Northampton Press

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Phantoms looking to make playoff push

Wednesday, February 5, 2020 by chuck hixson Special to the Press in Sports

The Phantoms went through the first three months of the season without shutting out an opponent. In that stretch, their opponents shut them out three times, including once in back-to-back games.

Lehigh Valley got its first shutout of the season on Jan. 11 with Alex Lyon in goal and the next night, Jean-Francois Berube shutout Charlotte to give them back-to-back shutout wins. A week later, Berube added another shutout against Rochester and he collected his third shutout of the season Saturday against Hershey.

The one thing that the first three shutouts had in common were that they all came on home ice, but Saturday’s shutout came in Hershey in a 3-0 win over the Bears that halted a four-game losing skid. The somewhat ironic thing about the latest shutout is that one night earlier, Berube allowed four goals and was pulled early in the third period against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. While there’s no denying that Berube is having a good season with his 2.46 goals against average and .910 save percentage, he can’t take all of the credit for the recent spate of zeros that the team has put on the opponent’s side of the scoreboard.

“J.F. has played really well, but our defense overall has picked up,” noted coach Scott Gordon, who was a goalie himself during his playing days. “He only had to face 18 shots against Hershey, which is pretty good. Some of those were really good shots and it’s not to take anything away from him, but when the guys in front of you are playing well, it helps. The key now is to keep the consistency up on defense, because we can make ourselves look pretty bad at times.”

Case in point was a streak of three straight losses where Lehigh Valley gave up four goals in each game. During an earlier six-game losing streak, the Phantoms averaged four goals against per game, putting more pressure on an equally inconsistent offense.

“You always worry about consistency at this level, because you have a lot of young players and there are guys going back-and-forth between here and Philly and then you throw in some injuries,” Gordon said. “Guys just have to adjust to those things and give consistent efforts. Some things you can’t control, but other things you can.”

Another turnaround for the Phantoms has been on killing penalties. After struggling early in the season when they played short-handed, Lehigh Valley now has a streak of 13 straight penalty kills after their win over Hershey that saw them add four more stops to the streak. In their last 19 games, Lehigh Valley’s penalty killing has been over 90-percent. Overall, their kill percentage stands at 82.1, which moves them from near the bottom of the 31-team league up to a tie for 14th in the AHL.

“We’re much better in that area and some of that is changing how we’ve approached it and having different guys in different spots for us,” said Gordon. “That’s an area where we’ve been able to be pretty consistent for a while now.”

GRITTY CLEARED... Flyers mascot Gritty has been cleared by Philadelphia police after allegations were made that he punched a 13-year old in the back at a Flyers game. Police investigated the allegations made by the boy’s father, but found no evidence that the event took place and announced that they have closed the investigation.

TOUGH TASK... The Phantoms put themselves into a hole in the first half of the season and won’t have an easy time pulling themselves through the standings to reach the playoffs. Two games into the second half, they’re 1-1-0 and are still in seventh place in the Atlantic Division, nine points behind Charlotte, which is where they were going into the break. The good news is that while they’re nine points out of sixth, they’re only 10 points out of the fourth and final playoff spot in the division. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Springfield are tied for fourth with 54 points.

WHERE ARE THEY?... If you go through the list of league leaders, you don’t find many Phantoms on the lists. Lehigh Valley doesn’t have any players in the top 20 in games played, goals, assists, points, plus-minus or even penalty minutes. If you dig deeper, Greg Carey is fourth in shots with 148, but has just an 8.8 shot percentage leaving him well shy of the top 20.