Weirdness and messiness abound
Where we are
Complete standings here.
We’ve got a bit of tonal dissonance happening this week, folks. Because you can look at that table and be like, “wow, third in the division, three of four available points on the weekend, that seems pretty good! I’ll take that!” And yeah, we’ll still take that. We will take all of the points we can get, always. But it was a pretty rough road to get those three points.
The Phantoms kicked off the first game of their home-and-home weekend against the Devils in Binghamton on Friday. After falling being 2-0 in the first period, goals from David Kase, German Rubtsov (shorthanded), and Mikhail Vorobyev gave them the lead until 3:18 left in the third period, when the Devils tied things up to send it to overtime. It took an admittedly pretty nifty spin-o-rama goal to beat Carter Hart, and the Phantoms went home with eight of the available 12 points on their road trip.
Back at home on Saturday, and having just looked a little flat the night before, we might have expected the Phantoms to come out with some more jump and that… well that didn’t happen. The Phantoms gave up another two goal lead early and just really couldn’t seem to get anything going. It took a goalie pull with just under seven minutes to go in the third (which was awesome) and this turned out to be the catalyst, and Colin McDonald got them on the board with a goal off a deflected shot from T.J. Brennan. Inside the last two minutes of play, they would get another chance to tie things up, but time was ticking away. With just eight seconds left in regulation, Philippe Myers made a great play to keep the puck in play, got it to Brennan who chipped it to Phil Varone in front for the game-tying goal. The overtime endeavor was a better one than the night before, and the Phantoms evened the scales with a goal from Mike Vecchione to steal the win.
Not too much to report, in terms of news this week. The best we’ve got is the report (per Saturday’s broadcast crew) that Taylor Leier’s dealing with a couple of minor injuries, and that’s why we’ve seen him sitting for the last three games. There hasn’t been any confirmation from the team on this, so we’ll classify this a report, not a full news item. But that’s all we’ve got, for now.
*old timey news sounds* Oh, we’ve got some breaking news, folks. Well, not breaking by the time you all read this, but breaking to the literal moment I was typing out this section. On Monday, the Flyers placed Michal Neuvirth on IR and recalled Alex Lyon, so he’s a Flyer now, and the Phantoms are down to two goalies again. Per Dave Isaac, Neuvirth is around four days away (as of Monday), so it doesn’t look like we’ll be missing Lyon for too long, but who knows. Weird things happen. We’ll see him when we see him.
It feels like forever since we’ve seen Misha Vorobyev. I mean, we’ve seen him, playing around six or seven minutes a night up with the Flyers, and the Sunday before last with the Phantoms, where he didn’t do a whole lot (nor did we expect him to) after being dropped straight into the action after playing with the Flyers the night before. But last weekend we really saw him coming on, looking like the player we expected to see, dropped back into the AHL.
He came out of the weekend with a goal, an assist (on Rubtsov’s goal), and five shots across the two games. Though we typically see him as a defense first type of player, he was doing well on the offensive side this weekend, making use of that very nice shot we see on occasion.
Vorobyev забил свой первый в этом сезоне! pic.twitter.com/u0eYx17pOJ
— LehighValleyPhantoms (@LVPhantoms) November 3, 2018
But outside of his impacts on the offensive side, he was most noticeable in his help on the penalty kill. After a rocky start, the penalty kill is starting to even out some (more on that later), but they were perfect, going six for six this weekend, and a good deal of that can be attributed to Vorobyev’s presence. He was one of their best penalty killers last season, and having him back is a real bump to that unit. His aggression in chasing down the puck, strength along the boards to tie it up, and sense of when to get it to just the right person at the right time have all been major assets. Things are looking up.
At the end of their playoff run last season, we noted that Vorobyev looked like a guy who was too good to be in the AHL, and this hasn’t changed. But if him being here means he can actually play more substantial minutes, and help out the Phantoms in the process, so be it.
You know, we really never tire of talking about how good German Rubtsov’s been this season. After the rough road that led him to Lehigh Valley, it’s a real delight to see him getting settled. And he’s not just looking settled, he keeps on looking better.
Vorobyev to Rubtsov.
Nothin’ but net. pic.twitter.com/Sh3ZmabUHq
— LehighValleyPhantoms (@LVPhantoms) November 3, 2018
He picked up a goal and an assist on two shots on the weekend, and continued to look sharp both at 5-on-5 and on special teams. His performance has earned him his stay on the top power play unit, where they were able to generate a bit of pressure, but couldn’t close. He really shone on the penalty kill, with a nice sequence in particular that we break down below (I’m done teasing it, I’m sorry), but on the whole remained sound on the whole.
We didn’t get his best on the weekend, it’s hard to say that we got the best of anyone, but he was quietly sound and looking settled in the early parts of the season. He’s been consistent, and in a way, that’s some of the best we can see from a rookie adjusting to a new league.
We’ve hit this point over the head a bit by now, but we have to say it again—Saturday was not a good game for the Phantoms, even though they got the win. It’s hard to say that really anyone showed up to play with their best game possible, save for one. Save for one Alex Lyon.
