Phantoms Needed a Bounce Back Win
After having a rough weekend, losing to the Hershey Bears in back-to-back games, the Phantoms were looking to get back on track. As they are midway through the AHL season, the defending Atlantic Division Champs look to turn their season around. Having a good record at 20-15-1-2, the Phantoms still see themselves in the middle of the division. With the visiting T-Birds coming into town the Phantoms look to leap over them in the standings.
One good look over the weekend was that Taylor Leier, the 24-year-old fourth-round pick of the flyers, looks to have his scoring touch back. He notched two goals in the 5-4 loss to the Bears on Sunday. Other good news for the Phantoms was that Alex Lyon looks to be back in his groove in net. Lyon is coming back from a lower-body injury. Lyon looks to this game to start back on the winning track.
In the opening seconds of the first period, the T-Birds looked for a quick attack on the Phantoms, and generated the first chance only seconds in but missing the net. The Phantoms looked to regroup and established a high forecheck while dumping and chasing the puck. This allowed the Phantoms to apply all the pressure, putting five shots and a lot of offensive zone time in the first seven minutes.
The first great scoring opportunity came off the stick of Nicolas Aubé-Kubel, who pressured hard on the forecheck. He created a turnover and was awarded a great scoring chance that was matched by T-Birds goaltender. Lyon had to come up big on a 2 on 1 opportunity for the T-birds where Lyon made a great stick save.
First on the Board
The first goal came from none other than Taylor Leier, who lifted the stick of the defense to go on a breakaway, and wasted no time going forehand to backhand and slid it home. That is three goals in two games for Leier as he really starts to heat up.
A few minutes later the Phantoms had another breakout chance as Vorobyev saw himself with a breakaway but was sticked aside. It seemed to be all Phantoms for the first period.
The start of the second saw the Phantoms on the power play for 1:17. The best chance from this power play was tic-tac-toe to Vorobyev in the low slot, but it was matched with a glove save. Short after the power play, the Phantoms were called for a holding. The Phantoms are the best penalty-killing team in the division, and it is easy to see why. With the team’s effort, not only did they kill the penalty but they created a shorthanded opportunity. Killing the penalty kept the momentum with the Phantoms, and it leads to another goal.
The second goal of the game came at 5:14 of the second period. The Phantoms stuck to their plan for the first, and stayed hard on the forecheck. This created a turnover to Wilcox, who passed it to their leader in points, Greg Carey. Carey puts a shot on net, which was deflected by Connor Bunnaman in front. This goal really allowed the Phantoms to dictate the play.
Just 1:18 later, the Phantoms scored again. The Phantoms broke out of their zone with numbers. Twarynski found the outlet pass to Vecchione, who passed the puck to Wilcox. This opened up a lane, and allowed Wilcox to pass it back to Vecchione who buried it back bar. This goal was a great team goal, and chased the T-Birds goalie from the net. Montembeault of the T-Birds was done for the night.
Change in Pace
Down 2 goals, the T-Birds looked to their big defenseman to spark some fire in their game. At 7:44, Chris Wideman looked to fight, and Goulbourne was up to the challenge. This was a heavy fight, both landing some big right hooks. Goulbourne landed a huge left hand that seemed to be the last punch to connect in this fight. The plan worked for the T-Birds, as they got a power play from the refs calling unsportsmanlike conduct on Goulbourne. The Phantoms killed it off.
The fight seemed to turn the tempo of the game for the T-Birds. The game became really chippy and rough, and the T-Birds got some chances. This led to the T-Birds only goal on the night. A turnover by Wilcox running into a player at the blue line sent the T-Birds on a 3 on 2. Lyon was up to the task, making the first save, and then a second miraculous save on the rebound, but nobody was there to clean up the chance. The T-Birds put the third rebound past him. The goal was reviewed, but it was called a good goal. At the end of the second, the Phantoms were leading 3-1.
The third period was a slow defensive period from the Phantoms. They had to kill off an early penalty, which was successful. The rest of the period was not as eventful, as the Phantoms shut down any offense that was generated. The T-Birds took 3 penalties in the third, but the Phantoms couldn’t capitalize. The game ended 3-1 to the Phantoms.
After the game, I caught up with Leier. When asked if he is more confident in his shot, Leier responded with a chuckle saying “It’s a lot of work behind the scene, practicing… with that mental confidence that you want the puck all the time and aren’t afraid to make plays, they correlate“.
The way the Lehigh Valley Phantoms started the game pleased Coach Huffman. They stayed strong on the forecheck- finding reward from their tough play. After being asked about establishing the forecheck, he stated “getting some pucks in behind their defensemen, that can open up the game for us, and let our skill take over”. He was very happy for the teams play, and to get a win.
The Phantoms next game is on Friday, January 18th in Hartford.
Follow Bryan on Twitter at @BryanCsordos
Photo taken by Bryan Csordos.