Saturday, March 30, 2013

Phantoms 4, Bridgeport 1 3/30

What do Kyle Flanagan, Derek Mathers, Jon Sim and Marcel Noebels have in common?

None of them were on the Adirondack Phantoms' roster at the beginning of the year, and all of them scored tonight as the Phantoms handed the Bridgeport Sound Tigers a 4-1 loss at the Civic Center.

That was actually an indication of a larger theme in this one. Thanks to a slew of call-ups to the NHL, as well as trades and free-agent signings, the Phantoms dressed 10 players tonight who weren't on their roster to start the season. Six of them had a point, and the seventh was the starting goaltender.

Brian Boucher made 30 saves -- including 12 each in the first and third periods -- to earn the victory.

The takeaway from this game is that the team has finally assembled a collection of players that is capable of scoring some goals, and they're starting to do that. They are 7-4-0-1 in their past 12 games, and they are scoring 2.91 goals per game during that stretch. If that seems pedestrian, that would give them 95 points over the course of the year. It would also be the No. 12 offense in the entire AHL.

Instead, the Phantoms are 28-34-2-3 and still 12 points out of a playoff spot with nine games to go. Players have accepted that's probably not going to happen, but they're buying into the philosophy that there's still a lot to play for. Noebels is going to try and get a look in Philadelphia's camp next year. Flanagan and Mathers are vying for roster spots in the AHL, and they both just may well earn them.

“It’s unfortunate,” Sim said. “Sometimes you run out of time. That’s the way it was this season. It was a different season, a weird season. You can’t control the schedule. You run out of time, you run out of time. These guys are going to get opportunities. It’s for them to make a name for themselves. You have to keep pushing along.”

Here's another item I thought was interesting: Jon Sim and David Laliberte were both healthy scratches as recently as last week. Those came after they were scoreless for seven games in Laliberte's case, and three game's in Sim's case. Since then, they've both been point-per-game players.

I think it's safe to say they got the message.

"I know it's a question of numbers," Laliberte said. "We get a lot of young guys and when you don't make the playoffs, you want to develop those young kids too. I knew I had to play a little bit better, and I worked really hard during those days that I wasn't playing. You just have to stay positive and try to get better. That's what I did. I didn't go down on myself. I just tried to keep going and work hard and work on my stuff. I think that's the only way you can do it."

Sim thought he was playing well before he he sat out, though Murray said Sim has improved lately.

“I think we’re seeing an energized Sim right now," Murray said. "I’ve noticed the upbeat in his tempo and his play. That’s where we need it to be. For us to have some success on any given night, he has to be a player that’s going to be a threat in the offensive part of the game.”

Sim's line was really firing on all cylinders tonight. He, Noebels and Flanagan all scored goals -- including Flanagan's first pro goal just 97 seconds into the game -- and finished with five points between them. There would have been more, but there were some late scoring corrections.

The other thing to take away from this one is the three goals that the Phantoms scored in a six-minute span in the second period. Those came after Zack FitzGerald had a nice fight at center ice where he dropped Nathan McIver with two quick haymakers. Earlier in the period, McIver laid a questionable hit on Rob Bordson in front of the Zamboni entrance and no one really made him pay for it until that.

Then Mathers scored his first pro goal about four minutes later on a solid, heads-up play -- go to the front of the net, wait for a rebound and then bury it -- to give the Phantoms some insurance. Sim scored on a deflection just 1:14 after that, and Noebels scored on a goofy play in the final minute of the second period. Rick DiPietro came out to play the puck behind the net and Laliberte whacked it away from him to Noebels in front, and he buried it into an empty net for an easy power-play goal.

Brandon DeFazio got one back in the third period, but it was too little too late. I really didn't think DiPietro had his strongest game tonight, and the Phantoms needed to capitalize on that. They did.

A couple of injury updates: Tyler Brown will probably miss the rest of the season with his shoulder injury, Murray said. Matt Mangene left tonight's game after he fell down and then a teammate tried to jump over him and accidentally caught him with a knee in the back or back of the head, Murray said. "I'm not sure where he's at," the coach added.

I'm off through Tuesday, so expect the next blog update on Wednesday.

Until next time,

Pre-Game vs. Bridgeport 3/30

Greetings from Glens Falls Civic Center, where tonight the Adirondack Phantoms (27-34-2-3) kick off a three-game homestand with a game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (27-27-6-5). This is a must-win for the Sound Tigers, who are six points back of the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot with 11 games to go. They go with Rick DiPietro in goal. Adirondack counters with Brian Boucher.

Full lines are below.

First, the Philadelphia Flyers' media relations staff sent out some quotes about Oliver Lauridsen, who made his National Hockey League debut today in Philadelphia's 3-1 win over Boston. He played 17:12 and went scoreless, but his teammates and new coach had nothing but good things to say.

"He’s a big guy that defends well," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said of Lauridsen. "He’s a good stay at home defenseman. If you look at the matchups we have I thought it would be best to split up our game, put him and Luke (Schenn) out there against that big line of big bodies. I wanted to put big bodies on big bodies as much as possible. I think when a young player comes In you want to watch him and see how he’s doing in his first game and as the game progresses you just find him and he did a good job defensively. That’s a tough line to play against so it didn’t make sense if you have a guy that’s playing a good game and doing what he’s asked to keep him on the bench and change things up in the final five or ten minutes. He played a strong game for us."
Added Claude Giroux: "He’s big out there. He’s got a good stick and he’s really smart with the puck. I’ve never seen him play before, but he’s a really good player."
Added Mike Knuble: "He did great. It’s a million things going through your mind when you’re playing your first game. There are so many things going through your brain and it’s not easy. You come in with no practice and you’re playing the Boston Bruins. It’s a tough thing to step into, right into the fire."
Reporters asked Lauridsen his reaction about getting the call-up yesterday.
"Well, I was really stoked," Lauridsen said. "It was a great feeling. It’s what you have been waiting for, for a long time. Obviously, I was just overly happy and had to tell my family."
They also asked him if anything about the NHL surprised him.
"It’s a different scene and it’s a different game," Lauridsen said. "It definitely was. As I said, as soon as that first period and first couple shifts were out of the way, it was hockey senses pretty much."
Shifting back to Glens Falls, the Sound Tigers have one to scratch. Looks like it'll either be Keenan or Jackson. EDIT: It's Keenan. Munroe took warm-ups as the back-up goalie, but was announced as the scratch.
F: Persson-Sundstrom-Kabanov
D: Donovan-Wishart
G: DiPietro
F: Wellwood-Roe-Akeson
D: Manning-Eddy
G: Boucher
Referees: Terry Koharski, Trent Knorr. Linesmen: Mike Emanatian, Steeve Lemay.   

Friday, March 29, 2013

Senators 5, Phantoms 2 3/29

With a 6-3-0-1 record in their past 10 games, it looked like the Adirondack Phantoms had finally gotten themselves off the schneid that had caused them to spend a month in the AHL’s cellar.

Then they ran into Cole Schneider.

The rookie winger scored two goals and set up two more as the Binghamton Senators raced out to a 4-0 lead and went on to beat the Phantoms 5-2 Friday at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.

Schneider’s four points were a career high, and it became apparent early that he had the Midas touch.

He was awarded a penalty shot after Phantoms defenseman Matt Konan tripped him up on a shorthanded breakaway, then skated in on goalie Cal Heeter and scored despite having his stick break in half mid-shot.

With a new stick in hand, Schenider scored 62 seconds later at even-strength to put Binghamton up 2-0 just 15:33 into the first period.

Later, in the second period, he set up Pat Cannone and Mark Borowiecki as the Senators capitalized on two rushes to go up 4-0 before the period was six minutes old.

That would be plenty of run support for goalie Nathan Lawson, who made 37 saves.

But Jason Akeson cut the lead to 4-1 with a power-play goal later in the second period, becoming the first Adirondack Phantoms player to record 100th career point with the team, and Eric Wellwood made it 4-2 in the third period with his own power-play tally. He batted the rebound of Jon Sim’s shot out of mid-air.

However, Binghamton’s Derek Grant squashed any hopes of a comeback a little less than five minutes after Wellwood’s goal by jamming Wacey Hamilton’s rebound past Heeter (35 saves) with 12:25 to play.

