Offense and injuries 3/26
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,