Saturday, February 2, 2013

Penguins 3, Phantoms 0 2/2

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goaltender Brad Thiessen has been playing some of the best hockey of his professional career over the past month. Including Saturday's 3-0, 20-save shutout of the Adirondack Phantoms, the fourth-year pro goalie has posted four shutouts in his past eight starts and allowed two or fewer goals in three of the four that he didn't completely blank the opponent.

But the Phantoms didn't Thiessen him a lot in this one. They didn't get that many shots on goal and the shots they didn't have weren't from grade-A scoring chances. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton plays some of the best defensive hockey in the American Hockey League, and has allowed the second-fewest shots per game in the 30-team AHL. And ultimately, this one probably came down to some bounces.

The Phantoms had three power plays in the game's first eight minutes, including a five-on-three. Marcel Noebels hit the post on one of them, then the Phantoms hit the post again. That could have put them up 1-0, instead it's scoreless. Then, a few minutes later, the Penguins get a bounce.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's first goal, a tip-in by veteran center Warren Peters, was a seeing-eye shot. It was a point shot from defenseman Joe Morrow and Peters tipped in front of the net. The second fell out of the sky like a meteor and landed right on Alex Grant's stick. He poked it in for an easy score.

"The second (Penguins) shot of the game, the puck had eyes," Phantoms coach Terry Murray told friend of the blog Jason Iacona after the game. "The second, everyone is looking in the air. The puck bounces over the net, lands in the blue paint and (Grant) puts it in. Those are lucky plays."

The third goal was a little less lucky. Peters and Kostopoulos swooped in on a quick-developing rush and Kostopoulous fired a pass across the ice, which Peters wristed past goalie Scott Munroe. At that point, the Phantoms are trailing by two with less than two minutes to go. They have to be more aggressive, the defensemen have to start getting involved and that's the risk they run with those plays.

"We were down," Phantoms defenseman Brandon Manning said. "Guys are pushing and that’s going to happen."

All things considered, I think the Phantoms had a good defensive effort. Neither goaltender had to make a bunch of extraordinary saves, but the Phantoms probably could have used some more shots.

"Overall defensively we weren’t too bad," Murray said. "I would have like to see us generate more five-on-five the other way, more pucks to the net.”
Added Manning: “We dominated them down low and got it behind their defensemen. We played well defensively, but just got beat by bad bounces. Those are tough bounces to take."
Adirondack is now 18-22-2-1 with 39 points. I think it's not all that unreasonable to start thinking about their playoff chances and what they would have to do to pull off a run and clinch a spot.

Last season, Manchester, the No. 8 seed, had 83 points. Suppose that's what the Phantoms need.

To get to that mark, they would need to get 44 points in their final 33 games. So you're basically looking at going 22-11 over this stretch, or subbing out some of those 11 regulation losses for overtime and shootout defeats. And even then, 83 points is not a guarantee. I'd say the Phantoms would probably need closer to 25 wins to really, really cement themselves as a playoff team.

Going 25-8 is a really tall order. Then again, Jeff Dimmen would say that it can be done.

I'm off tomorrow, but the team is practicing Monday. Expect an update then.

-- MC


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