At least three Binghamton goals came as a result of poor puck management, which has been one of the Phantoms’ weaknesses all season. Schneider was awarded the penalty shot after the Phantoms turned the puck over at the blue line and Borowiecki found him with an outlet pass. The second and third came as Adirondack dumped the puck in and either did not recover it, or turned it over immediately after it did. By capitalizing on those errors, Binghamton (40-21-1-5) became the second team in the AHL to reach the 40-win mark this season.

The loss dropped the Phantoms’ record to 27-34-2-3. Their 34 regulation losses are the most in the AHL, and they are 12 points out of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot with 10 games to play.

The Phantoms remain one point ahead of the Hamilton Bulldogs, who also lost Friday, for outright last place in the league. They host the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Civic Center.

Adirondack was without defenseman Oliver Lauridsen, who was called up to the Philadelphia Flyers earlier Friday. With Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder injury, Lauridsen could make his NHL debut Saturday when the Flyers host Boston. He had produced 1-5-6 in 59 games with Adirondack, and had been a steady presence on the team’s penalty kill. He became the 11th Phantoms player to get called up to the Flyers this season, and the third since Monday.

The Phantoms, who also lost Erik Gustaffson to a call-up since their last game, got some reinforcements on the blue line as Brandon Manning and Cullen Eddy returned to the line-up after missing four and two games, respectively, with minor injuries. However, those two combined to finish a minus-six.

More before the Bridgeport game.
— MC

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Murray nears 600 wins 3/28

Check out tomorrow's paper for a story on Adirondack Phantoms coach Terry Murray, who is one win away from hitting 600 in his professional career. All but 100 of them have come in the NHL, and how he first got to the NHL  as a head coach is a pretty interesting story. He said he has never applied for any job in his life, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. Everyone has contacted him.

Interestingly, if the Phantoms get the win tomorrow in Binghamton, Murray's 600th professional win will come against the organization that his older brother, Bryan Murray, is in charge of as general manager. Sort of a neat tie there, but not one that you'd really look all that much into. Certainly not as big as the one that led to Murray getting his first head coaching job in the National Hockey League.

More on that in the print story.

Other than that, it was business as usual at practice today. Defenseman Matt Konan, who Murray tried in front of the net on the power play yesterday, wasn't there today. Eric Wellwood was taking some shifts there. It will be interesting to see who takes over Tye McGinn's spot in the game. It looks like it would be Wellwood, though I think Marcel Noebels could be another candidate. He's big too, and he's got some hands. But he's already on the No. 2 power play, which has found chemistry of late.

Interestingly about Noebels, some reporters were talking to Murray about him and mentioned how well he has been playing despite the broken toe he suffered earlier this month. Murray said he forgot that Noebels had even broken his toe. Clearly, he's not showing any ill effects from that injury.

In other news, the Flyers assigned center Andrew Johnston from ECHL Trenton to the Phantoms, but I'm told that's just a paper transaction. So don't expect to see him in the line-up this weekend.

More after the Binghamton game,

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Offense and injuries 3/26

There was a lot of personnel news at this afternoon’s Adirondack Phantoms practice, but you will have to scroll down a bit to get to that stuff. First, I wanted to share a little bit of statistical analysis with you all.

It is no secret that the Phantoms have struggled to score goals this season – they remain on pace for the lowest-scoring season in the 17-year history of the franchise – and their 27-33-2-3 record reflects that.

The interesting thing about that, though, is they are close to unbeatable when their offense is producing. Take a look at Adirondack’s results in its past nine games:

March 9 vs. Connecticut 4-3 W
March 10 at Albany 3-2 SOL
March 13 at Portland 6-3 L
March 15 at Binghamton 3-2 W
March 17 at Hershey 5-2 L
March 19 at Norfolk 4-1 W
March 20 at Norfolk 3-0 L
March 23 at Connecticut 5-2 W
March 24 vs. Portland 4-2 W

Notice anything that jumps off the page? The Phantoms went 5-1 when they scored three or more goals. They’re 21-4-1-1 when doing that this year, miles ahead of their 6-29-1-2 mark when scoring two or fewer.

It’s nothing revolutionary – the entire point of hockey is to score goals, so obviously teams are more likely to win when they score more of them – but I was more interested in the fact that the Phantoms hit that three-goal mark six times in their past nine games, and are averaging exactly three goals during this run. They did it just six times in their 20 games before that, and were averaging 2.28 goals through 56 games.

In other words, the Phantoms are not only scoring more goals right now, but they are scoring more goals more often.

“We have more skill in our line-up right now, and that’s always very helpful,” Phantoms coach Terry Murray said Tuesday. “I think you make your own bounces. I’m not a big believer that you just go out and work hard and eventually good things will happen. There has to be some purpose to your work and some clear direction as to what it is you’re trying to do as a line, as a group. We’re doing that more consistently.”

Added Phantoms winger Jon Sim: “We’re working the right way. We’re putting pucks in spots where we get them back offensively. We’re creating really good forechecks and that pushes defensemen off and that gives you a little more room through the neutral zone. We’re playing the right way and it shows on the scoreboard and it shows at the end of the game where we get the wins.”

Murray said Adirondack’s attacks have been better, and defensemen are starting to join the rush on a more consistent basis. The power plays have also been better over the past nine games, going 10-for-46 (21.7 percent). They are breaking the puck out better than they were, and are managing it better in the offensive zone. They are not spending as much time chasing down the pucks that have been cleared.

“We’re finding out now that more good things happen when you shoot the puck from the blue line than any other area of the ice on the power play – and that’s a fact,” Murray said. “That’s a proven fact. Statistically, over the years, I’ve been very aware of that and that’s where the puck has to get to the net whenever the opportunity is there. Now you’re going to generate some good things, over the big picture.”

They’re also doing a better job of getting those shots to the net. How many times had you seen a one-timer from the right point miss wide left and then rim itself around the glass or boards, clear out of the zone?

“Guys have been in the right spots,” Sim said. “They’re making hard passes, good passes and we have guys around the net. We’re hitting the net, which makes a huge difference when you’re on the power play. Those one-timers that we’re taking are hitting the net instead of missing the net by a foot or an inch and it goes all the way around and it’s out. It’s an easy breakout for the other team.”

Adirondack has been even better when you only look at the games that Tye McGinn, who has an extraordinary presence in front of the net, played. Then it becomes 10-for-38, or a 26.3 percent clip.

“There’s no question to me that when McGinn is here and he’s at the front of the net, it makes a difference,” Murray said. “He’s a big body. He knows how to play the position. He’s getting the goaltender’s head. He’s looking for it all the time. Whenever you can create that kind of problem for a goalie, then either the puck goes in or there’s going to be something laying around and we’re converging on the net more consistently now.”

The real question is how the Phantoms will react now that McGinn has been called up to Philadelphia. Murray said he might try Marcel Noebels in that position, or perhaps Tyler Brown could hold it down.

That would depend on how quickly Brown is able to return from the left shoulder injury he suffered when Mathieu Brodeur legally hit him into the boards Sunday against Portland. He was out of the sling and moving his arm a little bit Tuesday, but said he could not make some arm movements comfortably. Brown said he had an MRI done Tuesday and should know more about the severity of the injury Wednesday.

Murray said center Rob Bordson should be back on the ice that morning, which is pretty remarkable considering he took a David Rundblad one-timer right to his visor on Sunday. He was sporting a black eye after practice, which he sat out, so it wouldn’t shock me if he wore a cage for a bit – especially to protect the cut above his eye.

Cullen Eddy also missed Tuesday's practice with an undisclosed injury. Brandon Manning, who has missed four straight games with his minor injury, was skating. Based on that evidence, he’s probably a bit closer to returning.

In other personnel news, goaltender Brian Boucher was getting some treatment for the injury that relegated him to a back-up role this weekend, so he didn’t skate. Scott Munroe, who was scratched with an illness this weekend, returned. Andreas Lilja was given the day off so he could visit family in New Jersey.

One other injury update: Phantoms captain Ben Holmstrom was in the building today and said he would skate on his surgically repaired knee Wednesday morning. He had a locker nameplate set up in an auxiliary dressing room at the Civic Center. That is not to say he will practice, but at least his rehab is progressing. He was expected to miss four-to-six months after undergoing ACL surgery back in December.

I have another assignment tomorrow, so I would expect the next blog update after Thursday’s practice. Maybe I’ll surprise you with one tomorrow anyway.

