Sunday, December 30, 2012

Penalty problems 12/30

An ultra-rare, yet brief Sunday practice for the Adirondack Phantoms today as they prepare for their New Year's Eve matinee tilt with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers tomorrow. If you haven't already seen them, here's a mock-up of the tuxedo jerseys the Phantoms will be wearing for that game, which is set for 3 p.m.

Very Lloyd Christmas, no?

Moving on, the Phantoms are looking to cut back on the number of penalties they've taken this season. They've got 666 through 30 games, an average of 22.2 per night, but I combed through box scores to come up with a breakdown of the penalties they've committed this season. Take a look:

34 - Fighting (major)
30 - Hooking
29 - Roughing
23 - Slashing
20 - Interference
18 - Tripping
12 - Cross-checking
12 - Misconduct (assorted)
7 - Unsportsmanlike conduct
7 - Delay of game
7 - Holding
6 - Charging (minor)
5 - Elbowing (minor)
4 - High-Sticking
3 - Closing hand on puck
3 - Too many men
2 - Boarding
2 - Goaltender intereference
1 - Charging (major)
1 - Elbowing (major)
1 - Delay of game - Face-off violation
1 - Holding the stick
1- Kneeing
1 - Diving
1 - Instigating

Fighting is the most common offense, but right after that is hooking with 30. Then you've got other stick fouls like slashing and tripping right there in your top six. There are a couple reasons for that -- officials have been trying to eliminate hooking since the last lockout -- so they're going to call it when they see it. Coach Terry Murray wasn't shocked to hear those are the ones his team is committing.

He's kept track of penalties over the years and stick fouls like slashing and hooking are right up there.

"Slashing is probably the No. 1 over time that I look at it," the coach said. "It's hard today with the composite sticks, too. A stick breaks, it could be compromised already in a play earlier. Now you just touch it and it breaks. ... They're subjective, but I'm not trying to make any excuses for it, we still need to clean that up. We need a focus on our play without the puck. You have to have your feet moving in the game today, you have to have proper positioning and angling."

If you don't, you get called for it. Adirondack has relied on its penalty kill a lot this season, the Phantoms are right near the top of the AHL list in total shorthanded opportunities with 152. They've killed off 84.9 percent of them, but that's still a good amount of time they're on the kill each game.

“Our power play has struggled and if we keep giving up chances on the penalty kill our penalty kill will eventually break down," defenseman Danny Syvret said.

More from Danny Syvret and Rob Bordson in the print story here. I thought Bordson was a good person to talk to because Murray has praised his ability to use his stick as a tool, yet he's only been whistled for four penalties all season. He's found a way to defend using it and not get penalized.

"You just have to have a good, active stick," the center said. "Keep it on the ice, try and take away passing lanes and just stick on the puck. Coaches always tell us on the forecheck, try and get your stick on the ice and just break up the play a little bit. Hopefully we can address the situation and stay out of the box for the most part."

"For the most part" is an important part there, because there are times when the Phantoms are going to have to take penalties.

If someone like, say, Cory Conacher beats you off the wall and is barreling toward the net with no one in between him and the goaltender, you're expected to haul him down and then hope for the best on the penalty kill. There are times and places for penalties, but the Phantoms are trying to cut down the ones they commit at inopportune times, like in the attacking zone or on their own power plays.

"We have to stop putting ourselves in those penalty kill situations so much," Bordson said. "It ruins the flow and not everyone kills penalty, so not everyone's in the game. You have to play the game even-strength and try to draw penalties and get ourselves on the power play."

The power play hasn't been all that great either, hovering at right around 15 percent. The really good ones are up around 20 percent, and with Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Matt Ford, Syvret and others, the Phantoms certainly have the firepower that's capable of getting them to that number.

"At the end of the day, I think it just has to do with puck retrievals and the want around the net," Syvret said. "Not every goal on the power play can be a tic-tac-toe, through-the-seam, one-timer goal. There are a lot of goals that are just ugly looking on the power play, but they're still going in. We haven't been able to get those ... I don't know if our guys are fatigued, but there are times when our intensity isn't up to par with the penalty killing. I think, at the end of the day, that will obviously hurt our power-play percentage."

We'll see how it works out in the Bridgeport game and beyond. Probably no Garrett Roe for that one, as Murray says the center is day-to-day with an upper-body injury he suffered Friday. He didn't play Saturday night and he didn't practice Sunday, and it's rare for a player to return for a game without a practice. I also spotted Erik Gustafsson (ankle) walking around the Civic Center on crutches, so I'd be surprised if he's able to get a skate on for the game. That's what's been keeping him out, Murray said, as the defenseman just isn't able to get a skate on his foot without feeling some sort of discomfort.

More tomorrow afternoon.

Until next time,


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