Whitehall-Coplay Press

Monday, January 20, 2020

Phantoms hope to end struggles

Thursday, January 9, 2020 by CHUCK HIXSON Special to the Press in Sports

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are hoping that they’ve reached rock bottom and that things won’t get any worse than they are right now.

The team sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Division after a stretch of 12 games that saw them pick up just two wins and score 16 goals to lose five straight games. The team endured a second straight shutout – and their fifth this season - in Laval on Friday night.

“Right now, we’re making it harder on us and part of that is pressing,” said head coach Scott Gordon. “Sometimes you have to simplify things. We made a lot of soft plays, soft passes, whether it was on entries, whether it was coming out of our zone. Those opportunities to make plays to the net, or trying to make a play that’s through three sticks and four pairs of skates. That’s where we’re at.”

The losing skid reached six straight games with a loss in Belleville on Saturday, but the offense at least responded with three goals in the 5-3 downfall. On Sunday, the Phantoms went to Toronto and picked up their first win since before Christmas with a 4-2 win against the Marlies.

Part of the reason for the offensive “explosion” in their last two games seems to have hinged on the return of Morgan Frost and Cal O’Reilly to the Phantoms’ lineup. The Phantoms were especially weak in the middle of the ice and with two important pieces placed back in the puzzle, they seemed to have a slightly different look.

The Phantoms spiraling offense that produced a 1.33 goals per game average over that disastrous 12-game stretch would seem to place more pressure on the goalies to be perfect. During the 12 games, Lehigh Valley goalies Alex Lyon and Felix Berube allowed an average of three goals per game. Gordon, who spent his days on the ice as a goalie, was quick to downplay the pressure that comes onto a goalie’s shoulders from a struggling offense.

“The job doesn’t change. You’re just worried about the next save. And whether you’re scoring or not, you have to think more in terms of what you need to do to be successful and you can’t worry about whether your team scores or not, can’t worry about if a defenseman doesn’t do his job or the forward doesn’t get a puck deep, your job is to stop the puck,” explained Gordon. “The bottom line is you play up to your abilities, Worry about yourself. And don’t worry about the offense, it’s out of your control.”

CANADIAN ADVENTURE... Pascal Laberge and Connor Bunnaman both scored in back-to-back games to wrap up the two-game excursion north of the border. Gerry Fitzgerald scored for the third time in six games in the win at Toronto. Frost sealed the decision with a late empty-netter in a homecoming for the Aurora, Ontario native.

HEY NOW, YOU’RE AN ALL-STAR... Morgan Frost will be the lone representative from the Phantoms to play in the annual All-Star Classic Jan. 26-27 in Ontario, Canada. Frost, 20, has appeared in 18 games for Lehigh Valley during his rookie season and has tallied 13 points on six goals and seven assists. He is currently tied for second on the team in goals and leads all Phantoms rookies in points. He also ranks in the top-10 among all AHL rookies in points per game this season. Frost notched his first pro point on Oct. 18, 2019, as part of a three assist game against the Binghamton Devils. He went on to tally points in seven-straight games, the longest stretch by a Phantom this season.

HOME STRETCH... The Phantoms play in Utica Friday night to end a stretch that saw them play eight of their last 10 games on the road. Their five game homestand starts Saturday against Laval and continues Sunday against Cleveland, wrapping up the three-in-three weekend, their third straight such stretch on the schedule. Syracuse, Binghamton and Rochester all come to town next week.