Until next time,

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Phantoms 4, Portland 2 3/24

The final score of the game almost becomes inconsequential when there is an injury like the one Rob Bordson suffered early in the second period. The center took a David Rundblad one-timer to his visor, and there was so much force on the shot that it shattered the glass and left him with a nasty, crescent-shaped cut around his eye. With that amount of blood on the rink, you're just hoping the player is OK.

Those are the kinds of plays that could end someone's career. Just ask Philadelphia Flyers Director of Player Development Ian Laperriere, who happened to be in attendance tonight. His career was cut short by the injuries he suffered when he took a shot to the face in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fortunately for Bordson and the Adirondack Phantoms, things don't seem nearly that bad. He was wearing a visor, which prevented the puck from hitting him directly in the face. That's an important thing to note. Defenseman Oliver Lauridsen, the first player to reach Bordson, said the center was responsive and answering all the questions he was asked on the ice. Bordson needed some stitches to close the wound, but was only complaining of a headache after the game. He even exchanged words with Laperriere in the hallway outside the Phantoms locker room. Bordson later Tweeted that he was feeling better, and hoped he might be able to return to Adirondack's line-up next weekend.

Phantoms coach Terry Murray said it was too early to put a timetable on Bordson's return -- he'll need a couple days before he can be reevaluated -- but he wasn't exactly thrilled with Rundblad. It's not like the defenseman tried to intentionally shot the puck at Bordson, but Murray still said he broke one of hockey's unwritten rules by one-timing a rolling puck. It was an interesting thought he shared.

“That’s the game – the way it is – today,” Murray said. “You’ve got composite sticks, you’ve got rolling pucks, you’ve got bad ice. You’ve got players shooting one-timers who shouldn’t be shooting one-timers. One of the rules of all time is you never shoot a rolling puck. You have to get a flat puck as a defenseman, because that’s what happens. I think those things, they’re not even talked about anymore. You just shoot the puck.”

A couple weeks ago, when I was talking to him about, interestingly, whether visors should be mandatory in the NHL, he shared an interesting story from his NHL coaching days. He was saying that Capitals defenseman Rod Langway did not wear a helmet when they were first made mandatory, as the old players were grandfathered in, but he was paired with a guy who did. Go back and read it, because he makes an interesting argument. To summarize: players are wearing more protection now, which is good because it protects them from injuries, but it also in turn can lead to more recklessness.

Tyler Brown, however, was injured on a clean hit. Mathieu Brodeur hit him hard into the boards behind the Portland goal in the first period and he did not return. He was sporting a sling after the game, and has a shoulder injury. He'll be re-evaluated after the doctors have a chance to see him.

With those two out, the Phantoms were down to 10 healthy forwards. Then Portland scored to take a 2-1 lead in the second period. Then Jeff Dimmen scored on a power play two minutes later to tie it and Marcel Noebels and Eric Wellwood also scored before the end of the second period to put Adirondack up 4-2. The fact they were able to do that with just 10 healthy forwards says something.

"It's about some character there," Murray said. "Some guys are learning how to do things. Here we are at the end of the year, they're talking about the right stuff on the bench the whole time. ... That's important stuff. It's easy for me to stand in the locker room and talk about things in meetings, but there's nothing like going through it and having the experience of it. This is an important kind of situation for these young guys."

They were able to win despite matching their season low with 18 shots. Part of that is because they only had 10 forwards for two periods -- and two of them were Kyle Flanagan and Derek Mathers, who just joined the team this week -- but they converted the few they got. In the second period, for example, they scored three goals on 7 shots. Goalie Cal Heeter made 17 saves in the second period, then 14 more in the third period to make sure that the 4-2 lead became a final score. He had 40 in all.

“Heets was standing tall on his head,” Dimmen said. “We weren’t getting that many shots, so it’s really important to capitalize on them when you do, and to capitalize on those power plays.”

They also may have set a Phantoms record by scoring nine seconds after the opening face-off. Tye McGinn, Garrett Roe and Jason Akeson all crashed the net and McGinn backhanded a rebound past Mark Visentin. It is believed to be the fastest goal off an opening face-off in Phantoms history. McGinn said it was a play they had worked on in practice over the fast few days.

"You're just trying to get a quick play," Murray added. "There's so much pressure coming at everybody right away on face-off wins and losses right now that you have to get the puck north (up the ice) right away. You get a player into position, you're just looking to get it down and get the forecheck going. It ended up this time that we got a lucky bounce."

Expect the next blog update Tuesday.
-- MC

Pre-Game vs. Portland 3/24

Greetings from Glens Falls Civic Center, where the Adirondack Phantoms (26-33-2-3) return home after a seven-game, 15-day, state-basketball-tournament-induced road trip to take on the Portland Pirates (35-23-3-2). This kicks off a stretch that will see the Phantoms play nine of their final 12 games at home. They go with the same line-up that they did last night at Connecticut, and why shouldn't they? The power play scored four goals and Jason Akeson broke the team's scoring record.

There is one change, though. Tye McGinn, who wore an alternate captain's "A" on his jersey last night didn't wear one for warm-ups. Will have to ask coach Terry Murray about that after the game. If nothing changes, it looks like defenseman Danny Syvret will be the only letter-wearer for this one.

Cal Heeter gets the start in net. Scott Munroe is presumably still ill, so Brian Boucher is backing up again. Mark Visentin gets the start for Portland, who is dressing heavyweight Joel Rechlicz. Derek Mathers is playing for Adirondack. You wonder what will happen if those two are on the ice together.

F: Conner-Martinook-Johnson
D: Summers-Goncherov
G: Visentin

F: McGinn-Roe-Akeson
D: Gustafsson-Dimmen
G: Heeter

Referees: Trevor Hanson, Chris Ciamaga. Linesmen: Mike Emanatian, Frank Murphy.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Phantoms 5, Whale 2 3/23

It's somewhat ironic that an Adirondack Phantoms forward broke the team's all-time scoring record in a season that could just be the lowest-scoring one in team history, but that's what happened Saturday.

Jason Akeson recorded his 96th, 97th and 98th career points in an Adirondack Phantoms uniform to surpass Denis Hamel atop the team's scoring list as the Phantoms beat the Connecticut Whale 5-2.

Hamel, Akeson's former linemate, recorded 96 points in his 140-game Phantoms career between 2010 and 2012. Akeson hit that mark in 14 fewer games, in large part due to the roll he's been on recently.

He has produced 7-11-18 in his past 13 games after recording just 7-18-25 in his first 37 appearances. Break that down a bit further and you'll see he went 0-10-10 in his first nine games, then 7-8-15 in his next 28, then 7-11-18. He has been thinking more like a shooter, he told me earlier this week, and he and his line mates have gotten some bounces as of late. Tonight, everything seemed to go their way.

Akeson, Garrett Roe and Tye McGinn all had three-point showings. McGinn had three assists, giving him seven points in his last three games and 10 in his last five. Roe had his first career multi-goal game and an assist, giving him 11 points in his past eight games. Akeson had a goal and two helpers.

On the record-setting 97th point, Akeson and McGinn teamed up to steal the puck below the goal line and worked it in front to Roe, who jammed it past Whale goaltender Jason Missiaen for a 3-1 lead. That, incidentally, was the only goal the Phantoms scored that was not on the power play. The units combined to score a single-game season-high four times with the man advantage, finishing 4-for-5.

In the third period, McGinn made a gorgeous, no-look, behind-the-back, spinning pass that found Akeson cutting in from the left point and he one-timed it past Missiaen to break his own record. That also tied his career high in goals (14) and gave him sole possession of the team's goal-scoring lead.

They finished the seven-game road trip 3-3-1, which is good under normal circumstances. They picked up half of the possible points. If they had done that all season, they would have 65 points right now and they would only be five points out of a playoff spot with 12 games to go. That's very much doable. They have not, though, and they're 12 points out with 12 games to go. That's not promising.

This upped their goal total to 151. I know the AHL standings says 155, but that includes the goals they got for shootout wins. The AHL doesn't include those when calculating franchise records, like the Phantoms' franchise record for fewest goals in a season: 193. They need to average 3.5 goals per game the rest of the way to tie that mark. The Phantoms are averaging 2.7 over their past 10 games.

Speaking of goal scoring, Shane Harper got back-to-back hat tricks in the ECHL this weekend, and spoke with friend of the blog / Journal Register Company brethren Mike Ashmore after the game. And former Philadelphia Phantom Boyd Kane picked up his 500th career AHL point for Hershey. 

