. “I had a feeling we were ready to play. Alex has been playing well, not that Dustin wasn’t. I thought we could slow things down and could recoup and get the right mindset.”
In a whirlwind three days for Lyon, he shut the door in his relief appearance, stopping all 26 he faced against the Penguins. After playing Wednesday night, Lyon was called up to Philadelphia to back-up for the Flyers Thursday night. Shortly after, he was sent back to Lehigh Valley. Lyon said he was exhausted after the back-and-forth couple of days.
“That’s the nature of the business,” said Lyon. “I think as much as it is tiring, you got to embrace the grind and love it, so that’s what I try and do.”
“It’s every night against [the Penguins] and Hershey,” Aube-Kubel said. “It’s a rivalry. Every game is physical. We didn’t answer physically, we answered on the board.”
The Phantoms improved to 5-3-1 against the Penguins with three games remaining between the two teams.
Saturday, Jan 28
Phantoms 1, Utica Comets 2 (OT)
Wacey Hamilton’s overtime goal snapped the Phantoms three game win streak, but the Phantoms point streak extended to four straight games.
After being pulled the night before, Tokarski was right back in net for the Phantoms and turned in a strong performance. He stopped 30 of 33 shots and looked strong in net, even in the loss.
Mike Vecchione scored his 11th goal early in the first season to extend his goal streak to three games after heavy pressure in the offensive zone. The puck kicked out to Vecchione, who slammed it past Comets goaltender Thatcher Demko for the 1-0 lead.
Hamilton scored the first of his two goals early in the second to tie the game at 1-1.
Late in the second period and on the penalty kill, Oskar Lindblom scored his 13th goal on a gorgeous wrap-around play. The Swede put on a spin move to gain space, get around a defender, and wrap it around the opposite side of the net for the 2-1 lead.
Phillip Holm slapped a shot past Tokarski with 57.5 seconds remaining, and Hamilton won it for Utica 1:11 into overtime.
Things didn’t break the Phantoms way Saturday night. They combined to hit four posts, including two by Aube-Kubel. An inch here or there could have made for a completely different outcome.
Aube-Kubel hitting his stride
It seems like after each game, one has to question whether it’s been Nicolas Aube-Kubel’s best game of the year. And with the way the 21-year-old is playing it’s a valid question. Aube-Kubel has five points in his last six games, including the two-goal outburst against the Penguins Friday night. For the Slave Lake, Canada native, there’s a simple explanation for playing well lately.
“It comes with confidence,” Aube-Kubel said Friday. “I was playing well but when you get some points and score some goals it keeps growing. I think I’m in a good spot right now.”
Aube-Kubel is tied with Lindblom for third on the team with 13 goals and is fifth on the team in points with 28. But even when he’s not putting points on the scoresheet, Aube-Kubel can tell his game keeps getting better, though the goals are nice to have.
“I scored two goals but it’s not all about that. Some games I finish checks. I’ve played better defensively. I’m not sure which one is the best game but it feels good to score two goals.”
Gordon knew this was the type of play he could expect from Aube-Kubel at some point in his young career.
“It’s not that the talent wasn’t there. It was a question of when is he going to put it all together.”
While acknowledging the confidence the young forward has gained, Gordon added it’s much more than just confidence.
“It’s confidence, but confidence comes from working hard,” Gordon said. “Confidence comes from paying attention to details. In hockey, battling and compete…it’s amazing how much more confidence you have.”
Vecchione finding ways to get rewarded
Mike Vecchione has the hot hand offensively over the last week. He’s scored a goal in three straight games and is seeing his hard work in front of the net pay dividends.
“It’s definitely nice to get rewarded every once in a while, to get to the net and score those gritty ones. There not always going to be pretty, but they count and their pretty big goals.”
The Union College product has 11 goals this season and has tallied five points in his last six games.
“I’ve just been a little tougher getting to the net,” said Vecchione. “I’ve taken plenty of beatings over the previous three weeks and I was kind of slumping a little bit. They say like eighty five percent of goals are scored in the blue paint, so I’ve just been trying to get to that spot and it’s been working.”
Brennan and Lindblom represent Phantoms at All-Star Classic
While the rest of the team has off until Thursday, TJ Brennan and Oskar Lindblom have extra hockey to play. Both will represent the Phantoms and the Atlantic Division in the AHL All Star Classic Monday night in Utica, N.Y. Danick Martel was poised to make his first All Star Classic appearance, but a broken jaw suffered January 13 against Hershey forced him out of the exhibition. Lindblom was named as a replacement.
Brennan ranks third in points in the AHL among defensemen with 29 (9 goals, 20 assists). He scored Friday night against the Penguins in a 5-2 win. This is his fifth All Star Classic in a row dating back to 2014. He became the 10th defenseman in AHL history to amass 400 total points on December 29 against Charlotte, scoring a goal in a 3-1 win. Lindblom has 13 goals and 16 assists and is an All Star in his first year as a pro. He took part in the Skills Competition Sunday night, and his move in the shootout had the hockey world buzzing.
McDonald pleased with team’s play heading into All-Star Break
Though the Phantoms dropped the final game before the All Star Break, captain Colin McDonald likes what he’s seeing from the team.
“I thought it was a pretty decent last couple of games and a pretty solid sixty minutes,” McDonald said. We just fell a little short tonight. It wasn’t good enough obviously but overall, I do like the way this teams been playing the last couple games.”
The Phantoms are 5-1 in their last six games. With a division as tough as the Atlantic and a stretch run to the postseason looming, McDonald stressed the importance of having the next few days off before the last leg of the season begins.
“It really gives guys an opportunity just to unwind because once we get back the next break is going to be when the season’s over.”
Atlantic Division Standings Update
|2||Lehigh Valley Phantoms||45||26||13||3||3||58||0.644|
|5||Bridgeport Sound Tigers||44||22||16||4||2||50||0.568|
|6||Hartford Wolf Pack||46||20||20||3||3||46||0.500|
Next Week’s Schedule
Friday, Feb 2nd vs Charlotte Checkers, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday, Feb 3rd @ Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 7:05 p.m.
- Alex Lyon has a .931 save percentage in eight games since returning to the Phantoms December 29. He’s 5-2 with a 2.14 GAA. In his last three games, he’s 3-0 and stopped 97 of 101 shots faced.
- Phil Varone’s 43 points (11 goals, 32 assists) puts him tied for first place in the AHL. His 32 assists rank third in the league.
- Mikhail Vorobyev returned to the Phantoms lineup for the first time since December 12. He had an assist Friday night against Wilkes-Barre.