When it comes to the Phantoms and winning hockey games, my relationship is a bit like a dog who’s been smacked in the nose with a newspaper too many times. One day the owner innocently lifts the sports section — people still do this, right? — and I dive under the kitchen table.
So I as watched the updates stream in during the latter stages of their game Sunday at Syracuse, forgive me for thinking, ‘Here we go again.’ ”
The Phantoms were dangerously close to losing three straight games on the weekend and falling to 2-5 overall. To their deep credit, they rallied for a late power-play goal and overtime winner against a group of Syracuse players that have two regular-season losses in about nine months.
A loss wouldn’t have been a deal-breaker. It’s far too early for that. But the Phantoms have been the worst team in the league over the last three seasons, so there’s a culture to change. Wins like that push back against the status quo.
Still, Sunday’s late rally masked — and in one case highlighted — three of the team’s deficiencies to this point.
– The power play. As The Saratogian’s Michael Cignoli pointed out, before the back-to-back power-play goals Sunday, the Phantoms had gone more than 209 minutes without a goal on the man advantage. Those two goals only boosted Adirondack to 7 for 43 on the season, or 22nd best in the AHL. And not to nitpick, but on the streak-busting goals, one was a six-on-three situation, the other a 5-on-3.
– Offensive over-reliance on the NHLers. Sure, you can and should see it as a positive that the locked out NHL players are having a productive start to the season for the Phantoms. But if you’re going to have a deep-playoff-run type season, you need more.
Three of the Phantoms’ four leading scorers were NHL regulars last season. Three of the next four are defenseman. Of the forwards who’d likely have been on the Phantoms roster had there been no lockout, only Tye McGinn (3) and Harry Zolnierczyk (2) have more than one goal. Concerning, since lack of forward scoring has been an issue for three years.
In Sunday’s comeback, Brayden Schenn had the game-tying goal and Sean Couturier assisted on it and the game-winner. Schenn also had an assist on the overtime winner. Those two have combined for 15 points. That’s as much as the next four scoring leaders combined.
What happens if the lockout ends? (Yeah, I know, I’m laughing too.)
– Goals allowed. The Phantoms have allowed 26 goals in seven games. That’s more than 21 other teams in the league. They’ve allowed four or more goals in three of their seven games for an average of 3.7 per game. They allowed 2.86 a game last season.
Stat of the week. After having 55 penalty minutes — the fewest in the AHL — through their first five games, they Phantoms had 56 on Saturday night alone, committing 17 infractions in a loss to Rochester. They followed that up with 18 more on Sunday. Tom Chmielewski, who appears to be an ECHL call-up this season, was the referee for both games. Fans weren’t exactly thrilled with how he handled Saturday’s home game, but they probably felt better after the critical late penalties he dished out to Syracuse on Sunday.
This week’s schedule. Friday, vs. Syracuse (Lightning affiliate, 4-1-2), 7 p.m.; Saturday, vs. Albany (Devils affiliate, 2-4).
Off next week. One of the nice things — the only? — about not being a paid hockey writer anymore, is assigning your own vacation time. I won’t have a column next week because I’ll be visiting friends in what’s left of New York City, where I plan to spend a lot of time getting to know the bartenders here. Catch you next on Friday, Nov. 16.