Believe it or not, this was the Phantoms franchise’s first win in Hartford since Dec. 10, 2005, when the then-Philadelphia Phantoms beat the Hartford Wolf Pack, 3-2, in a shootout. The Phantoms, Philadelphia or Adirondack, had lost 10 in a row in the XL Center, to Hartford or Connecticut, since.

Newcomer Kyle Flanagan recorded his first professional point, an assist on Adirondack's first goal, throwing a gutsy pass through Ryan Bourque's skates that eventually turned into a Marcel Noebels goal. I was really impressed with Flanagan's speed -- there was one sequence where Noebels stole the puck at the blueline and Flanagan, who was centering a line with him and Jon Sim -- came rushing in from center ice and beat Noebels to the net. The pass, though, was a bit off and nothing came of it.

Derek Mathers also made his season debut, and leveled a guy in the right-wing corner about two minutes in. He also got some power play time late in the game and I can totally see why. He's 6-foot-3. Put him in front of the net and see what he can do. He doesn't have to score to be effective, as long as he plants his feet and takes away the goaltender's eyes. Then again, tonight's goalie was 6-foot-8, so good luck with that. Mathers didn't fight anyone, but I am sure hoping to see him go with Portland's Joel Rechlicz tomorrow at the Civic Center. That might be worth the price of a ticket alone.

One more quick thing: McGinn was wearing an "A" tonight to give the Phantoms two letter-wearers. They were down to one -- Danny Syvret -- after Harry Zolnierczyk was called up to Philadelphia. The other, Brandon Manning, remained sidelined with a minor injury. Cullen Eddy was also banged up, so defenseman Jeff Dimmen returned to the line-up after sitting out the past month as a healthy scratch.

More before the game tomorrow, one of nine home dates the Phantoms have in their final 12 games.
-- MC

Akeson, Gustafsson on the brink 3/23

Denis Hamel's days as the Adirondack Phantoms' all-time scoring leader are numbered.

The veteran sniper recorded a team-record 96 points in 140 appearances between 2010 and 2012, but forward Jason Akeson and defenseman Erik Gustafsson are now both within striking distance of their former teammate.

Akeson has 95 career points with the Phantoms in 125 games, while Gustafsson has 94 in 142.

The two could conceivably surpass Hamel this weekend, perhaps as early as tonight at Connecticut.

EDIT, 8:24 p.m.: Akeson has two points tonight, making him the new record holder.

 However, neither of them said they had given the chance to break a team record much thought at all.

"It'd be pretty neat to do, but it's just one of those things," Akeson said after Adirondack practiced Friday. "If you play here long enough, you'll get something. It's exciting, but it's not my main focus."

Gustafsson agreed, saying his focus has always been to reach the National Hockey League. As an offensive-minded, puck-moving defenseman, though, Gustafsson's point production could be viewed as a barometer of his success in that role. The more points he gets could help him make that jump.

"I'm supposed to put points on the board and help the team score," Gustafsson said Friday afternoon. "That's my game. I'm happy I could move on from college and keep putting points on the board. Hopefully I can move up one more step and bring the same type of play up there (in the NHL)."

Hamel, Akeson and Gustafsson have taken different routes to get to the top of the scoring list.

Hamel was a 14th year pro who could not find a job in the AHL before the Phantoms signed him in November 2010, when the team was in the midst of that dismal 6-23-0-2 start to its season. He went on to lead the team in scoring that season, posting 25-25-50, then finished second with 46 last year.

Akeson was an elite playmaker in his junior hockey career, and has shown some of that skill during his first two professional seasons. He led the team in scoring with 55 points in his rookie year, and he is on pace to do that again this season after recording 40 points in 49 games. The winger has ascended the leader board in meteoric fashion in the past month or so, recording 15 points in his past 12 games.

"We're getting the bounces right now," Akeson said, referring to himself and his linemates, Garrett Roe and Tye McGinn. "We played well before, but pucks weren't going in. Now that pucks are going in, it looks good. We've played together before, so it's fun. We're enjoying it right now."

Gustafsson's has been more of a gradual climb.

He left Northern Michigan at the end of his junior season and immediately made a splash with the Phantoms, posting seven points in his first five pro games. He posted 49 as a rookie in 2010-11, but injuries and call-ups to the NHL have slowed his ascension down in the past two seasons. However, Gustafsson is not exactly complaining that Akeson surpassed him while he was playing in the NHL.

That's ultimately what it's all about. If the two of them go scoreless in two games this weekend and get called up to the NHL on Monday, they will be perfectly fine with never breaking Hamel's record.

To help their chances of a big-league call-up, however, they're both targeting specific improvements.

Akeson began the season in the ECHL to make adjustments in his two-way game, and it looks like that has paid off. He is now being used on the Phantoms' penalty kill, which is ranked 11th in the AHL at 84.6 percent entering Saturday. He spent the summer working on improving his speed, and continues to do so. He believes that, along with his scoring punch, could be his ticket to the NHL.

"Speed is everything now in the new game," Akeson said. "You can never be too fast, and you're ahead of the game if you're quicker than somebody else. Speed is going to play a huge factor in my career and in everyone's career."

Gustafsson thought he played well in Philadelphia during his latest 11-game call-up, but is aiming at improving his consistency. Down games, mistakes and giveaways seem to be put under a microscope when an NHL team is fighting for the playoff spot and has a player on a two-way contract. They can send that player to the AHL for some extra seasoning without the risk of losing him on waivers.

"You want to play well and you want to impress the management and the coaching staff so they keep you there," Gustafsson said. "For me, it's tough. I want to make plays. Sometimes the best play is just (off the) glass and out. Sometimes, you have to recognize that. It's little stuff like that I have to keep working on and try to keep in my mind."

Here's what Phantoms coach Terry Murray had to say about those two making the jump to the NHL:
"It's about executing at a high level on a consistent basis. You literally need to, in both cases, get near an all-star performance kind of effort on a yearly basis. Then you know that the player is playing every game, coming to the rink every day with the right kind of attitude, preparing to be able to play his best and doing it at critical times. When a team is expected to win, those are the players that are leading the way. To me, that's where players need to be in order to, again, not just get a taste of it, not just go up for a cup of coffee -- where they actually have a breakthrough and they're going to be a part of an NHL team."
More after the Connecticut game,

Friday, March 22, 2013

Zapp Flanagan 3/22

The Adirondack Phantoms practiced at Glens Falls Civic Center for the first time in a week Friday morning, and they had a couple of new faces with them. St. Lawrence product Kyle Flanagan took part in his first pro practice, while Derek Mathers saw the Civic Center ice for the first time this year.

Flanagan is Philadelphia's newest prospect, having signed a one-year NHL deal with the Flyers earlier this week, while Mathers was the club's seventh-round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. This is actually his second tour of duty with the Phantoms, as he played nine AHL games at the end of last season. I had the chance to catch up with both of them at practice today, and I have some notes below.

