F. Zack FitzGerald 2/13
Some might think FitzGerald would practice with the defensemen in this situation, giving the Phantoms an even four lines and four defensive pairings. But coach Terry Murray has opted to keep FitzGerald as the fourth-line left wing, giving the Phantoms 13 forwards and seven blueliners during practices.
It's not difficult to figure out why. I'll let Murray explain.
“I like him as a forward and simply because of his presence,” Murray said. “He’s got a reputation. He’s got a presence. He’s a big guy that can get in on the hunt and scare a few people maybe and loosen up some pucks in the offensive zone. He’s good on the forecheck. He can get some hits whenever the opportunity is there and he’s skating. He’s moving. I think his ability, then, to do the things that I like from that role fits better from that side of it then it does on the back end.”
The "scare a few people maybe" bit isn't all that different from the justification for putting Zac Rinaldo on the power play at the start of the season. The idea is if FitzGerald is making a beeline toward an opposing player, that player might be either a little more timid in playing the puck or they may rush into making a poor decision with it. Either of those would benefit the Phantoms.
By my count, the last time the Phantoms used FitzGerald as a defensemen was in the Jan. 4 and Jan. 5 home-and-home series with the Connecticut Whale. The last seven games he has played have all been as a left wing, and he has played that position in all but five of his 20 appearances this season.
"In the game today, we’re trying to play six (defensemen) on a pretty consistent basis and we need them on the ice," Murray said. "I think Fitzy sometimes gets recognized very quickly by sitting in the box. Then you play short and put a little bit too much pressure on you on the checking part from the defensemen."
When he has dropped back, it has mostly been out of necessity because other blueliners have been injured. When that happens, Murray has usually gone with five blueliners and occasionally rotated FitzGerald in as necessary. When FitzGerald is inserted on the fourth line, he takes a regular shift.
Simply, it's easier to double shift a winger if FitzGerald sits than it is to double shift a defenseman.
“I think it works better, smoother," Murray said. "The transition is easy for a player that is a forward on the No. 1 line to double shift. They’re looking for that extra ice time anyway, so it works.”
Same personnel as yesterday at today's practice. Testwuide, who got through a 25-minute practice yesterday, made it through about 45 minutes today. Murray has said he is hopeful Brown, Testwuide (head) and Garrett Roe (upper-body) will all be able to play this weekend, but Testwuide is still in no-contact colors. It seems to me like Testwuide playing this weekend may be a stretch.
"We'll just err on the side of caution here with that," Murray said. "What we're trying to do is just get his intensity up and get him through some duration, some time at high level and then you see how the body responds to it. If you can go through several days like that, then obviously you're good to and you can start to think about getting him into the line-up."
The lines, as they appeared today:
Testwuide (no contact)
EDIT: Forgot to mention that Jon Sim's 25-game try-out deal is now a standard player contract, effective Feb. 8. Barring a transaction, which would be unforeseen, that places Sim here through the end of the season. He has played well through five games, and has brought some veteran leadership to the locker room. He i also a strong finisher on a team that does not have an abundance of them.
Power play units went Laliberte-Roe-Sim with Akeson and Syvret at the point and then Mangene-Noebels-Johnston/Harper in front of Manning and Gustafsson. The fact that Roe (upper-body) is on the top power play unit to me indicates he should be good to go Friday against the Devils, but Murray would not commit to that after Wednesday's practice. We will hopefully know more tomorrow.