And in a way this feels like a strange thing to say—how in good faith can you give the third star of the week to a guy who gave the Devils the two goal lead on Saturday after letting in a goal from just inside center ice? For starters, we would say that that was a wacky goal, that looked from above like it was just an attempt to dump the puck into the zone, and took a weird bounce along the way. It’s still a bad goal, but there was also some weirdness there.
But after we addressed that elephant in the room, we would go on to talk about how solid Lyon’s play was through the rest of the game. The Phantoms gave up 42 shots on the evening, and weren’t able to do a whole lot to keep themselves in the game, so it came down to Lyon to make the timely saves, in hopes that the team in front of him would rally, could rally, and dig themselves out. Scott Gordon pointed to this directly after the game, noting:
“and tonight, I don’t even think it was close. I think they were the better team. You know, for whatever reason, we didn’t get anybody’s best, except for Alex [Lyon], Alex was our best player, and you know, if he wasn’t as good as he was, there’s not even a thought of pulling the goalie, we probably would have been down four, five, six nothing.”
So, weird goal aside, Saturday really was all Lyon. The team in front held on long enough to make the late game push, but they wouldn’t have been in the position to do so without Lyon.
1.The penalty kill is stabilizing
We’ve been doing a lot of grumbling about special teams, up and down the Flyers’ organization, but in a shocking turn of events, we’re here to say some nice things about the Phantoms’ penalty kill.
They were perfect this weekend, going six-for-six over those two games. We saw them sticking with that usual “trying to get in passing lanes and blocking shots” thing, per their system, but they were also more aggressive in getting after the puck carrier, and this made them, by and large, disruptive. They also brought a little bit of flash—as the penalty to Connor Bunnaman was coming to an end in Saturday’s game, Vorobyev was able to tie the puck up along to boards to eat up some time, and then got it out to The Germ who elected not to just chip it out of the zone immediately, but rather, seeing Bunnaman was about to exit the penalty box, held for a moment so they could start an odd-man rush out of the defensive zone when the penalty expired, setting up a scoring chance after a successful kill. And, really, you couldn’t draw that up much better.
All told, it’s been a pretty good start to the season for the Phantoms’ penalty killers. At present, they’re sitting at 76.6 percent, which puts them at 22nd in the league. And, you might say, that doesn’t really sound all that great. But when you strip out that absolute nightmare game from October 12 against Springfield, where they gave up five power play goals, their percentage jumps all the way up to 85 percent, tying them for eighth in the league. And, we know, you can’t just erase one game because we don’t like its numbers, that’s true. But we should also acknowledge that otherwise good results are being skewed a bit by one outlier game.
They’re picking up ground, working at improving their PK percentage, but it’s slow going, because we’re also seeing them not taking a whole lot of penalties—they’ve been shorthanded 47 times so far this season, the second fewest times of anyone in their division, behind just Providence. And, in a way, we might take that above a prettier percentage, anyway.
There really isn’t a nicer or more eloquent way to phrase this one. We’ve had a couple of game so far this season where we’ve hit the final buzzer and said to ourselves “that was the worst game they’ve played this season.” And somehow, inexplicably, we had two of those in a row this weekend.
The Phantoms came out of the weekend with three of four available points, but they did so while getting pretty well thrashed by our shot metrics. At 5-on-5, they put up a 35.21 and 38.46 CF% on Friday and Saturday respectively, and while it was a slight improvement by the numbers on Saturday, it was just as rough, if not a little worse, by the eye. Only one player put up a CF% at or above 50 percent (Carsen Twarynski and a dead-on 50 percent, hello). That’s it.
So, what gives? The Phantoms were missing a few players (with Tyrell Goulbourne and Nic Aube-Kubel called up to the Flyers, and Taylor Leier sidelined with his mystery injury/injuries). And Binghamton was doing well on the defensive side of their play. Do they just need to tighten up? Are we able to chalk it up to a couple of rough games? It seems too early to make any definitive judgements on what’s going on with their play, here. Maybe a few good days of practice lets them get back on track and back to their more dominant play (which we know they can bring). We’re happy with the points they picked up this weekend, but they’re staring down a couple of tough opponents this weekend, and this model they’re playing with—getting thrashed in shots and somehow being able to rally from behind to pick up at least a point—isn’t sustainable. This weekend will be the test of how they can respond, how they can break out of this cycle.
A look forward
The Phantoms are back at it with two home games this weekend—they meet Springfield again on Friday, and the Charlotte Checkers on Saturday. The last time we saw Springfield, it was a game with more than its fair share of late game heroics, that helped propel them into a shootout win after that aforementioned nightmare game the night before. For Charlotte, though, it will be the first time we’ve seen them since the Phantoms defeated them in the second round of last year’s playoffs. They’re off to a hot start, sitting at first in the division with a 10-1 record. Neither of these matchups figure to be easy ones, and after a rough showing last weekend, the Phantoms will have a big task ahead of them, showing they can get back on track, and do it quickly.