  • This wasn't Flanagan's first visit to the Capital District, and you can read more about that in the print story that is in tomorrow's paper. One of his best friends lives in Saratoga, and Flanagan would drive down from his hometown, Canton, to go to concerts at Saratoga Performing Arts Center -- specifically, a country festival featuring Eric Church a couple of years ago. He's also fairly certain he had played some youth hockey games in the Glens Falls-area, but couldn't say that with any certainty. So Flanagan is not really a guy that you would ask for directions, but he's at least a little bit familiar with his new surroundings.
  • Flanagan said he never had a chance to turn professional before his senior season, but said that was just "one of those things that just kind of fuels the fire and keeps you driving." He seemed like an ultra-competitive guy, which should make him an interesting player to watch.
  • Here's how he described himself, for those that have not seen him before: “If I don’t have the puck, I go and get it. I don’t like to wait for it and I don’t care if it’s someone who’s bigger than me or stronger than me or taller. That’s why I like the way Philly plays. They have their hard-nosed style of hockey and everyone knows that. For me, I’m a skilled guy, but at the same time hard work can’t replace skill.”
  • Flanagan was named one of ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey after posting 15-32-47 in his senior season. He found out when his coach called him as he was driving down to Glens Falls on Thursday night. Not only did he go to school with one of the other finalists, Greg Carey, but they were line mates for three seasons. Flanagan said Carey was planning to stick around another year at college, for what that is worth.
  • He said he treated the four or five professional contract offers he received after his senior season much like he treated selecting a college. Ultimately, Philadelphia's front office said all the right things. “I just got excited about going to St. Lawrence and when I thought about going to school there, more than other schools. That’s how I thought about going to Philly. I got excited when I thought about it.” I think that's a pretty significant thing for him to say, since he was playing in his hometown at St. Lawrence, and played with his brother for two years.
  • Flanagan is a bit undersized at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, and acknowledged that's probably the first thing people are going to see when they look at him. That's fine, he said, because he likes proving people wrong. That quote about his style of play says a lot about his approach to the game, but it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the professional game.
  • Mathers, a 6-foot-3 giant for his 19-year-old age, projects as Philadelphia's enforcer of the future. He played 64 OHL junior games between his nine-game stint with Adirondack last year and Tuesday, when he joined the Phantoms again. It was a bit of a tumultuous season for Peterborough, they started 8-23-0-4 before firing coach Mike Pelino. They traded some of their top-end prospects like Slater Koekkoek and Francis Menard. Mathers took over the captaincy later in the season. His thoughts on the season as a whole: "It's definitely improved my game. Hopefully I can contribute a little more than just the fighting part of the game this year." 
  • His reputation as a pugilist proceeds him a little bit, and that's part of the reason why Philadelphia drafted him. But he believes the powers that be are trying to take fighting out of the game at the NHL level -- the OHL has a new rule where you get suspended if you pick up too many fighting majors -- so he's trying to add some other aspects to his game. He upped his point production to 29 this year after recording 17 last season, but part of that can be attributed to him having another year of juniors under his belt. He also knows that his physical play is probably his ticket to a NHL job. "(The Flyers) definitely like that part. Every time I talk to them, they say they wanted me to play like (Zac) Rinaldo -- that gritty game and put some points up here or there too. We'll see what happens."
  •  He said the nine games he played last season helped ease the transition this time around.
In other news, Brian Boucher missed Friday's practice with soreness and is probably out this weekend, Phantoms coach Terry Murray said. Cal Heeter, up from Trenton, and Scott Munroe will handle the goaltending duties when the Phantoms visit Connecticut and host Portland.

I had the chance to speak to Jason Akeson and Erik Gustafsson, who are both within two points of the Adirondack Phantoms' all-time scoring record. Look for that blog post tomorrow before the game.

The lines, as Tweeted earlier:



Brandon Manning, who missed the Norfolk games with a minor injury, could play Saturday, Murray said, but he will make a decision tomorrow at morning skate. If Manning can't go, expect Cullen Eddy or Jeff Dimmen to play. My guess would be Eddy, but Murray could always surprise us.

Until next time,

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Norfolk 3, Adirondack 0 3/20

Adirondack Phantoms goalie Scott Munroe has said he likes facing a lot of shots, as heavier workloads help him work into a rhythm. His teammates should probably not take that to heart.

The Norfolk Admirals bombarded Munroe with 48 shots on goal - one of the highest totals in the AHL this season - and scored on three of them to secure a 3-0 shutout win Wednesday night at Scope Arena.

It was the fifth time in 31 appearances Munroe faced 40 or more shots, and Adirondack is 1-4 in those games.

The Phantoms fell to 25-33-2-3, and were blanked for the sixth time this season. Frederik Andersen, a 6-foot-4 rookie from Denmark, made 32 saves to bounce back from his 4-1 loss to Adirondack on Tuesday.

In that game, Adirondack built a 2-0, second-period lead by being credited with 20 of the first 31 shots.

They had a nearly polar opposite start Wednesday, and were outshot 21-8 in the game’s first 20 minutes.

That was enough time for the Admirals to build their own 2-0 lead, which they held for most of regulation.

Kyle Wilson opened the scoring 6:05 after puck drop by converting Ryan Parent’s behind-the-back pass, and Devante Smith-Pelly added an insurance goal when his shot found its way behind Munroe at 12:52.

Rookie defenseman Sami Vatanen added a four-on-four goal in the third period to put Norfolk up 3-0.
Former Phantoms forward Patrick Maroon had two assists for the Admirals, who improved to 30-28-4-1.

In a strange coincidence, both of the other AHL games played Wednesday resulted in shutout victories for the home team. Adirondack’s loss was the most lopsided, in terms of both final score and shot differential.

They had seen a slight offensive uptick in their past six games, averaging three goals per game as opposed to the 2.38 they had been averaging, but their struggles to score returned Wednesday.

With 146 goals through 63 games, not including the four they received for winning four shootouts, the Phantoms are on pace for the lowest-scoring season in the franchise’s 17-year history.

The team would have to average more than three goals per game in its final 13 outings to avoid that dubious distinction.

The Phantoms can finish the season with no more than 81 points, and that is assuming they go 13-0, but two Eastern Conference teams have already hit that plateau, and six more teams can reach it by April 6.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Adirondack 4, Norfolk 1 3/19

The Adirondack Phantoms will go to bed Tuesday night knowing some welcome news.

For the first time in more than one month, they are not last in the American Hockey League.

Tye McGinn had two goals and two assists and Brian Boucher made 27 saves as the Phantoms beat the Norfolk Admirals 4-1 Tuesday at Scope Arena, and picked up their 54th and 55th points of the season.

That allowed them to leapfrog the idle Hamilton Bulldogs, who have 54 points, in the AHL standings.

Adirondack (25-32-2-3) had been the team with the fewest points in the 30-team AHL since a Feb. 16 loss to the Worcester Sharks. That began a stretch during which the Phantoms lost seven of their eight games, but Tuesday marked the fifth time in the past seven games that they amassed at least one point (4-2-0-1).

McGinn, whose four points were a single-game career high, factored in every Adirondack goal Tuesday.

In doing so, he established a new career high in goals and points. He has 13 and 22, respectively, in 37 AHL games this season after producing just 12 and 18 during his 68-game rookie campaign last year.

The winger was undoubtedly a big reason why the Phantoms built a 3-0 lead midway through regulation.

First, he found Garrett Roe with an outlet pass and Roe dangled through two defenders before hitting a trailing Erik Gustafsson with a pass. Gustafsson scored the opening goal from the left-wing dot at 8:58.

In the second period, he took a stretch pass from Jason Akeson and got in alone on goalie Frederik Andersen (27 saves), going to his backhand to double the lead exactly 20 minutes after Gustafsson scored.

Only 72 seconds after that, McGinn set up Danny Syvret’s power-play goal for a three-goal advantage.

That was more than enough for Boucher, who bounced back from a Sunday loss in which he allowed five goals on 24 shots.

He came within inches of a shutout, allowing only a third-period power-play goal to Devante Smith-Pelley, who cut toward the net and slid the puck through Boucher’s pads to make it 3-1.

But McGinn added an empty-netter with less than 15 seconds to go to restore Adirondack’s three-goal lead.

The Phantoms are 3-0 against Norfolk (29-28-4-1) this season, and they can sweep the four-game season series with a win against the Admirals Wednesday at Scope. Puck drop is set for 7:15 p.m.

Now, some loose ends.

The Phantoms officially signed winger Derek Mathers to an amateur try-out contract before the game. No surprises there. Mathers, a 6-foot-3 19-year-old, was Philadelphia’s seventh-round pick in 2011, and had 10-19-29 and 125 penalty minutes in 64 OHL games with Peterborough this year. The Petes were eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday, allowing their players to join pro teams.

The Phantoms are also reportedly poised to add another player later this week.

The Philadelphia Flyers have signed St. Lawrence product Kyle Flanagan, according to a report from TSN's Bob McKenzie, and the 5-foot-9 forward is poised to join Adirondack on an amateur try-out on Friday. He had 15 goals, 32 assists and 47 points in 35 games with St. Lawrence this season, which places him ninth overall in the nation's collegiate scoring race. Here's a good read on the Canton native, in which he discusses playing for and captaining what is basically his hometown team.

The Philadelphia Flyers reassigned winger Harry Zolnierczyk to Adirondack Monday night, after he finished serving his four-game NHL suspension. He went scoreless in Tuesday's game.

Akeson and Gustafsson each had two points, giving them 95 and 94 in their respective careers with the Phantoms. Denis Hamel is the team’s all-time scoring leader with 96 points in 140 games. Gustafsson has played 141 games, but Akeson has played 16 fewer than Hamel. Pretty remarkable that he spent the first month or so of the year in the ECHL, and he could lead the team in scoring.

