"There's a little different vibe in the locker room," defenseman Cullen Eddy said. "Younger guys and stuff like that. Two-point-oh, I guess we were just trying to get back on track and finish strong the second half of the season here."
Adirondack ended the quote-unquote lockout half of the season at 15-18-1-1. They are eight points out of a playoff spot. I include last weekend's results in there because the lockout didn't officially end until after their game Saturday night. So the second half of the season -- already important -- now becomes exponentially more vital to them. I'll let Phantoms defenseman Oliver Lauridsen explain.
"That's where you make it or break it," he said. "If you're going to play bad and you're just going to put your head between your legs, it's going to go real bad in the second half. Teams are getting better and better every day as we go on and you're going to get slaughtered if you're just going to fold. Or you can put up a fight and put up a fight and really make a push for it and try to be one of the better teams in the second half. We're not that far out of it and I really believe that we will make that push and make that happen."
If they're going to make that push, they're going to have to do it with a very different looking team. Schenn and Couturier are gone for good and many of the players they called up from the ECHL -- Ian Slater, Marcel Noebels, Andrew Johnston, Matt Mangene -- are in their first season of professional hockey. But then Friday night the Phantoms played what was by all accounts one of their finest games of the season, a shootout win against a Binghamton team that still had its entire NHL line-up.
"That game clearly shows that working hard and working right, then it doesn't matter what kind of guys you have," Lauridsen said. "If you put in the right amount of work and you work hard and work for each other, play as a team, that will get you really, really far in this league too."
Hard work is important, but so is smart work. Some bugs haven't been worked out of the system yet.
There were still some very Phantoms1.0 elements in Adirondack's performance Saturday in Wilkes-Barre. They took way too many penalties and lost what seemed like just about every face-off in the game. Even then, they were still within a goal of the Penguins late in the third period. This team, if they can finally eliminate those negative and play with some degree of the consistency that has largely eluded them to date, will be in a lot of games and have a chance to win most of them.
"Everyone needs to find something that motivates them to play the game," Eddy said. "Whether it's getting paid to play, for the fans, for your family, for the love of it or it's just something you're good at. I think there's a little extra motivation now that the NHL's back. There could be that extra push for some guys that gives them a chance. 'Hey, there's something to play for here.' Hate to say it, but that's kind of the reality. That shouldn't be the case all the time, but it gives you that little extra push."
And right now the Phantoms have a lot of rookies. Is that good or bad? You can subscribe to both theories. On one hand, they're inexperienced and unproven at the professional level. On the other hand, they're probably the players that are going to try the hardest to impress the coaching staff.
"I'm excited for that," Murray said. "The group now that is in the line-up is a pretty young group. I think from now to the end of the year you're going to see some young players take big strides in their game. The opportunity is here. They're hungry. I see it in practice when they're working very hard, paying attention. They want to watch the video, watch themselves and see what kind of corrections we can help them out with. They're good character guys, hungry to learn and this is their time now to make a big push, get themselves in the view of management and as they get into the training camp next year, who knows what kind of progress could happen by that time?"
Murray himself isn't a Tweeter, so he didn't know about the use of the Phantoms2.0 nickname per se.
But he does see where it gets its roots.
"There's a general feeling league-wide that there's basically a fresh start," he said. "A lot of guys might have been off to a situation at the start where they're in or out of the line-up, they're playing lower than what they might have in a normal situation and so they're excited about getting where they feel very comfortable, where they feel they can contribute and help the team. This is the situation we're in."
Before I go, Brian Boucher and Andreas Lilja cleared waivers and were formally assigned to the Phantoms. The plan is to work Boucher hard in the morning skate tomorrow, scratch him for the game, and reevaluate, Murray said. He didn't rule him out of dressing later this weekend, though a lot of it is going to depend on how the goaltender feels. He's only had two real practices since April.
I'd wager you'd see Cal Heeter in net tomorrow because Munroe hasn't seen much practice work this week, but I'm really not the kind of person you should be consulting for betting advice.
And winger Matthew Ford left practice after a rebound hit him in the face. He had a pretty nasty cut on his lip and Tweeted he received "couple new teeth, couple stitches," but should be "good as new."
Stories in tomorrow's paper about Tye McGinn, brief NHLer, and Erik Gustafsson, All-Star.
Until next time,