Until next time,

Monday, March 18, 2013

Junior tracker 3/18

The Phantoms are on the road for much of this week -- visiting Norfolk Tuesday and Wednesday and then Connecticut Saturday -- so blog updates are probably going to be a little scarce until they return.

However, I thought this might be a good time to take a look at how some of Philadelphia's amateur prospects are doing and when we might see some of those players join the Adirondack Phantoms.

Remember, the rule is that AHL teams can sign junior or college players to try-out contracts once their respective teams have been eliminated from the playoffs. And it seems like we might already be seeing one of those in the works. Philadelphia's 2011 seventh-rounder Derek Mathers, whose Peterborough Petes were eliminated from playoff contention Sunday, Tweeted a fan who asked him if he would be recalled by Adirondack that he would "be there tomorrow" -- so keep an eye out for that.

Mathers, billed as Philadelphia's enforcer of the future, produced 10-19-29 in 64 OHL games this season, adding 125 penalty minutes and 11 fighting majors. He had 26 penalty minutes in nine games with Adirondack last year, including this pummeling he unleashed on Worcester's Mike Moore.

First of all, something to keep an eye on is the ECHL. Trenton is 13 points out of a playoff spot with seven games remaining. The Titans' last scheduled game is March 30, so it wouldn't surprise me to see guys like Shane Harper, Andrew Johnston and Cal Heeter get called up once their season ends.

Now, as far as juniors go, the big players to keep an eye on are guys like Scott Laughton, a two-way center who nearly made the Flyers as an 18-year-old, and Nick Cousins, who had 103 points in 64 OHL games. They are both on playoff teams (Oshawa and Sault Ste. Marie), respectively, so they have to play out their first playoff series before they could possibly be assigned to Adirondack.

You're looking around the beginning of April if they lose the first round series, and if they win it then it'd be anywhere between another week and two weeks before you might see them come to Adirondack. The Phantoms' last scheduled game is April 21, so if either of those players make it to a third playoff round, you can probably forget about seeing them in Glens Falls this season.

Laughton and fellow prospect Colin Suellentrop, a defenseman picked in the fourth round in 2011, are on a pretty good Oshawa team that locked up the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and they're playing a sub-.500 team in Niagara in the first round. Cousins and fellow Flyers prospect Brandon Alderson are on the No. 6 team in the Western Conference, which goes against No. 3 seed Owen Sound, which only lost 18 games in regulation. That will be a pretty tough match-up for them.

A guy you may be a little less likely to see is goalie Anthony Stolarz, Philadelphia's second-round pick in 2012. He is on a talented London Knights team that picked up 105 points in the regular season, which was tops in the OHL. They've got a pretty good offense, and could go a long way.

In the WHL, two guys to keep an eye on are Taylor Leier, Philadelphia's fourth pick in 2012. He had 62 points in 64 games, but he was on a Portland team that won the regular-season title by nine points. The Flyers have an overager, Brendan Ranford, playing for Kamloops -- and he put up his third straight season of 86 or more points, finishing with 87. Again, though, his team is a No. 3 seed.

If they were to lose in the first round, you'd be looking at the end of March or the start of April.

One more to look for is defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is having a breakout season down the road at Union College, but he's only a sophomore. He couldn't sign an try-out unless he wanted to forego his junior and senior seasons. Same situation with Nick Luukko, a defenseman at Vermont.

This is all fluid, obviously, and the Flyers could always bring someone in that they haven't drafted. Remember Matt Mangene and Campbell Elynuik last year? They signed Mangene as a free agent out of Maine, and Elynuik was a kid they had in their development camp that past summer. So you might want to also keep an eye on some of the players who were in Philadelphia's camp this past summer.

If I hear anything definite about any of these guys, I will be sure to pass that information along.

More after the Norfolk game tomorrow. Check out the print story about Garrett Roe, a Virginia native. His brother is actually stationed at Naval Station Norfolk, so he's really excited about the trip.

-- MC

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bears 5, Phantoms 2 3/17

Since earning an American Hockey League call-up at the end of the National Hockey League lockout, Hershey Bears goaltender Philipp Grubauer has posted all-star numbers.

The Adirondack Phantoms, however, have made Grubauer look like a Hall of Fame candidate.

The Washington Capitals prospect recorded his second strong showing against Adirondack in the past three weeks as the Bears handed the Phantoms a 5-2 loss Sunday afternoon at Giant Center.

Grubauer, a 21-year-old rookie from Germany, made 36 saves in the win, which came just 22 days after he made 40 saves the last time Adirondack visited Hershey, a 3-0 Bears victory on Feb. 22.

The Phantoms grossly outshot Hershey in both games, but could not convert their chances.

The Bears, meanwhile, had two shots on goal in the first 13 minutes of Sunday’s third period and scored on both of them, providing more than enough insurance for the 3-0 lead they had built.

Adirondack, however, had more than enough opportunities to take an early lead.

The Phantoms were idle Saturday, while the Bears ground out a 1-0 overtime win over Bridgeport.

The first few 15 or so minutes, then, went as one might expect. The Phantoms took 12 of the game’s first 13 shots, but Grubauer stopped them all and Hershey called a time-out to regroup.

From there, it was all Hershey.

The Bears outshot the Phantoms 19-9 between then and second intermission, scoring three goals.

First, Peter LeBlanc banged a loose puck past goalie Brian Boucher at 19:14 of the first period.

In the second period, Boyd Kane stole a puck away from Phantoms defenseman Erik Gustafsson below the goal line and centered to Ryan Potulny, who one-timed the puck past Boucher at 3:24.

Then, 68 seconds later, center Jeff Taffe converted Casey Wellman’s pass for a power-play goal.

The teams traded goals in the third period, during which the Phantoms outshot the Bears 17-4.

Wellman and Taffe reversed their roles in the final frame, as Taffe set up a Wellman drive that deflected off defenseman Andreas Lilja’s foot for another power-play goal to put Hershey up 4-0.

But Phantoms rookie Marcel Noebels, a fellow German, finally solved Grubauer just 20 seconds later at 4:26.

After the Phantoms could not convert on a power-play, Dmitry Orlov came out of the penalty box and set up Taffe on a two-on-rush rush, which gave the Bears a 5-1 lead at 12:49. Taffe finished with two goals and two assists.

Garrett Roe narrowly beat Grubauer on a one-timer to close out the scoring with just 1:55 to play.

Against Adirondack, Grubauer is 2-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .974 save percentage.

Had he earned the shutout, he would have become the first Hershey goaltender in the franchise’s 75-year AHL history to record a clean sheet on back-to-back nights.

Still, he concluded Sunday with a 1.93 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. Those would rank first and second, respectively, among AHL goalies, had Grubauer spent enough time in the league.

He helped Hershey improve to 30-24-3-5, while Adirondack fell to 24-32-2-3.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Embrace the Ides of March 3/15

Tyler Brown snapped more than a personal scoring drought.

The Adirondack Phantoms winger’s first goal in 29 games broke a 2-2 tie late in the third period, propelled his team to a 3-2 victory over the Binghamton Senators at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena and gave the Phantoms their first win away from home in nearly two months.

The Phantoms had lost 10 straight on the road before Brown, who has spent much of the season on the team’s seldom-scoring fourth line, collected a long stretch pass, rushed down the left wing and sniped a shot past Senators goalie Nathan Lawson from the face-off circle with 4:25 to play.

It was his first goal since Dec. 15, 2012, when he had a goal and an assist in a loss to Manchester, and it gave the Phantoms their first road victory since a Jan. 20 shootout triumph against Albany.

They avoided setting a new AHL season-high for longest road winless streak, and have now picked up standings points in four of their last five overall games. They are 3-1-0-1 in that stretch.

The Phantoms led for most of Friday’s game thanks to a 14-second sequence in the first period.

Trailing 1-0 thanks to a power-play goal from Stephane Da Costa midway through the frame, Adirondack capitalized on two separate power plays to take a 2-1 lead into first intermission.

With teammate Shane Prince already serving a double-minor for high-sticking Phantoms defenseman Erik Gustafsson, Binghamton’s Kyle Bushee fired a clearing attempt that sailed over the glass. The automatic delay of game penalty gave the Phantoms a five-on-three for a full two minutes.

The Phantoms needed just 93 seconds of it before Garrett Roe chipped his own rebound from a bad angle over Lawson at the 18:46 mark. Then, with Prince still serving his initial penalty, Matt Mangene swooped in and knocked home a puck that had been caught in a defenseman's skates in the crease at 19:00.

They were able to carry that lead well into the third period because the Senators were whistled for eight straight minor penalties between the 10:36 mark of the first period and second intermission.

Adirondack, which once trailed 12-3 in shots, was credited with taking 27 of the game’s next 36.

But neither team was called for a penalty in the third period, and that seemed to favor the Senators.

Binghamton's Cole Schneider tied the game with 5:58 to go after defenseman Daniel New found him all alone for a quick release from the right-wing face-off circle. All five Phantoms were skating in the other half of the ice, and the uncontested Schneider beat Phantoms goalie Brian Boucher, who made 28 saves.

That just set up Brown’s heroics, though, as Adirondack improved to 24-31-2-3.

The Phantoms remain tied for St. John’s with the fewest points in the AHL (53), but two of their last three wins have come against Springfield and Binghamton (36-19-1-5), which own two of the three best records in the Eastern Conference. The Phantoms will play the fourth game of a seven-game road trip this Sunday at Hershey.

NOTES: The Phantoms were without left wing Harry Zolnierczyk, who was called up to the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers to serve one of the two remaining games on a four-game NHL suspension he received for charging Ottawa Senators defenseman Mike Lundin earlier this month.

Until next time,

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Thursday practice update 3/14

The Phantoms had a new set of forward lines at Thursday's practice, and that got me thinking about just how many different line combinations the Phantoms have gone through this season. Since the start of the month, you've had Marcel Noebels on the top line with Garrett Roe and Jason Akeson, then centering the third line with Tyler Brown and Matt Ford, then playing second line left wing with Mitch Wahl and David Laliberte, then last night he was on the fourth line with Ian Slater and Brown.

Today at practice, Noebels was skating on a line with Rob Bordson and Harry Zolnierczyk. That means in the first 14 days of this month, Noebels has played with at least nine different linemates. Meanwhile, I could not find a record of Adirondack's defensive pairings changing since the Feb. 22 game at Wells Fargo Center, until they got Erik Gustafsson back in the line-up last night at Portland.

He took Cullen Eddy's spot to Brandon Manning's right. The defensive pairings of Matt Konan and Andreas Lilja and Oliver Lauridsen in Danny Syvret stayed together, and were together again at practice this afternoon. Why's that? Well, for one, the Phantoms have had much more player movement up front than they have had on the blue line. Since the start of the month, they lost Tom Sestito, Shane Harper and Wellwood before getting Wellwood right back, then Zolniercyk and Tye McGinn a few days later. Gustafsson was the only move on defense. The other part of it is that the Phantoms really like the pairings they have now. Here's Phantoms coach Terry Murray on that point:
You've got a veteran in Lilja with a young kid in Konan. I think he's been good for him. There's importance put on the veteran aspect of it, with communication and helping him to figure out the game. You have Lauridsen and Syvret. I think sometimes you're put in a situation too where there are only a couple of guys that can move to the right side when they are left(-handed) shots. That's part of the reason on that one, but they've read off each other fairly well. You've got a defending defenseman, basically, in Lauridsen with more of a skill player playing with in Syvret. It just seems to match up pretty well with that grit, that kind of role and veteran experienced player playing with a young guy. That's the match-up that we try to look for.
I think the right-handed vs. left-handed issue is an important one here. Right-handed defensemen are such valuable commodities that coaches try and structure their d-pairings to give them a lefty and righty on each of them. It changes some things with puck control, and it's a little easier for a right-handed shot to control a puck that has been rimmed around the boards than if a lefty went to his backhander. However, both of Adirondack's right-handed defensemen, Eddy and Jeff Dimmen, are currently healthy scratches, and Dimmen has sat out for 11 straight games, 12 of 13, and 17 of 20.

What's it going to take for him to get back into the line-up?

"Right now, someone is going to have to get hurt," Murray said. "The line-up on the back end is what it is and it'll stay that way. It's unfortunate, but that's the slot that the players fall into sometimes. I kind of wish that he was more of a utility kind of player who is capable of playing up in the forward position. I could take advantage of him as a forward and still use him on the back end on the power play, as an example."

If you go back 20 games to the first time Dimmen was scratched, it's Jan. 25. That's when Gustafsson returned from his leg injury. When Gustafsson went up to Philadelphia in February, Lilja came down. Now they're both here, so that's creating even more of a log-jam for the Adirondack blue line. And Dimmen is the only one of them who is on an AHL contract, so he tends to be the odd man out.

That's unfortunate, because I always thought that Dimmen was pretty responsibly defensively. He has an even plus-minus rating through 26 games, and he has finished with a non-negative plus-minus rating in 16 of his past 18 games. Manning, meanwhile, has been asked to log a lot of minutes on the blue line and has racked up a minus-27 rating that is currently 1097th out of 1097 AHL players. The rating is not the be-all-end-all of judging a player's defensive ability, but it does say something.

In that case, though, you're talking about a guy who plays the left side of the ice. If Dimmen came in, he'd have to replace one of the three who plays the right side -- Lilja, Syvret or Gustafsson. That doesn't preclude the option of moving one of those three to the left, but again, Dimmen is the only one on an AHL deal. (I'm considering Zack FitzGerald a forward here, since he seldom plays back.)

He's also 26 years old, which gives guys like Manning and Konan years on him development-wise.

Story in tomorrow's paper focuses on Adirondack's road struggles. More after Binghamton tomorrow, where the Phantoms will try and snap a 10-game road winless streak that is tied for the longest in the AHL this season.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pirates 6, Phantoms 3

By the time the Adirondack Phantoms arrive at Glens Falls Civic Center early Thursday, they will have logged a little bit more than 3,200 miles on the bus to play their past 10 road games.

That's a long way to travel without a win to show for it.

The Phantoms tied an AHL season high and their second-worst road losing streak in team history tonight with a 6-3 loss to the Portland Pirates Wednesday, their 10th straight defeat on the road.

They also lost 10 in a row from Dec. 21, 2011, to Feb. 18, 2012, last season. The Adirondack Phantoms' team record is 13 straight road losses, which they accomplished from Oct. 12, 2010, to Dec. 5, 2010, as part of a larger stretch that saw the 2010-11 team win just six of its first 31 games.

They have five games left on this seven-game road trip, so that 13 is not necessarily an impossibility.

They head to Binghamton Friday and Hershey Saturday. Both of those teams are playoff teams. Then they go to Norfolk Tuesday, and face a Norfolk team that has the fifth-highest home win total in the conference with 17. None of these games are easy, particularly at this late stage in the season.

Special teams played a pretty big role in this one. Adirondack got some production from its' power play unit late, but by that point they were down 5-1 with less than eight minutes to go in the game. Mitch Wahl and Jason Akeson cut it to 5-3 on a Brendan Shinnimin boarding major, but that was it.

Then Brett Hextall scored in the final minute of the game to close out the scoring. Ballgame.

If Adirondack had scored on it's first power play in the first period, instead of allowing a shorthanded goal to Jordan Szwarz, maybe there's a different result. But they didn't, and then Portland's own power play got a goal from Chris Brown a little more than four minutes after that for a 2-0 lead.

Matt Mangene cut it to 2-1 later in the first period, but David Rundblad scored a power play goal in the second period and then Alexandre Bolduc and Andy Miele scored 59 seconds apart in the third.

Scott Munroe made 26 saves, including a penalty shot stop on Bolduc about three minutes before the Pirates' captain finally did score. The defense didn't provide him much help, as a couple goals were scored off unmarked men in front or, in the case of Bolduc, splitting two defenders in the high slot.

I think it's going to be really difficult for the Phantoms to win some games from here on out. They have 17 games to go, and 16 of them are against Eastern Conference teams who are either in the playoffs or five or less points out of a playoff spot. Those teams see a team with Adirondack's record and realize they absolutely have to win that game as they fight for seeding. They can't lose to a 23-31-2-3, 14th-place team if they want home-ice, so they come out flying. Portland played like a team that wanted to win its division today, and the Pirates are now two points back of Providence.

It's actually shaping up to be a good race up at the top of the conference. You've got six points separating first and fifth place, a six-point gap, then eight points separating sixth from 13th place. The downside is there are eight points separating 13th from 14th, and that's where Adirondack now sits.

More after practice tomorrow.
-- MC

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tuesday news and views 3/12

A busy day in the world of the Adirondack Phantoms, and most of the news didn't happen at practice. There was a trade, a demotion, a player absent from practice and an injury update. When you have this much to report, I think that a news and views blog format works best. Let's get started:

NEWS: Matt Ford was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for future considerations.
VIEWS: Ford was assigned to Springfield, and this definitely can not hurt the Falcons' playoff chances. The conference-leading Falcons add a player who has scored at least 25 AHL goals in each of the past two seasons. There are only eight players who can say they have done that. He was the major catalyst in Adirondack's playoff push that fell just short last season, putting up a point per game since arriving in a trade. But he has struggled mightily in Phantoms coach Terry Murray's system, recording just 13 points in 35 games, and was often a healthy scratch early in the season before a knee injury sidelined him for a month. Perhaps a change of scenery will do him well. It is unfortunate that Adirondack doesn't immediately get a guy back, but you would think that probably has something to do with Philadelphia wanting some extra flexibility within the 50-contract limit. And "future considerations" is something for an impending unrestricted free agent who might not have re-signed here, given how this season has gone for him. Lots of things to consider with this, like how Ford will probably come back to burn the Phantoms when Springfield visits twice in April.

NEWS: Defenseman Erik Gustafsson was assigned to the Phantoms.
VIEWS: Gustafsson had two assists in 11 games with the Flyers, but was a healthy scratch in his last game. He also spoke to the Philadelphia Daily News' Frank Seravalli about his recent play, and said he was having some trouble forgetting about the mistakes he was making, which led to a spiral. This could be a chance for him to get his confidence back up, and get some additional power play time. It also gives the Phantoms eight healthy defenseman, plus utility man Zack FitzGerald, who practiced with the defensemen on Tuesday but will probably move back up front now that Gustafsson is here.

NEWS: Marcel Noebels has a broken toe, but will not miss four weeks and could play tomorrow.
VIEWS: The German rookie broke his toe in Friday's victory over Springfield. A report published Sunday said he was expected to miss four weeks, but he was on the ice for practice Tuesday. I asked Phantoms coach Terry Murray if there was ever a fear that Noebels would be out for an extended period of time, and he said he's had that injury himself in his career. "It can knock you back for a few days, but you just basically have to suck it up and go play," he said. Some swelling was associated with the injury, but Noebels is able to get the skate on. "If he's good to go, he'll play," Murray said.

NEWS: Jon Sim and Eric Wellwood were absent from practice.
VIEWS: Sim drove up to Portland ahead of the team to spend time with his family, who is driving in from Nova Scotia, Murray said. The team will meet him there. Another veteran, Andreas Lilja, had the past two Tuesdays off to spend time with his own family in New Jersey, but skated today. If you're going to give one veteran some family time, you should probably give the other family time as well. Wellwood had a maintenance day. He was doing an off-ice workout around the rink. These are actually pretty common this season, but I can't remember one ever being the day before a game.

NEWS: Tye McGinn practiced with the Phantoms.
VIEWS: Had a good conversation with McGinn after practice, which you can read about in tomorrow's print story. Sort of focused the story on how this road trip could be McGinn's AHL farewell tour, and how he could still be in the NHL if not for a fight with Toronto's Mike Brown. He's not thinking about that as much as much as he is just using this as a chance to earn another call-up.

Until next time,

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tye McGinn is reportedly back, and so am I 3/11

Greetings, all. Been a busy couple of days covering Saratoga Springs High School's first state championship since 1999, so I've missed some Adirondack Phantoms news. Let's play catch up.

First, the Philadelphia Flyers assigned Tye McGinn to the Phantoms, according to this Tweet from Flyers inside reporter Anthony San Filippo. This is an opportunity to get McGinn, who has been sidelined since his Feb. 25 fight with Mike Brown, some playing time and a chance for him to get back to game speed. There are practical reasons for assigning him to the AHL outright, as opposed to a 14-day conditioning stint: He and his NHL cap hit come off the NHL roster, and that would not be the case if he were here on conditioning. There's also no restriction on the length of his stint in the AHL.

He doesn't have to clear waivers because of his contract status, so why not do it this way?

McGinn has five points (3-2) in 15 games with the Flyers and 15 points in 33 AHL games this year.

Adirondack completed a five-point weekend by winning in dramatic fashion Saturday and then losing in a shootout Sunday. The shootout loss bumped them up to 51 points, and they are no longer in sole possession of last place in the AHL. They share that distinction with St. John's, now winless in six.

Jason Akeson completed his own personal five-point weekend by notching his first AHL hat trick Saturday and adding a goal and an assist Sunday. That's significant because two of his goals Saturday came within the final six minutes as the Phantoms rallied from a 3-1 deficit to stun the Whale 4-3. His hat trick goal not only stood as the game-winner, but tied him for the long-departed Brayden Schenn for the team scoring lead with 33 points. His two points Sunday gave him sole possession of the lead.

The Phantoms had a bit of a goaltending carousel before Saturday's game against the Connecticut Whale. Michael Leighton's conditioning assignment that couldn't actually be called an official conditioning assignment ended, so he went back to the NHL. Adirondack called up Cal Heeter from Trenton to back up Scott Munroe while they awaited the arrival of Brian Boucher, Leighton's brief NHL replacement, from the Flyers. Boucher didn't have to clear waivers because he didn't spend enough time in the NHL. Boucher arrived after the game, and Heeter was sent back to the ECHL.

Here's the latest AHL playoff primer. The Phantoms can finish with a maximum of 87 points, and that number goes down anytime they don't win, even if they lose in a shootout. As soon as you start seeing teams get above that mark, the Phantoms will start becoming mathematically eliminated from certain seeds. For example, any combination of wins and losses that sees conference-leading Springfield (79 points) pick up nine more points and Adirondack lose nine points would mathematically bounce the Phantoms out of contention for the No. 1 seed. That will trickle down.

It's something to keep an eye on. More after tomorrow's practice.
-- MC

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Devils 3, Phantoms 2 (SO) 3/10

Staff Report

ALBANY -- Because the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils share an ECHL affiliate in Trenton, N.J., a few Adirondack Phantoms were teammates with Devils farmhand Scott Wedgewood earlier this season.

The highly-touted prospect spent the first five months of his pro career in the ECHL with Trenton, where some Phantoms players began the season due to the NHL lockout, so those players were shooting on Wedgewood in practice on an almost daily basis.

If they figured out how to score on him, it didn't show Sunday afternoon.

Making just the second start of his AHL career, the 20-year-old Wedgewood made 34 saves to lead his Albany Devils to a 3-2 shootout win at Times Union Center, spoiling Adirondack's chance at a six-point weekend, and a chance to tie their season high three-game win streak. They fell to 22-30-2-3, but their 51st point moved them out of sole possession of last place in the AHL. They're now tied with St. John's.

Wedgewood stopped all three Phantoms he faced in the shootout, while Albany scored on its first three shots to avoid the dubious honor of tying the AHL record for most shootout losses in a season with 11. The Devils are 3-10 in shootouts, and their 26-20-1-10 record leaves them one point behind Connecticut for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. They hold four games in hand on the Whale.

Albany winger Mike Sislo, who snapped a 1-1 tie in the second period, scored the game-winner in the first round of the shootout when he beat Adirondack goalie Brian Boucher, who had just been sent down from Philadelphia. Phil DeSimone and Matt Anderson also scored, while Wedgewood denied Jason Akeson, Garrett Roe and Matthew Ford to improve to 2-0 with a 1.44 goals-against average in his two AHL starts.

Phantoms winger Jon Sim scored the goal that forced overtime at 18:58 of the second period, 6-1/2 minutes after Sislo scored the go-ahead goal. He also assisted on Jason Akeson's goal that put Adirondack up 1-0 just 7:44 into the first period, and gave Akeson sole possession of the team scoring lead. He tied Brayden Schenn, who hasn't played for Adirondack in two months, with a hat trick Saturday.

Akeson also assisted on Sim's goal, giving him a Phantoms-best 35 points. Boucher made 18 saves.

Albany winger Joe Whitney made it 1-1 just 20 seconds into the second period, continuing his torrid ghostbusting pace. Seven of the second-year pro's 21 goals have come against the Phantoms, and he has 12 points in his eight appearances in the season series, which Albany now leads by a 7-3 count.